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Illinois State Parks

USA Parks
Western Region
Sand Ridge State Forest
Sand Ridge State Forest Fallen Acorns © Betsy Cox
Fallen acorns on the forest ground of Sand Ridge State Forest.
Sand Ridge State Forest Sandy trail © Betsy Cox
Sand trail covered with fallen leaves at Sand Ridge State Forest.
P.O. Box 111
Forest City, Illinois   61532

Phone: 309-597-2212
Reservations: 309-597-2212
For those who think central Illinois is one big corn field, Sand Ridge State Forest will come as a very pleasant surprise. The forest is an island in a sea of agriculture. Just minutes southwest of Peoria, this 7,200-acre, the largest of Illinois' State Forests, boasts sweeping expanses of native oak-hickory, extensive plantations of pine, sprawling open fields, grasslands, and completely unique sand prairies. For a refreshing, invigorating taste of unspoiled nature and an opportunity to experience truly unique environment, Sand Ridge State Forest is ideal.

The area is the result of a prehistoric dry period when more desert-like conditions existed. Today it remains one of the few places in Illinois that supports an intriguing variety of plants and animals more associated with the southwest than the midwest. Those include badger, silvery bladderpod, pocket gopher and prickly pear cactus to name a few.

The raw, undeveloped expanses of hardwood and pine blanketing the panoramic vistas contain miles of outstanding hiking, backpacking, snowmobiling, and horseback riding opportunities. Hunting of deer, turkey, pheasant, quail, dove, and squirrel is permitted. There is a hand trap shooting facility and an archery range.

For the dedicated outdoors person this is truly an island of great opportunity to see how diverse Illinois is. For the day visitor, the forest offers picnic facilities and the chance for fascinating experience with nature in the Henry Allen Gleason Nature Preserve. You can enjoy the pristine sand prairie in a protected area closed to vehicles, domestic animals and hunting.

A bird watcher's paradise, Sand Ridge State Forest also is an important nesting area for a great variety of neo-tropical migratory birds, such as ovenbird, indigo bunting, veery and scarlet tanager.
History of the Area
Fifteen thousand years ago the flood waters of the last glaciation period receded down the Illinois River valley leaving a vast deposit of sand near Pekin to down past Beardstown and as far west as San Jose. A subsequent period of extreme dryness and warmth invited plants and animals of the southwestern states to extend their range. Shifting winds sculpted 100 foot high sand dunes evident today as the now wooded ridges for which the forest is named.

In 1939, 5504 acres of this forested tract was purchased by the state to be managed by the Division of Forestry as an experimental forest. The Civilian Conservation Corps planted pine trees to control erosion and demonstrate the viability of growing a commercial tree crop in sandy soil. The current 2492 acres of pine plantations are still producing sawlog-size timber for Illinois' future needs. The native oak-hickory forest is selectively utilized for a firewood cutting program. There are special times throughout the year when firewood collection is allowed.

In 1971, the Division of Land Management took over management of the site and the area became known as Sand Ridge State Forest. Today, the forest covers 7200 acres -- 3916 acres of native oak-hickory forest, 2492 acres of pine, and the rest in open fields and sand prairies.
 Hiking Trailyes
 Swimming Beachyes
 Bike Trailsyes
 Bridle Trailsyes
BoatingLaunch Rampsyes
If you and your family are interested in a rustic setting for camping, Pine Campground is the place for you. It contains 27 Class "C" sites featuring water, pit-vault toilets, fire pad, and a place to park two vehicles. Oak Campground provides open space, water, pit toilets, and council rings for organized group camping (Group Camp Reservation Application). Horseman's Park offers a staging area for equestrian camping, and horseback riding activities with hitching rails, water, pit toilets and a shelter area. Oak Campground and Horseman's Park have shelters that can be rented by sending a shelter reservation application to the forest headqueartes. Back-country camping is available at 12 primitive sites along the 55 miles of trail for a true wilderness camping experience. Users must obtain a permit from the Forest Headquarters prior to back-country use.

Groups of 25 people or more must have a Group Use Permit from the Site Superintendent. Activity Permits are required whenever a non-traditional use of any facility is requested and/or any activity that might increase potential liability tot he Department.

What better way to spend the day than to load up the car with the family for an old-fashioned picnic. The Turkey Pass Picnic Area is located on Cactus Drive just north of Pine Campground. Table, grill, water, shelter, and pit-vault toilets are provided. Groups of 25 or more must have a Group Use Permit or may reserve the shelter with a Shelter Reservation sent to the Site Superintendent.
Equestrian Trails:

Horseman's Park is the starting point for all equestrian use. The 55 miles of trails and over 150 miles of fire lanes offer the average horse rider an excellent opportunity (Equestrian Regulations). Firepads, hitching rails, and pit-valut toilets are provided for visitor use. There is a shelter for day use or can be reserved by sending the shelter reservation application to the forest headquarters. Groups must have an activity permit.

Hiking Trails:

Forty-four miles of marked trails, ranging from 1.6 to 17 miles each, and 120 miles of fire lanes offer unequaled opportunities to the hiker, back packer, horseback rider or snowmobiler.


A person can take advantage of 26 miles of designated trails when there's at least 4 inches of snow. The trail head is located at the Oak Campground just of Cactus Drive and the trail is open 24 hours a day.
Area Attractions

A person can take advantage of 26 miles of designated trails when there's at least 4 inches of snow. The trail head is located at the Oak Campground just of Cactus Drive and the trail is open 24 hours a day.

Hand Trap Range

A facility is open all year, except during the upland game season, for visitors interested in shooting trap. Rifles and handguns are not allowed on the hand trap range Remember to put spent shells and other liter in it's place. Please register at the Forest Headquarters and check the regulations before shooting.

Visitor Comments, Memories and Reviews
May 30 Beautiful Area
Lovely pine tree with very pretty camp site. Interesting area with cactus. We saw quite a few people with their horses their in the horse camp area. Ticks and air mites. Be prepared. It is a very lovely area with good trails.
October 25 Great place to hike, interesting flora
We had a beautiful day for a picnic and hiking. We also spent some time at the fish hatchery visitor center. We want to come back and see it in action. Practically had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the quiet and the butterflies.
May 20 Wagons or driving
I hear that this park is good for driving horses, does anyone have any input on this? Thank you

Area Campgrounds
Evening Star Camping Resort
23049 US Highway 136
Topeka, IL
Area Accommodations (over 20 miles away)
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.
69.7 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...
77.5 miles from park*

From the west, east or south: Follow IL Rt 136 to Mason County Road 2800E and turn north. Continue in a straight line for about 6 miles, through the village of Forest City. This road will turn to the west and become Mason County Road 2300N and will lead you directly into the forest. From the north, follow IL Rt 29 south out of Pekin to the Manito Road, turn west and go to Manito, about 20 miles. In Manito, watch for the sign for Mason County Road 2500N and again turn west (right). In about 6 miles you will have entered the forest. From either entrance, follow our clearly marked signs to the facility or destination of your choice.

For more information contact site personnel at Sand Ridge State Forest, P.O. Box 111, Forest City, IL 61532 or by phone at 309-597-2212.


Illinois State Parks