During initial planning for this project, we knew we would need to spend a lot of time just west of Rockford. Neither of us had been to that area before, and we knew very little about the terrain. We knew the rolling hills around Galena, and the many canyons of Starved Rock; but how do you plan for parks that are clustered when you don’t know how rough the trails will be?
Around Oregon, IL, there are four parks clustered within easy driving distance of each other, and the original plan was to visit twice, with two parks each trip. But with all the hiking we did last year, and a much better understanding of our limits, we rearranged our plan, settling on three separate trips, with the two larger parks having their own days, and the two smaller on a single day. Those parks were Lowden State Park and White Pines Forest State Park, with a total acreage of 592.
In order to do more than one park in one day, we knew we had to start with the more difficult trail. So we drove out to Lowden State Park first, right up to the base of the statue of Blackhawk this park is known for. The statue overlooks the Rock River, and at 50 feet tall is considered to be the second largest concrete monolithic structure in the world.
We started down the Blackhawk Trail from there, but the steep paths were still a bit muddy from recent rainfall, and we realized that neither of us were ready for that type of difficulty. After backtracking to the statue, we drove back to the main parking lot next to the concessions building and campgrounds to find another trail.
We ended up hiking the very short Heckman Trail down to the river, since we didn’t want to wear ourselves out too much before the second park. Although the trail was less than a mile round trip, the entirety of it was inclined and was tougher than we were anticipating. Still, it was a nice forest path and the end at the river was worth the walk.
After finishing up at Lowden, we went over to White Pines Forest State Park. The main attraction here is the lodge, with several cabins available to stay in. Aside from that, there are actually several trails within this park, despite the small size. We chose the Whispering Pines trail because it was not too long and was rated as easy.
It was a beautiful day to be outside, and would have been a very fun trail, except for the downed tree completely blocking the path for us. So we turned around and to find another trail of similar difficulty. Both trails were forested, and shady enough to be slightly cooler, but still let some sun through. We walked for about as long as the original trail would have been, before heading out.
Since we visited two parks, we felt it was appropriate to visit two breweries as well. First, we stopped at Hairy Cow Brewing in Byron, IL to sit on their patio overlooking the river. Second was Ogle County Brewery in Oregon, IL.
On our way back home, we drove along the river and saw the statue once again, just as impressive at a distance.
Overall, the highlight of the day was definitely seeing the statue. Usually when we are hiking, the most impressive things are waterfalls or towering stone cliffs, but this was so different and warrants a visit all on it’s own. The trails were also nice, despite the unexpected difficulty and downed trees.