Channahon State Park is an 8,193-acre (3,260ha) state park in Will County, Illinois. The park was formed from land donated by the city of Joliet and Will County following a massive flood that occurred along the Raccoon River on June 14, 1961. It opened to the public on May 18, 1964.The park features hiking trails, boat ramps, picnic areas, cabins, 96-room lodge, equestrian center, archery range, disc golf course, playgrounds, swimming pool, and nature center as well as access to the bike trail, the Greenway Trail.
There are also horseback riding stables within the park. The park has been used to film several movies including The Mummy, Zorro Rides Again, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Little Darlings, Eve’s Bayou, Savages, and TV series such as Hannibal, Supernatural, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. Scenes from The Darkness(2016) were shot here as well. The park hosted The Unconquered, a star party organized by the International Dark-Sky Association, in August 2018. The event featured presentations, live music, and interactive science demonstrations. Camping is no longer available at the park. To compensate, two equestrian overnight facilities have been built near the main entrance. They include 40 semi-modern campsites and 12 primitive sites, as well as modern restrooms and showers, parking lots, and a stable building housing up to 48 horses. The facility can accommodate any size group, from individuals traveling alone to large family groups like the Waltons or the Carters.
Overnight guests must provide their own sheets, blankets, towels, food, and drink. Daytime visitors may enter into one of three different permit zones; Horse Zone, Group Camp Area, or Public Viewing Area. Horses allowed in the Horse Zone must remain in the pasture during daylight hours, they may not leave the property or run off the bridle path. Night time is designated for free-running throughout the entire park. The Group Camp Area accommodates 50 people and includes four grassy soccer fields, two basketball courts, volleyball court, horseshoe pit, sandbeach, playground, and restroom/bathing facilities. The Public Viewing Area allows unlimited viewing of the river valley, forest, and park from a distance of approximately 100 feet (30m), but does not allow entry into the park. During regular season, there is daily naturalist activity scheduled in the Nature Center. Entrance fees are waived for those under age 16 and their adult supervisors. Active military (with ID) receive discounted admission.
Annual passes can be purchased at the park office. Visitors needing special accommodations, such as wheelchairs, can reserve a pass to take guided tours around the park. The Friends of Channahon State Park organization led efforts to preserve open space around the park. An agreement was made with the Department of Natural Resources and the Land and Water Reserve Board to set aside 310 acres of shoreline and 2,400 acres of woodlands in perpetuity as environmental protection from development. This environmental protection extends to the adjoining privately owned lands, preventing future logging and other development. Additionally, the DNR manages another 1,500 acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands outside the park boundaries that are preserved as part of the Vermilion Range Wildlife Management Area. These managed parcels prevent further erosion and flooding across the Vermilion River watershed.
The park offers over 300 miles (480km) of footpaths and biking routes as part of the Northeastern Illinois Bike Route System, connecting with other parks, cities, towns and landmarks such as Homewood, IL., Grafton, IN., Rockford, IL., and Madison, WI. The park contains a section of the Great Rivers National Scenic Trail, spanning from Peoria to St. Louis. The Peoria to St. Louis segment runs adjacent to the east bank of the Vermilion River. The Rock Island Bridge, located just west of the park, carries traffic on the Vermilion between the counties of Will and Grundy. The bridge is maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation, who report annual average volumes of 267,000 vehicles.
At least 200,000 of these are trucks, carrying hazardous materials or agricultural products. Approximately 10% of the trucks stop in Channahon State Park, creating a potential health risk due to the release of diesel exhaust. The campground opens on Memorial Day weekend and closes Labor Day, unless posted otherwise. Reservations are accepted from Friday to Sunday nights during the summer. Half of the campsites are available for self-registration on a first come, first served basis. Advance registration requires a reservation fee. The campground has 96 electric hookups and 24 non-electric sites. Modern rest rooms and shower buildings with hot water are provided in the campground. No pets are permitted inside the campground. Campsites without electricity do not contain generators. Access to a carpool lane on Interstate 74 is possible via an exit ramp at Butterfield Road. This ramp is signed “Exit 76A” on signs, however it is still labeled Exit 76 on official maps. This exit leads to a county highway, CR 337. From there it is less than half a mile to the park entrance on SR 37.
The park entrance road is hilly, so most drivers prefer to take the alternate route via the interstate. However, if you reach your destination and decide you don’t want to go back out again, there is an easier way to get home using the same roads. Head north on SR 37 toward Cantigny Creek. When the road levels out, make a right onto County Trunk Highway (CTH) 340. CTH 340 becomes very crowded, especially on weekends, so it is best to head towards the Vermilion River. Make a left turn at the T intersection, then follow the riverbank for about 3 miles (4.8km). Stay on the gravel road, rather than taking the more difficult rutted county road. Once back on SR 37, it is a short drive back to the interstate. Although the above directions work fine for getting to the park, driving away from the park can be challenging.
Most people find it easier to take the interstate approach, since it avoids having to cross busy intersections. However, if you absolutely must take a county road, there is a shortcut. Instead of heading south on SR 37 to Butterfield Rd., take the much smaller eastern spur, leaving the park via Exit 76. Then take a sharp left turn, going west on County Route 337. This road will bring you almost directly back to the interstate, making it easy to get back to US 52. For those living in the westernmost parts of the United States, it may seem counterintuitive to travel east instead of west, but remember that we are dealing with angles here. East is to the top of the triangle, and west is to the base. So whether you are coming from the northwest or the southwest, it makes sense to go east to get back to the interstate. Another thing to keep in mind is that SR 37 changes names multiple times, so watch carefully where the sign says “Butterfield.”
In 1970, Channahon State Park became part of the newly created Midstate Trail, which now forms the northern boundary of the park. On September 13, 2011, a severe thunderstorm with straight-line winds came through the area, causing damage to the campgrounds and trails. After this incident, the campground remained closed until July 2012 when it reopened for limited daytime use only. A new master plan for the park was adopted at a meeting held on March 20, 2013, where it was announced that all camping would be permanently banned. The ban took effect on December 19, 2016, when the last remaining campsite at the park was officially vacated.