Mackinaw River SFWA: Finding the Gold Mine Trail

The final park we visited on our long weekend in Peoria was Mackinaw River State Fish and Wildlife Area. After all of the parks from the previous two days ended with almost no hiking, the three of us were so excited to have saved the best for last.

This park is about 1,448 acres, however this is almost entirely just forest. The Gold Mine Trail is the only hiking option available, and it was only two miles long with pretty manageable elevation changes. Because there are no other trails, the trailhead was more difficult to find. In fact, when we found where we needed to park, the official start to the trail was still a quarter mile walk away. Getting confused while looking for the start of the trail was definitely a recurring trend for the whole weekend.

Despite the initial confusion, the serenity of this trail once we were able to get started really made it all worth it. The park is one of the most forested places in this area, with different kinds of trees growing at different heights of the ravines. White and black oaks are found on the ridges high up, while sycamore and silver maples are down below on the floodplain. We were somewhere in the middle, and were more likely surrounded by a combination of oak and maple trees.

While we did not see any birds or small mammals on our walk, we did see several smaller creatures. One of the most common reviews of this trail is that if you go in August or September, you will be overrun with spiders. When we went in late May, we saw a few spiders but it certainly did not make the hike any more difficult. We also saw several bright green beetles and another snail in our path.

The park was named after the Ojibwa word for “large turtle”. There may be turtles in the river, but we could not get close enough to the river to check. Although the loop does go past the river for a short distance, it is very obscured by the trees, and there is no path which leads directly down to the water.

We finished the day at Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, which was only a 7 minute drive away. This is one of the more picturesque places we have visited after hiking, with a patio and gazebo overlooking a small lake, all of which is surrounded by the vineyard itself. We were able to try several of their wines, as the first three samples were complimentary, and all additional were only a dollar. I personally really enjoyed their White Dragon, a pineapple flavored white wine, and took a bottle home with me.

Overall, we would recommend visiting Mackinaw River if you are near Peoria. Even though there is only one trail, and you have to walk a ways before you can get to it, it is accessible to almost all hiking levels and only takes about an hour to complete.

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