Moraine Hills Trail System In Illinois

Here is everything you need to know about the Moraine Hills Trail System:

  • Trail System: National Recreation Trail
  • State: Illinois
  • Length: 10.2 miles.
  • Type: Multi-use
  • Surface: Dirt
  • Managed By: McHenry County Conservation District
  • Permit Required?: Yes.
  • Website:

The Moraine Hills Trail System is a significant recreational area located in McHenry County, Illinois. The history of this trail system dates back to the early 20th century when the land was acquired by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The area was originally used for farming and was later transformed into a recreational space for the public to enjoy.

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a crucial role in developing the Moraine Hills area. The CCC was a work relief program established during the Great Depression, and its members worked on various conservation projects across the country. They constructed trails, picnic areas, and other amenities within the Moraine Hills region, making it more accessible and enjoyable for visitors.

Over the years, the Moraine Hills Trail System has undergone several expansions and improvements. In the 1970s, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources acquired additional land, expanding the trail system and enhancing its recreational offerings. Today, the trail system covers over 10 miles and offers a diverse range of activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, and wildlife observation.

The Moraine Hills Trail System holds historical significance not only for its development by the CCC but also for its location within the McHenry Moraine. The moraine is a geological formation created by the Wisconsin Glacier thousands of years ago. It is characterized by rolling hills, kettle lakes, and unique plant and animal species. Exploring the trails allows visitors to experience the natural beauty of the moraine while also appreciating the historical context of the area.

While On The Trail

Access Points

1. McHenry Dam Recreation Area: This access point is located at the McHenry Dam on the Fox River. It offers parking, restrooms, picnic areas, and fishing opportunities.

2. Lake Defiance Trailhead: Situated near Lake Defiance, this trailhead provides parking and access to the trail system. It offers beautiful views of the lake and surrounding nature.

3. Hickory Grove Trailhead: Located near Hickory Grove Lake, this trailhead offers parking and access to the trail system. It is a popular spot for birdwatching and fishing.

4. Lily Lake Trailhead: This access point is situated near Lily Lake and provides parking and access to the trail system. It offers scenic views of the lake and opportunities for fishing.

5. Leatherleaf Bog Trailhead: Located near Leatherleaf Bog, this trailhead offers parking and access to the trail system. It is known for its unique wetland ecosystem and diverse plant and animal life.

6. Lake Defiance South Trailhead: Situated on the southern end of Lake Defiance, this trailhead provides parking and access to the trail system. It offers beautiful views of the lake and surrounding nature.

7. Moraine Hills State Park Visitor Center: This access point is located at the visitor center of Moraine Hills State Park. It offers parking, restrooms, picnic areas, and access to the trail system. The visitor center also provides information about the park and its trails.

8. West Bay Trailhead: Situated near West Bay on the Fox River, this trailhead offers parking and access to the trail system. It provides scenic views of the river and opportunities for fishing.

9. Lake Defiance North Trailhead: Located on the northern end of Lake Defiance, this trailhead provides parking and access to the trail system. It offers beautiful views of the lake and surrounding nature.

10. Fox River Trailhead: This access point is located near the Fox River and provides parking and access to the trail system. It offers scenic views of the river and opportunities for fishing.

Transportation Available

1. Moraine Hills State Park Shuttle – Shuttle service providing transportation to and from Moraine Hills State Park.
2. Local Taxi Service – Taxi service available for transportation needs in the Moraine Hills Trail System area.
3. Ride-Sharing Services – On-demand ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are available for convenient transportation around the Moraine Hills Trail System.
4. Bike Rentals – Various bike rental shops offer bicycles for exploring the Moraine Hills Trail System.
5. Public Bus – Local public bus service providing transportation to and from the Moraine Hills Trail System.
6. Car Rental – Car rental agencies offer vehicles for rent, providing flexibility in transportation around the Moraine Hills Trail System.
7. Walking – The Moraine Hills Trail System is easily accessible by foot, allowing for a scenic and active mode of transportation.


The Moraine Hills Trail System offers the following amenities:

1. Restrooms: There are restroom facilities available at various locations within the trail system. These restrooms are equipped with toilets and handwashing facilities.

2. Parking: There are designated parking areas provided for visitors to park their vehicles. These parking lots are conveniently located near the trailheads and offer ample parking space.

3. Camping Sites: The trail system offers camping sites for those who wish to spend the night in the area. These sites may have amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and access to water sources.

4. Picnic Areas: There are designated picnic areas along the trails where visitors can enjoy outdoor meals and gatherings. These areas may have picnic tables, benches, and trash receptacles.

5. Fishing: The Moraine Hills Trail System is known for its fishing opportunities. There are fishing piers and access points along the trails where anglers can cast their lines and enjoy the sport.

6. Boating: The trail system provides access to the Fox River and Lake Defiance, offering opportunities for boating and water activities. Visitors can bring their own boats or rent them from nearby facilities.

7. Wildlife Viewing: The trail system is home to a variety of wildlife species. Visitors can enjoy observing birds, mammals, and other creatures in their natural habitat.

8. Interpretive Signs: Throughout the trail system, there are interpretive signs that provide information about the natural and cultural history of the area. These signs offer educational opportunities for visitors.

9. Dog-Friendly: The Moraine Hills Trail System allows dogs on leashes. Visitors can bring their furry friends along for a hike or walk, provided they follow the designated pet policies.

10. Accessibility: The trail system strives to be accessible to all visitors. There are paved and gravel paths, as well as accessible facilities, to accommodate individuals with mobility challenges.

Please note that amenities may vary depending on the specific trail or area within the Moraine Hills Trail System. It is recommended to check with the local authorities or visitor center for the most up-to-date information.

Nearby Services

1. Moraine Hills State Park Campground – Campground located within the trail system offering overnight stays.
2. Hampton Inn McHenry – Nearby hotel providing lodging options for trail visitors.
3. Culver’s – Fast food restaurant offering burgers, sandwiches, and frozen custard.
4. Subway – Chain sandwich shop serving a variety of subs and salads.
5. McDonald’s – Popular fast food chain serving burgers, fries, and more.
6. Taco Bell – Mexican-inspired fast food restaurant offering tacos, burritos, and more.
7. Dunkin’ – Coffee and donut chain providing breakfast items and beverages.
8. Walgreens – Pharmacy and convenience store offering emergency supplies and services.
9. Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital – Nearby hospital providing emergency medical services.
10. McHenry Police Department – Local police department offering emergency assistance and services.

Moraine Hills Trail System Difficulty Notes

The Moraine Hills Trail System offers a moderate difficulty level for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. With a total length of approximately 10 miles, the trail system provides a variety of terrains and elevations, making it suitable for both beginners and experienced hikers. The trails wind through picturesque woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, offering scenic views and opportunities for wildlife sightings. While some sections may have steeper inclines and uneven surfaces, the trails are generally well-maintained and clearly marked, ensuring a safe and enjoyable hiking experience for all.

Features And Attractions

1. Moraine Hills State Park: This 2,200-acre park offers stunning scenic views with rolling hills, lakes, and wetlands. It is home to several natural landmarks, including Lake Defiance, McHenry Dam, and Fox River.

2. Lake Defiance: This picturesque lake is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and picnicking. It offers beautiful views of the surrounding hills and forests.

3. McHenry Dam: Located on the Fox River, McHenry Dam provides a breathtaking view of the river and its surroundings. It is a great spot for fishing, kayaking, and birdwatching.

4. Fox River: The Moraine Hills Trail System follows the Fox River for a significant portion, offering scenic views of the river and its wildlife. You can enjoy walking or biking along the riverbank while taking in the natural beauty.

5. Leatherleaf Bog Nature Preserve: This unique natural landmark is a designated Illinois Nature Preserve. It features a boardwalk that allows visitors to explore the bog and observe its diverse plant and animal species.

6. Lake Napa Suwe: This small lake within Moraine Hills State Park offers a tranquil setting with beautiful views. It is a great spot for fishing, kayaking, and wildlife watching.

7. Lily Lake: Located near the trail system, Lily Lake is a serene lake surrounded by forested hills. It provides a peaceful setting for fishing, picnicking, and enjoying nature.

8. Moraine Hills Dam: This dam, located on the Fox River, offers a scenic view of the river and its surroundings. It is a popular spot for fishing and observing wildlife.

9. Lake Defiance Wetlands: These wetlands, located within Moraine Hills State Park, are home to a variety of plant and animal species. They offer a unique natural landscape and are ideal for birdwatching and nature photography.

10. Historical Sites: While the Moraine Hills Trail System primarily focuses on natural landmarks, there are also several historical sites nearby. These include the Volo Bog State Natural Area, Volo Auto Museum, and the McHenry County Historical Society Museum, which provide insights into the region’s history and culture.

Usage Guidelines

1. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times.
2. Clean up after your pet and dispose of waste properly.
3. Bicycles are allowed on designated trails only.
4. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trails.
5. Hunting or trapping is strictly prohibited.
6. Camping or overnight stays are not permitted.
7. Fires are only allowed in designated areas.
8. Do not disturb or harm wildlife or plant life.
9. Stay on designated trails and do not create new paths.
10. Respect seasonal restrictions, such as closures during hunting seasons.
11. Fishing is allowed in designated areas and requires a valid fishing license.
12. Swimming or wading in lakes or ponds is not permitted.
13. Do not litter and use designated trash receptacles.
14. Alcohol consumption is prohibited.
15. Respect other trail users and yield to pedestrians.
16. Use caution and be aware of potential hazards on the trails.
17. Follow any additional rules or guidelines posted at trailheads or along the trails.

Seasonal Information

The Moraine Hills Trail System, located in northeastern Illinois, offers a picturesque and diverse landscape for outdoor enthusiasts to explore. The best times of the year to visit this trail system are during the spring and fall seasons. In spring, the trails come alive with vibrant wildflowers and lush greenery, creating a stunning backdrop for hikers, bikers, and nature lovers. The weather during this time is generally pleasant, with mild temperatures and lower humidity, making it ideal for outdoor activities.

Fall is another fantastic time to visit the Moraine Hills Trail System. The foliage transforms into a breathtaking display of reds, oranges, and yellows, providing a scenic and tranquil setting for visitors. The crisp air and cooler temperatures make hiking or biking along the trails a refreshing experience. Additionally, the fall season offers opportunities for birdwatching, as many migratory birds pass through the area during this time.

It is important to note that the Moraine Hills Trail System has seasonal closures in place. During the winter months, some sections of the trails may be closed due to snow and icy conditions, ensuring the safety of visitors. It is advisable to check the trail conditions and closures before planning a visit during this time. However, the trail system remains open for activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, providing a unique winter experience for outdoor enthusiasts.

Overall, the Moraine Hills Trail System offers a year-round outdoor adventure for nature enthusiasts. Whether you prefer the vibrant colors of spring and fall or the snowy landscapes of winter, this trail system provides a beautiful and diverse setting to explore and enjoy the wonders of nature.


1. Wheelchair Accessible Parking: Designated parking spaces close to trail entrances for easy access.
2. Paved Trails: Smooth, paved pathways throughout the trail system for wheelchair users.
3. Accessible Restrooms: Restroom facilities equipped with accessible features such as grab bars and wider doorways.
4. Accessible Picnic Areas: Picnic spots with accessible tables and seating arrangements.
5. Trail Signage: Clear and visible signage along the trails, including Braille and tactile markers for visually impaired individuals.
6. Accessible Trailheads: Trail entrances designed to accommodate wheelchair users with ramps or level access.
7. Benches and Rest Areas: Rest areas along the trails with accessible benches for individuals who need to take breaks.
8. Accessible Fishing Piers: Fishing piers with wheelchair ramps and accessible features for individuals with disabilities.
9. Trail Maps: Accessible trail maps available in various formats, including large print or digital versions.
10. Assistance Animals: Accommodation for individuals with disabilities who require assistance animals while using the trail system.

Safety Information

When visiting the Moraine Hills Trail System, it is important to keep the following safety information in mind:

1. Stay on designated trails: Stick to the marked trails and avoid venturing off into unmarked areas. This will help prevent getting lost or encountering hazardous terrain.

2. Carry a trail map: Always carry a trail map with you to ensure you know your location and can navigate the trail system effectively. Familiarize yourself with the map before starting your hike.

3. Dress appropriately: Wear sturdy and comfortable footwear suitable for hiking. Dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions and bring rain gear if necessary. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and applying sunscreen.

4. Stay hydrated: Carry an adequate amount of water with you and drink regularly to stay hydrated, especially during hot weather or strenuous hikes. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and other health issues.

5. Be aware of wildlife: The Moraine Hills Trail System is home to various wildlife species. Respect their habitat and observe them from a safe distance. Do not feed or approach wild animals, as this can be dangerous for both you and the animals.

6. Use insect repellent: Apply insect repellent to protect yourself from ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects. Check for ticks after your hike and remove them promptly to reduce the risk of tick-borne illnesses.

7. Be cautious near water bodies: The trail system includes several lakes and ponds. Exercise caution when near water bodies, especially if you are not a strong swimmer. Follow any posted signs or guidelines regarding swimming, boating, or fishing.

8. Carry essential supplies: Bring a small first aid kit, a whistle, a flashlight, and a fully charged cell phone in case of emergencies. It is also advisable to inform someone about your hiking plans and estimated return time.

9. Practice Leave No Trace principles: Respect the environment by leaving no trace of your visit. Pack out all trash and dispose of it properly. Minimize your impact on the trail system and its surroundings.

10. Be mindful of weather conditions: Check the weather forecast before heading out and be prepared for changing conditions. Avoid hiking during severe weather, such as thunderstorms, high winds, or extreme temperatures.

Remember, safety is paramount when enjoying outdoor activities. By following these guidelines, you can have a safe and enjoyable experience while exploring the Moraine Hills Trail System.

Conservation Notes

The Moraine Hills Trail System is considered to be in a relatively good conservation status. The trail system is located within the Moraine Hills State Park in Illinois, which is dedicated to preserving the natural resources and providing recreational opportunities for visitors. The park management actively works towards maintaining and protecting the ecological integrity of the area.

One of the key conservation efforts in the Moraine Hills Trail System is the preservation of the diverse habitats found within the park. The trail system traverses through various ecosystems, including woodlands, wetlands, prairies, and lakes. These habitats support a wide range of plant and animal species, some of which are rare or endangered. The park management implements measures to prevent habitat degradation, such as controlling invasive species and managing the water levels in the wetlands to maintain their ecological balance.

Additionally, the Moraine Hills State Park has implemented conservation practices to ensure the sustainability of the trail system. This includes regular maintenance of the trails to prevent erosion and minimize the impact on the surrounding environment. The park also promotes responsible recreational activities, such as hiking and birdwatching, to minimize disturbance to wildlife and their habitats. Overall, the conservation status of the Moraine Hills Trail System is considered to be well-managed, with efforts focused on preserving the natural resources and promoting the long-term sustainability of the area.

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