Volo Bog State Natural Area: “Berries…..but no cream.”

After a week off for other obligations and a big weekend for this project coming up, we found ourselves with a single day to go to one of the random parks we hadn’t made specific plans for. We picked Volo Bog State Natural Area because it was a little smaller than our other options, but still offered a very different hike than the places we’ve already been.

The property was originally owned by a dairy farmer named George Sayer, and the main bog was documented during this time. About 50 years later, the land was facing development, but locals managed to have it transferred to the IDNR and was dedicated as a Nature Preserve in 1970. Today, the park includes two other bogs, woodlands, and prairie restoration.

Like so many parks in northeastern Illinois, this one was left behind by glacial activity. Volo Bog is the only quaking bog with an open water center in the state. Because of poor drainage, the water here is acidic, greatly limiting the types of plant life that can grow near it. However, as a whole this park is actually known for the wide variety of plants and animals you can see. We saw several herons and we finally got a really good picture of a butterfly.

Our day started pretty early on the first slightly chilly day of the season, but it was also cloudless and very sunny. Overall, a great day for a hike. This park only has one entrance, and right in front of the parking lot is a grassy area good for picnicking, and the visitor center off to the right. The trail starts behind this, but the main sidewalk does lead right too it. We ignored the visitor center in favor of going to the left to do the loop clockwise (Note: because of Covid, this park has a rule in place stating that you are supposed to go through counterclockwise to avoid passing on the trail. There were signs for this, but all of them were by the visitor center to the right, and not the other end of the trail to the left. We had no idea this rule was in place until we got to the center and saw the signs after coming from the other direction.) The start of the trail was through a wooded area that led to the first bog. This part had plenty of plant life and interesting mushrooms.

Past this first bog, the trial led to the prairie restoration. The path was clearly defined thru the grass and led to an observation platform, overlooking the hills. Of the three main prairie projects we’ve seen (the other two being James “Pate” Philip SP and Chain O’Lakes SP), we felt this one had the most interesting views of the fields. This was because the landscape had stretches covered in bright red plants. These turned out to be berries, and were everywhere. We were able to see some of these patches up close later on, and we did make several references to the TikTok trend while we were walking.

After taking lots of pictures from the platform, we trekked down the other path to another wooded grove, and then to a floating walkway. These are pretty commonly used for docks, and can be a little unsettling to walk on since they move with the water a little. They have them here because of the bog and the previously mentioned poor drainage, but otherwise the main path would not form a loop. We feel that trails that loop are superior to trails that don’t. Regardless, the day we went was quite dry, and the walkway wasn’t actually floating, it seemed more like a boardwalk than anything else. Still, if you go earlier in the season or after it rains, it can be slippery and there are signs before you get on warning you about this.

The next thing we saw along the path was another bog and a second observation platform overlooking it. This one was smaller with less plants and animals around it, but we still went up the platform to take a few pictures. And finally we walked a bit longer in another wooded area that led to the main bog that the park is named after. This area is also the only place we’ve seen in any park so far that has an area dedicated to kids that is actually outside. It was a roped off area with different stations that kids could interact with to learn about nature while being in nature. We really liked this, and would recommend taking your kids here if you are looking for something to do on a nice day.

We knew we couldn’t leave without going into the main bog, so that was the last thing we did on our hike. This part features the most development with another floating boardwalk that leads directly to the eye of the bog and loops back out. Along this are several signs highlighting the plants and animals, or just to say “you’re not in the bog yet, keep going” Most of the walk was also too dry to actually float at the time we were there, except for the one platform in the deepest part of the bog that overlooked the eye. All of this proved to be the most interesting part of the whole park, and an excellent way to finish the hike.

Before heading back to the car, we stopped in the visitor center, a remodeled dairy barn left over from the 1920’s when the property was a farm. This center was, without a doubt, the biggest and most informative one we have seen so far. They had interactive exhibits discussing nature around the park and plenty of taxidermy, both things that are typical of all the visitor or nature centers we’ve been to. But this one also had a reference library and a gallery with art for sale, where the benefits go back to the park.

For lunch, we went to Light the Lamp Brewery. There is a lot of hockey references here, but if you don’t know anything about sports, the beer is still really good, as is their giant pretzel. They have a beer called Still Single, which we think nearly everyone would like. Even people in relationships.

In conclusion, Volo Bog is a really great park. This ended up being our longest hike at 3.8 miles, and it was also more hilly than we expected. This can be a challenge, and both of us were sore after. But between the uniqueness of the bog and the dedication of the people who live nearby, this park was a treat to visit.

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