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McLean County Nature Day

McLean County Nature Day

As much as I believe I belong in the mountains, I still do love my flat home state of Illinois. And despite its lack of mountains, it still has so much to offer someone looking for outdoor recreation. On a recent trip home I visited a couple parks and thought I’d share a few pictures from the day!

First, I visited Moraine View State Recreation Area near Le Roy, Illinois. As its name implies, this park sits on a large moraine created by glaciers 15,000 years ago. One main feature of the park is a beautiful lake. While checking out the lake I saw a hummingbird for the first time in the “wild” (not at a backyard feeder). It was so interesting to watch the bird feed on some beautiful iris, and I was surprised at how camouflaged it was in the flowers. And a trip to an Illinois lake wouldn’t be complete without seeing lots and lots of geese.

Next I headed to Comlara Park. I basically grew up in this park and visit it frequently when I’m in the area. Even so, I usually see something new and exciting while I’m there. On this trip I made friends with a turtle crossing the road and found some deer and raccoon tracks. Spotting wildlife is my favorite part of being outdoors!

When I decided to take a “nature day” I didn’t realize how close Moraine View was to my childhood home (hint: extremely). Even when you’re in an urban area, nature is all around, and finding an outdoor space to play in might be closer than you think!

Now that I’ve had more experience looking for outdoor spaces, I have a few go-to sites for finding hiking trails, camping, etc. For hiking I always turn to AllTrails. It is an extremely easy-to-use site, and in the event a trail I’m considering isn’t already on the site, it’s easy to add. My other go-to for any kind of outdoor activity is The Outbound. This site has everything, crowdsourced and added by “explorers”. It’s another great resource that’s easy to add to if you know of activities that aren’t already included. Between these two sites I can find something to do near every location I’ve ever tried, and would recommend them to anyone. Do you have a favorite way to track down outdoor activities? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 16 – Starved Rock State Park

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 16 – Starved Rock State Park

For Hike 16 of my 52 Hike Challenge, I headed to a state park close to home, yet one I’ve sadly neglected: Starved Rock State Park. The park borders the Illinois River and contains 18 canyons formed by glacial melt. Legend says the park’s name comes from members of the Illinois tribe who starved to death while hiding from members of the Ottawa tribe.

My friend and I hiked two of these trails: the Starved Rock Trail that overlooks the Illinois River and French Canyon so we could see some of the park’s famous waterfalls. Both hikes were easy, but there were quite a few stairs involved.

We hiked the Starved Rock Trail first, which opened up to a great overlook. This trail is right next to the Lodge and food, which makes it a great end point to your day – get in some views, then sit back with a snack and relax. However, we had a jam-packed day and couldn’t stay to eat at the park, so we hiked it first. We couldn’t go to Starved Rock and not hike the namesake trail!

Next, we hiked French Canyon. Turns out we went a little too far and wound up in Wildcat Canyon, but doing a little extra walking never hurt. This trail was through some pretty heavy canopy which meant it was shady, but extremely humid and buggy. Definitely need bug spray in the canyons!

Both trails were absolutely packed. It’s great to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, but there were definitely some trail etiquette issues. It was a beautiful Memorial Day weekend and I suspect that brought out a lot of novice/casual hikers. However, I think this park is always popular. A few weeks after our hike the park had to close temporarily because there was no parking. All this to say, hiking short, popular trails here probably isn’t for you if you like a more secluded/solitary experience.

Overall we had a great time, and it was nice to be able to quickly knock out a couple different trails. I would love to return in winter when the falls (and crowds) are frozen.

Have you been to Starved Rock or another favorite state park? Tell me about it in the comments!

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 11 – Amicalola Falls

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 11 – Amicalola Falls

In my hike 10 post, I mentioned that committing to the 52 Hike Challenge had pushed me to focus more on my diet and fitness. I chose CrossFit as my method to get more trail fit, so I was super pumped when my gym organized a hiking trip to Amicalola Falls this weekend.

Amicalola Falls is the tallest waterfall in Georgia (actually tallest east of the Mississippi at 729 feet) and is included in pretty much every list of best hikes in Georgia that I’ve seen! Amicalola was named by the Cherokee who lived in this area pre-Trail of Tears and the word means “tumbling waters”. Amicalola State Park now serves as a popular starting or ending point for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, being only about 8 miles by trail from Springer Mountain, the official start/end point.

There are several trails in the park. Our group chose to hike from the Visitor’s Center to the top of the falls via the Amicalola Falls Trail, then traversed the Fitness Trail (perfect for CrossFitters with 20 exercise stations along the one mile loop), and returned to the Visitor’s Center via the last mile of the Southern Terminus Approach Trail, also known as the East Ridge Trail.

The Amicalola Falls Trail is considered moderate to difficult in part because of the 425 stairs leading to the top. Luckily we’re used to lunging and stepping/jumping onto objects so we were in good shape for so many stairs (but it was still tiring and sweaty)! You are right on top of the water action the whole way up, so even if you want to stop and take a breather on one of the many benches on the stairs, you still have a great view. The view from the top of the falls is spectacular, looking the 700+ feet down, and the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills in the distance. We were lucky to catch a clear day and could see forever. And FYI, conveniently there is a bathroom at the top of the falls.

At the top of the falls we stopped at a small creek that was perfect for having a snack and a few of us dunked out feet in the freezing cold but refreshing water.

After this little breather we hit the Fitness Trail. If you skip all the exercises this trail is a cinch, nice and flat, and wide/clearly marked. We got to show off our fitness tricks along the wat and had extra fun at the pullup bars.

Having completed the Fitness Trail we headed back to our cars via the rocky and moderately steep East Ridge Trail. This trail gave us some awesome views of the Blue Ridge foothills before descending into forest and eventually reaching the Visitor’s Center.

Only about three miles of distance covered in this hike, but quite a bit of elevation made this a great workout for a Sunday afternoon. There were some first time hikers in the group which was especially fun. What a great first hiking experience to conquer a tough trail and see a magnificent waterfall! Hopefully the hiking bug grabs them like it has me! Have you hiked Amicalola or other Georgia waterfalls? Tell me about it in the comments!

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