Rollin' on the Prairie
The 25.9-mile Prairie Trail stretches from Algonquin to the Wisconsin state line and connects eight McHenry County communities—Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake, Prairie Grove, McHenry, McCullom Lake, Ringwood and Richmond. It can reduce the cost of your commute, get you to your favorite recreation spot or be a destination in itself.
The Prairie Trail follows the old Chicago and Northwestern rail line that ran from Kane County to Wisconsin. In 1987, the southern portion of the trail, from the Kane County line to Rt. 14 in Crystal Lake, was built where the tracks once were. The northern section, from Rt. 14 to Ringwood, runs adjacent to the track still used today. From Ringwood north, the original rail ballast is covered with a limestone trail. The Prairie Trail is one of the longest trails to run along an active train corridor and a clever example of recycling an old means of transportation into a new one.
The Prairie Trail is suited for all ages and abilities. The paved section, from Algonquin to Ringwood, is ideal for walkers, runners, bicyclists and rollerbladers. The relatively flat trail does get hilly in Crystal Lake through Sterne’s Woods, but the evergreen forest is not something you will want to skip. Road bicycles are not recommended for the gravel portion of the trail north of Ringwood. Hikers, horseback riders and mountainbikers will enjoy the rustic terrain though.
Along the way, the path intersects with many McHenry County hot spots. In Algonquin, the trail crosses the Fox River on the original railroad bridge stanchions. The view from the bridge is spectacular—a great place to take a breather. Downtown Algonquin is easily accessible from this point. Stroll Main Street and check out the many dining and shopping establishments.
Moving north, you will pass Larson Prairie in Lake in the Hills. The 20-acre site is an Illinois State Nature Preserve and has many prairie and fen community plants. Stop for a moment and breathe in the sweet smells of flowers in bloom. If you brought your camera, this is a great photo opportunity.
The Diverse City Prairie, between Virginia Road and Rt. 14 in Crystal Lake, was planted with native prairie plants. It is a great example of the beautiful heritage of McHenry County and another photo opportunity. Bathrooms and picnic tables are also available here for a rest.
After winding though downtown Crystal Lake, the path takes you to Sterne’s Woods, which is owned and maintained by the Crystal Lake Park District. The natural area contains an Illinois Nature Preserve, Wingate Prairie and a wooded, winding section of trail.
Even farther north, in McHenry, Whispering Oaks Park, managed and owned by the City of McHenry, features Fort McHenry, a playground, playing field and open lawn areas perfect for a picnic stop.
Keep going and you’ll hit Peterson Park, also owned and operated by the City of McHenry. This area offers more places to play as well as access to McCullom Lake if you need to cool off.
Toward the northernmost boundary of the trail is Glacial Park. The McHenry County Conservation District property is home to more than 20 endangered species and is the crown jewel of the district’s land holdings, with prairie, savanna, marshes, a bog, Nippersink Creek and a wide variety of geologic wonders, including kames—hills made of sand and gravel that accumulated after glaciers retreated.
The Prairie Trail isn’t only a north-south route through the county. The trail also links up to more than 100 miles of trail networks. The Fox River Trail, Great Western Trail and Illinois Prairie Path are all accessible.
For more information on how to make the most out of your trip on the Prairie Trail visit www.mccdistrict.org or call the McHenry County Conservation District at 815-338-6223.