Moraine Hills State Park: “Blue Sky, finally.”

With spring truly here, we decided to head up north one more time to check out Moraine Hills State Park and McHenry Dam. This park is located in McHenry county, about an hour away from us. The landscape is very similar to nearby Volo Bog and Chain O’ Lakes, with the same glacier movement forming all three of them. The park is actually not named for a person like we thought, but after a geologic feature. A moraine is an accumulation of boulders, stones, and other debris deposited by the glacier.

The trail starts out very unassuming, especially during the time of year we went: right before the leaves came out. However, with the cloudless blue sky and 60 degree weather for the first time in weeks, nothing was going to hinder us that day.

We were a bit unsure about how long we could hike, since it was effectively several months without lengthy trails, so we picked the Leatherleaf Bog Trail; an easy 3.2 mile, well marked path circling the bog. Before long, even with the barren trees, it became obvious that this was going to be one of our favorite parks.

The thing that this park was really great for was taking photos of songbirds, or just birdwatching. We’re not great at identifying them, and I am still working on taking good photos before they move. But these birds were everywhere, and they were fearless when it came to people on the trails. In fact, this was the first time I was able to get multiple photos with birds while on the trail and not at a bird feeder.

The last leg of the trail was mostly navigating around the waterways that led into the lake, but this was also the part with the most wildlife. We saw several more birds, mostly egrets and one heron taking flight, but also a pair of geese that we had to gingerly walk around so we didn’t spook them. This was also the first time we saw any snakes while out, two garter snakes that quickly moved out of the way. After one last bird photo, we were finished walking the Leatherleaf Bog Trail.

We then stopped at Lake Defiance. We’d passed it on the way to the trail parking, and knew we had to take a closer look once we were done. This lake was formed by a piece of the glacier breaking off and melting. The water was so blue, and it would’ve been the perfect day to take a kayak out.

Before leaving entirely, we had to stop at McHenry Dam. The original structure was built in 1907, along with a hand operated lock. In 1924, the land was donated to Illinois, and ten years later construction started on the modern dam. Today, while technically being its own state park, it is a much smaller area used mostly for fishing and is only a short distance away from Moraine Hills.

After finishing up at McHenry Dam, we went to Side Lot Brewery. We normally would have a flight or a couple beers after hiking, but unfortunately they were going to be shut down for an event about an hour after we arrived, so we decided to just have one glass each before heading home. That glass was pretty good, we just don’t have anything else to go on.

We would HIGHLY recommend visiting Moraine Hills, especially if you are just starting to hike, or want an easy place to be outside and see a lot of wildlife and water features. The paths are well defined and marked, and didn’t have any steep inclines anywhere on the trail we were on. The bird watching is excellent here, even without experience or binoculars. It is our belief that this park is overshadowed by Chain O’ Lakes, and given the choice between the two we’d both pick this one. If you have the opportunity to walk around here, please do it.

One thought on “Moraine Hills State Park: “Blue Sky, finally.”

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  1. Thanks for doing these reviews. It will be a while before I can start going to some federal, state, and local parks. But I will use your list when the time comes for Illinois. Some of the smaller parks have been the best for ones I have visited in the southern U.S.


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