Now that we’re well into planning our hikes for 2022, we wanted to look back on the parks we’ve visited already, and share our thoughts on where our favorite experiences were.
Steph: Even though it was our most difficult, I liked the hiking at Apple River Canyon. It felt like a true nature hike, just kind of getting lost in the woods. It felt like a whole different world- I didn’t even have cell service. The views over the canyon were certainly worth it.
Emma: I am actually going to go with Rock Cut on this one. Usually when we pick a trail to do, we are getting one type of landscape: a prairie, a forest, near water, etc. I feel like Rock Cut was the best hike because the scenery and trail changed a lot. Looking back at photos, we could break down our trip very clearly by the different environments, and that was what sold it for me.
Steph: For me, this was a clear choice. The views at Mississippi Palisades were certainly worth the trip. I could have gotten lost just looking out over the river. So glad we stopped at every single lookout.
Emma: No other park we went to last year could compare to Mississippi Palisades as far as scenery. We didn’t get to see the rock formations on this trip, but the views overlooking the river alone were enough for me to pick this one.
Steph: I am going to go with Mad Hatchett in Shorewood. We tried so many varieties of beer and somehow I liked them all. That’s a rarity for me. The space was also really cool, and the decor was just perfect for halloween weekend.
Emma: I was blown away by Mad Hatchett. The fact that between the two of us we tried 7 different beers and we both liked all of them really is a testimony to how good this brewery was. The place is decorated with photos and art from classic horror movies, and they go even more all out for Halloween. I would recommend them to everyone, but especially if you are a horror fan. As a runner up, I’d say Dimensional Brewing in Dubuque, IA. If their seasonal blend “Shotgun Start” comes back this summer, I will drive the 2 hours and 45 minutes to get it.
Steph: I have two possible answers for this one (not counting the ones that shall remain between Emma and I). First, when it took us like FOREVER to get an iced coffee at a drive thru in Savana, IL, and then they were out of skim milk. I take my coffee very seriously, so if I couldn’t laugh about it, I would probably cry.
Second, when we pulled up to William Stratton State Park and realized it truly was just a parking lot with a boat launch. And the large amount of benches for the space that it was.
Emma: One of the funniest things to me was how we spent 3 months hoping we would see any wildlife, and getting really excited anytime we did, only for one of our last hikes at Illini State Park to see birds EVERYWHERE. Most of our hikes were pretty quiet, but not Illini. The blue jays sounded like they were screaming at each other.
Most Surprising Park
Steph: I was surprised by how expansive Volo Bog was. I didn’t really know what I expected, but it has so many more habitats than just the bog. It was a nice place to explore on a cool fall afternoon.
Emma: William Powers SRA for sure was the most surprising to me. All we knew about this park going in was that it’s on the Indiana border, within view of I90. We also knew that it seemed like a random spot, as it is surrounded by industrial buildings. But there was still plenty of nature to enjoy. This was one of the only parks we saw deer at. It was also one of the most crowded parks we went to, second only to Rock Cut.
Most Underrated Park
Steph: It’s Silver Springs for me. I had never heard of it, it’s not that from Chicago and its a nice place to explore. It’s a pretty big park with some cool water scenery. I’d love to try archery or fishing there someday.
Emma: I also think Silver Springs. The things I like the most about parks like Starved Rock and Matthiessen also apply to Silver Springs, like varied scenery and different water features. It’s also a lot closer to Chicago than the most popular parks, and has significantly less people.
Biggest Lesson Learned
Steph: My lessons could also apply to life in general. In short, be prepared. Have a snack and enough water. Bring an extra battery for your phone. Sunscreen and bug spray is a must. But most important of all- If you have the opportunity to use indoor plumbing, USE IT. I feel like this sounds like my mother, but you don’t know when you will have the opportunity to use it again. Your other options will be pit toilets and trees, and well, neither are very pleasant experiences.
Emma: If the temperature is in the 90s, don’t go to a park that is primarily a prairie. I would say don’t go hiking at all, but if you have to go, pick a park that is very wooded. The shade will help a ton.
Best Park Overall
Steph: Rock Cut was the best park we have visited. Not only was the hiking great, there was so much to explore. Between the lake, the picnic areas and the wooded areas, it really has something for everyone. It was also the first place we saw real wildlife, some wild turkeys.
Emma: I 100% agree that Rock Cut was the best park so far. What really surprised me was how it didn’t feel crowded at all, even in the areas with lots of people. We visited on a holiday weekend, and crowds definitely would have become overwhelming at some other parks. I’ve already said that I think this was the best hike we did, but even if you wanted to come for swimming, boating, or picnicking I would still recommend this park over most of the others.
What Park are you most looking forward to?
Steph: I really want to get out anywhere we can see wildlife. So first on my list is Buffalo Rock State park. I am also excited to go eagle watching at starved rock.
Emma: The park I’m most excited for is Giant City. From our research, the scenery there is unlike anywhere else in the state, and I’m really hopeful that we’ll be able to get there this year.