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Hike Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve (east)

By Allen Penticoff

Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve (east)
6303 Mulford Road
Cherry Valley, IL  61016


(March 2020) A favorite stroll is the east half of Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve (EKRFP) on South Mulford Road. This is one of our older preserves, established in 1928. Because of its age, it features many works of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the depression years. These old limestone works now have a lovely patina to them. Nobody would build anything like them now. They are to be cherished. Take photos.

I say “stroll” because little of it involves “hiking” or strenuous trails. Also, this will just focus on the east half of the forest preserve – the west side is an entirely different experience.

We go to EKRFP more in the winter than summer. This is because the roads through the preserve are the main pathways. In the winter a gate blocks off the road (plenty of room to park outside it) leaving carefree strolls along the snow covered roadway. There are great overlooks (better in winter) at first from the rock wall above the quarry. Off to the right is a cement pedestrian bridge over a ravine. It leads to a great overall view of the river too. And onward to an old stone stairway down to the river that is officially not in use. In Spring wildflowers abound in these areas.

This forest preserve has three bridges. As you wind your way down the lane/road to the bottom you’ll cross one of two CCC stone bridges that pass over the same creek. After the first one, if you turn left, you’ll be heading towards the southern end of the preserve. If you go straight, you’ll pass over another part of the creek at another stone bridge.

Immediately left of that (2nd) bridge is a cut in the limestone that is quite pretty with water flowing by. Beyond that is a pretty picnic area overlooking the Kishwaukee River. Further yet is a large picnic shelter and the bottom of the old stairs leading to the top of the bluff. While I have hiked these steps many times, they are at present not open to public use until they are repaired.

After the first bridge (heading south) – you will be downstream along the river for a bit. A big picnic area is on the left with a cute red “outhouse.”  The east side is not the place to launch paddle-craft due to high embankments. Do that on the east side of the preserve.

There is a loop in the road that goes around an island of large pine trees. Do yourself a favor and walk around it. It is definitely a North-woods experience.  In fact, park your car just inside the gate and walk all the way to the south end. It is fabulous. Just keep an ear open for cars approaching – there are a fair number of drive-through admirers.

Although the view of the river is somewhat obscured by overgrown vegetation, it is still a pleasant walk. At the far south end – there is a metal gate meant to keep vehicles from going further. You will want to walk around this gate and wander down the tree lined pine-needle-covered lane. It is quite nice.

Off to the left (east) is another parallel lane along the edge of a new prairie. You can walk there as well if you are a prairie afficianoto. Personally, I love prairies, but the wooded lane is a treat.

Once out of the woods, there is much more to Kishwaukee River FP East. Stroll along the path that is along the river (if you can find it). It is little used.  You will encounter the burn pile of the FPWC South Maintenance Facility folks as it is adjacent to this FP. Ignore it. There appears to be good fishing along here. It does not look like an FP, but it is. Almost nobody goes there. Do some research before heading to this “outback.”

Heading back – you can go up the road, or after the “second” bridge you will see a shallow ravine on the right that goes up the hill. This is a shortcut back to your car by the entrance. Otherwise, you can stroll on down to the north end and cross over to the west side of the forest preserve and connect to the Blackhawk Springs paved path as well… or – eye an illegal climb of the stone steps back to your car.

The west side is a whole different experience that will appear as a separate report.

Click here for a printable Kishwaukee River trail map