Moraine Hills State Park is an 8,000-acre (3,200ha) state park in the northeast corner of the U.S. state of Illinois, just south and west of Peoria. The park was named after the nearby town of Morris, Illinois, which itself received its name from a rock formation resembling a large hill called “The Mountain”. It contains one of the most extensive systems of multi-use trails in central Illinois, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling trails as well as areas for hunting, fishing, camping, picnic tables with pavilions, swimming, boating and boat launch, cabins, group camp, lodge, playgrounds, miniature golf course, and nature center.
In addition to these facilities, there are eight miles (13km) of trail dedicated to equestrian use. Trails range from easy to moderate in difficulty, and their length can vary greatly depending on where you decide to hike them. Some go through wooded areas while others venture out into prairie or wetland environments. All pass through unique geological features not found anywhere else in the state. One popular trail follows along the Rock Fork of the Plum River; another passes through a heavily forested area near Bald Eagle Lake. A third winds past numerous sandstone caves located throughout the park. Two other trails enter the park at different points, allowing hikers to take advantage of shorter parking lines by using the Cave Trailhead east of Highway 137 and the Prairie Trailhead off of County Road 100. Both provide access to the same trail system. The park also has two designated mountain bike routes, which follow the shoreline of Bald Eagle Lake and skirt the edges of Dead Horse Point. Camping overnight in your vehicle is allowed in certain parts of the park, but it is not recommended due to the high level of traffic.
Overnight accommodations are available at two primitive campsites, accessible via Backbone Road within the park. Toilets and showers are provided at both sites, but water is only available at the Deer Creek site. Advance campsite reservations can be booked through the park reservation system. Half of the campsites will remain open year round, while the remainder close during winter months. Deer Creek Campground opens on November 15 and closes October April 30. Reservations can be made online through the park reservation system. Primitive camping is allowed in specified areas of the park. Group Camp and Youth Tenting Area are available for larger organizations. Picnic tables and covered shelters may be reserved for specific times, and unassigned campsites are available all year long.
Modern restroom facilities and water are available at the Group Camp Area. This 1+12 unit campground accommodates up to 48 people in 12 person tent/RV sites and 4 person yurts. No pets are permitted inside the yurt. There are 3 modern shower houses and 2 vault toilets in this area. 16 of the 32 campsites have electric hookups. Restrooms facilities are wheelchair accessible. Water is available in the Group Camp Area, and ice is available in the Icehouse. Other amenities include a basketball court, horseshoe courts, volleyball net, tether and ladder ball. Archery and muzzle loading are available during deer season. Hunting is limited to bowhunting. Moraine Hills State Park offers many opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts.
Sand Spring Lake is stocked with rainbow trout each fall, and a special youth fishing derby is held annually on Father’s Day weekend. Tennis courts, soccer fields, and a baseball diamond are maintained by the park for public play. Several miles of trails are scattered throughout the park, ranging from easy to difficult terrain. Easy trails feature wide paths and minimal hills, while more rugged trails contain steep slopes, narrow pathways, and dense vegetation. Parking lots are equipped with restrooms facilities, and vending machines sell soft drinks, snacks, and firewood. The park includes three separate entrances, providing multiple options for accessing the trail network.
From I-74, take exit 265B (Millennium Parkway), then head north on IL 111. At the first intersection, turn left onto County Route 100. Travel 13 miles (21km) on CR 100 until reaching its end at IL 19. Turn right, heading southwest back toward Peoria. After 11 miles (18km) of driving, turn left again at the sign for Moraine Hills State Park. This section of road becomes very curvy, so caution is advised. Once in the park, continue straight ahead until reaching the main entrance. Located across from the main entrance is the Davis Creek Entrance, accessed via Buckle Road. This entrance provides direct access to the Cave Trailhead, which is used by hiker/bikers. Continuing down the road past the Davis Creek entrance leads to the Prairie Trailhead, which provides access to the entire park. Past that entrance, continuing down the road further leads to the Bald Eagle Lake entrance, which provides access to the beach and Bald Eagle Lake.
Also, farther down the road is the Johnson Beach Access, providing additional parking and access to the lake. On either side of the road are small parking lots, which provide access to the various trailheads, including the Prairie Trailhead, the Bald Eagle Lake entrance, and the Johnson Beach Access. These parking lots are full service, i.e., they have gas pumps, rest rooms, etc. Vending machines are also present, selling soft drinks, energy bars, Tootsie Rolls, etc. An outdoor store sells firewood, charcoal, and other camping supplies. The park receives about 230,000 visitors per year.
According to legend, Native Americans once hunted in the region, utilizing natural resources such as the river, lakes, plants, animals, and even stone from the surrounding bluffs to survive. By 1750, settlers had moved into the Peoria area, establishing farms, gristmills, and sawmills. As word spread of the fertile farming soil, population increased, and by 1850 Peoria became the largest city in the state. During the 1860s, railroad transportation arrived, connecting Peoria with the outside world. With the coming of the railroads, the demand for lumber reached northern Illinois. White pine, red pine, eastern hemlock, and southern white oak were harvested from the bluffs, bringing great wealth to the area. Lumbermen stripped the forests, taking what they needed and leaving behind a wasteland of stumps, brush, and trees still waiting to be harvested. Those who remained in the territory began the arduous process of rebuilding the forests.
The young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps led the effort, constructing parks, buildings, roads, bridges, and trails designed by architects like Walter Burley Griffin and Louis Schollander. Over 200,000 acres of land were added to the National Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management between 1933 and 1942. Much of this new federal property was donated to the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, for inclusion in the newly created Moraine Hills State Park. Additional lands were acquired later, increasing the park’s size to nearly 800 square miles. While much of the new federal land brought beauty and prosperity to the region, some parcels proved troublesome. Unsuitable for logging, some of this acreage was left vacant, attracting vandals and urban explorers. In time, these squatters’ rights holders sold their interests to commercial enterprises, often resulting in undesirable developments.
Popular activities include:
- horseback riding
- cross country skiing
- aunching boats
During snowy winters activities offered are
- ice skating