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Illinois State Parks

USA Parks
Northern Region
Moraine Hills State Park
Moraine Hills State Park Young Sandhill Crane © Robert P. Whitney
Moraine Hills State Park © Ken Schweder
1510 S. River Road
McHenry, Illinois   60051

Phone: 815-385-1624
From angling to hiking, from viewing rare plants to observing migratory waterfowl, Moraine Hills State Park offers you a recreational bounty. Located in the northeast corner of Illinois, the park is 3 miles south of McHenry. McHenry Dam, on the Fox River, is on the park's western border. Roughly half of the park's 2,200 acres is composed of wetlands and lakes.
Nature of the Area

Moraine Hills derives its name from a geologic formation known as a moraine, which is an accumulation of boulders, stones and other debris deposited by a glacier. As glacial ice melted here following the Wisconsin glaciation period, it left gravel-rich deposits called kames that make up the park's wooded hills and ridges.

Natural Features:

A 48-acre lake near the center of the park was formed when a large portion of ice broke away from the main glacier and melted. Lake Defiance is gradually filling in with peat from its unstable shoreline. The lake is one of the few glacial lakes in Illinois that has remained largely undeveloped, maintaining a near-natural condition.

Pike Marsh, a 115-acre area in the southeast corner of the park, is home to many rare plants. Its outer fen area (a very rare marsh wetland) includes Ohio goldenrod, Kalm's lobelia, dwarf birch, and hoary willow, while cattails and bulrushes grow in its interior. Pike Marsh also supports one of the state's largest known colonies of pitcher plants, which attract, trap, and digest insects.

The 120-acre region known as Leatherleaf Bog is an excellent example of kettle-moraine topography. In geological terms, a kettle is a depression formed when an isolated block of glacial ice melts. The bog consists of a floating mat of sphagnum moss and leatherleaf surrounded by a moat of water. Marsh fern, marsh mari-gold, St. John's wort, and several species of willow put down roots here. Because both Pike Marsh and Leatherleaf Bog are dedicated nature preserves, they are protected by law.

Moraine Hills offers three examples of wetland enhancements. Yellow-head, Black Tern, and Opossum Run marshes are samples of what can be accomplished with a little help from man.


For a wide spectrum of wildlife, Moraine Hills is home sweet home. Red fox, coyote, white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail, mink, opossum, and racoon inhabit the park, while more than 100 species of birds have been identified here. Great blue herons and green herons feed in the marsh areas in the summer, and the park is heavily used by migratory waterfowl, such as mallards, teal, wood ducks and Canada geese.
History of the Area
Artifacts found on the park property indicate man's presence in the area within 1,000 years of the Wisconsin glacier's retreat. Seasonal habitation of the park area extends back to approximately 4,000 B.C. Native American tribes that occupied or passed through the area include the Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox and possibly the Miami and Winnebago. The Sauk and Fox tribes, originally from what is now Canada, claimed ownership of the land at the time of white settlement.

Horace Long was the first known settler in the park area and occupied a portion on what is now the southeast corner of the park. Part of the stone foundation from his cabin still stands along the main park road.

In 1907, the original McHenry dam was built and a hand operated lock was constructed. The facilities were donated to the people of Illinois in 1924 and construction of a new concrete block dam began in 1934. In the early 1960's, a portion of the park property on the west bank of the Fox River was provided for the locks and managed by the Division of Water Resources.

In 1939, the State of Illinois made the initial land acquisition of 15 acres for the McHenry Dam State Park, located on the east bank of the Fox River. Major acquisition of the Lake Defiance area began in 1971, and construction of park facilities took place in the spring of 1975. The present Moraine Hills opened in October 1976.
Park Store
The park features two conveniently located concession stands, one at the McHenry Dam and another on the lower level of the park office, on Lake Defiance. Both provide not only refreshments, but also boat rentals, bait, and tackle. The McHenry Dam Concession is open 7 days a week from April until October. The Lake Defiance Concession is open on weekends and holidays, when weather permits. Information can be found on the web at www.mchenrydam.com or by calling 815-385-5921.
Private watercraft are not allowed, but rental boats are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and electric trolling motors may be used. While trailers are prohibited in the park, private boats may be brought in by car top for use on the river.

If your visit to Moraine Hills includes picnicking, you can choose from tables in shaded or open settings throughout the park's 10 day use areas. Each area offers parking, drinking water, and rustic toilet facilities. Flush toilets are available at the McHenry Dam concession building and at the park office. Pike Marsh, Pine Hills, Whitetail Prairie and the Northern Woods day use areas provide picnic shelters.
More than 10 miles of trails make Moraine Hills popular for hikers, skiers and cyclists, and provide one of the park's main recreation features. Three trails, surfaced with crushed limestone, wind their way through the park and offer you exceptional scenic and wildlife viewing opportunities. Enjoy the 2-mile Fox River Trail, the 3.2-mile Leatherleaf Bog Trail, and the 3.7-mile Lake Defiance Trail. To keep you on track, trails are color coded and one way. Our fourth trail, the River Road trail is paved, and is 1.7 miles long.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
June 17 Beautiful and Well maintained Park! by Penny
We go here several times a year for picnicking and hiking and bird watching!. Good trails and a nice lake area. Interesting trail areas.
March 1 Great park, unhappy staff
Moraine Hills is a beautiful park. But the staff have been rather unfriendly. In one case, a staff person was outright rude. My wife and I have had many long walks there, but on one day we made the mistake of staying a few minutes after the closing time. Despite our sincere apologies and the fact we had never done this before, he treated us as criminals and told us he reported our vehicle plates to the state police. If we did it again, we would have to call them and pay a fine to get out. I fully understand the need to be out by closing time,and for staff to tell us not to do it again. but its not right to be so hostile and unprofessional towards taxpaying patrons for a first time offense which was a unintentional.
March 3 Best park around for walking or relaxin by Tiffany Hoffers
Best kept up park in the area! Great facility, with all the natural beauty in site! This is a favorite spot of my entire family and many friends

Area Campgrounds
Fox River Recreation Inc
27884 West Route 173
Antioch, IL
Fish Lake Beach Resort
32223 N US Highway 12
Volo, IL
Area Accommodations (over 20 miles away)
You will feel right at home when you reach Carroll County, our corner of beautiful Northwest Illinois. The magnificent Mississippi River and outdoor spaces will refresh your spirit and touch our soul.
98.5 miles from park*
Cottages and Cabins
Within a 10 minute drive from Starved Rock and even closer to Matthiessen State Parks you will find a gorgeous, tranquil property with spacious cabins on 50 wooded acres. All with full kitchens and outdoor fire pits. 3 dog friendly.
86.6 miles from park*
Relax in the rustic beauty and comfort of Starved Rock Lodge, Cabins and Starved Rock Inn. The historic Lodge has 69 guest rooms, which include three bay-window rooms, plus cabins nestled in the woods. Fireplaces can be found in four of the eight sunset cabins near the pool area...
78.6 miles from park*

From the North: IL Rt. 12 south to Rt. 176, West on Rt.176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the South: IL Rt. 12 north to Rt. 176, West on Rt. 176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the East: Rt. 176 to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance

From the West: IL Rt. 176 West to River Road, North on River Road approx. 2 miles to entrance


Illinois State Parks