Fox Ridge State Park sits just eight miles south of Charleston, on Rt 130. Sitting just East of the Embarras (pronounced Ambraw) River, this scenic park has something for just about everyone! The Embarras river was a major North-South trading route in the early history of Illinois, and numerous arrowheads discovered in the area prove that the Illinois Indians called the area home. The park was taken over by the State in the 1930’s and with the help of local supporters developed the area into the sprawling 2000 acre site that it is today.
Upon entering the park, on the right, is a wonderful visitors center. Well staffed with friendly and knowledgeable rangers, any visitor would do well to stop and look around, and find out all that the park has to offer.
There is a 13 acre pond for fishing, complete with boat house and boats (reservations required, fishing allowed from boats only), monitored by resident Natural History Survey technicians. The pond and it’s ecosystem are used for study by the Natural History Survey. The Embararas River is open to fishing any time, from any of the locations that it is reachable. There are also canoe launch points and an expansive equestrian trail system.
The northern most area of the part has over 500 acres open for hunting in the various seasons, check with the park officials for dates, permitted weapons and game types.
There are more day use areas than one could count……complete with playgrounds, lots of open areas to run and play, pavilions and plenty of parking. We saw ball diamonds and volleyball nets too, truly something for everyone! Picnickers can enjoy a day at the park in myriad of spots with tables and grills, restrooms drinking water as well as pavilions for reunions and gatherings. Some of the larger structures are available only by reservation so check with the park officials early in your planning.
Fox Ridge also has a Class B/S trailer camping area, group tent areas and a couple of wonderful cabins that can be rented for those that want the camping experience without the expense and who might prefer a more hardened shelter. Reservations can be made by visiting reserveamerica.com and putting Fox Ridge State Park in the park name area.
We, of course, went for the hiking….and oh what hiking Fox Ridge offers! Situated on a glacial moraine, the ravines in this place are DEEP….clearly unusual for this area of Illinois! There are over 6 miles of trails to explore in terrain ranging from marsh plains to steep hill climbs.
We started our hike on the northern most River View trail. This trail is a mowed grass walk way which occasional opens up to an overlook of the Embarras river. We caught several glimpses of Blue Heron in the distance and I’d guess for the traveler who could keep a quiet passage, many more types of wildlife would appear. The river was down quite a bit while we were there so the decent to the water would be pretty steep, but passable to anyone wanting to get down to a sandbar for some fishing or exploring. We returned the way we came to avoid a long walk on a roadway to get back to the car. The ‘marsh land’ name is a bit misleading, at least during the dry season, as it felt like river side forest most of the way and keeping our feet dry was no problem at all.
Returning to the car, our second hike was up to the Eagles Nest. We chose to enter the trail system at its far western edge, which is also the lowest point, almost at water level. My thinking is always that I’ll be more tired at the end of the hike, and I’d much rather make the last leg downhill. The Eagles Nest is on a very tall bluff, overlooking the river when the leaves are a bit thinner, and has as an assist to the peak, a set of stairs, numbering 144 steps in total. You cannot appreciate how many steps 144 are until you’ve climbed them…and thank goodness they’re there. The ascent up the steep bluff would be near impossible without them. There are numerous resting benches along the way though so there’s a chance to catch a breather. Once at the top a nice platform with benches awaits. The trail continuing out of the Eagles Nest is of mostly the trodden earth variety, with the occasional crushed rock areas. There are some 18 wooden bridges in the system and the trail can be very challenging. We spent our time on the ‘Acorn Avenue Trail’ and the ‘Trail of Trees’ and what a wonderful trail system it is! We did encounter one bridge that was washed out, but in the dry conditions that we visited in we had no problem fording the creek bed next to the bridge. Be ready for some rigorous climbing, as stated earlier these ravines are DEEP, like 100 feet and better deep! For the more physically challenged or novice, I’d suggest sticking to the Riverview trails.
We encountered a couple of other hikers along the way and a trail runner, certainly plenty of solitude, and with the amount of ground the park covers you’ll have plenty of private quiet time in the woods.
I’d heartily recommend a visit to Fox Ridge. It’s a superbly maintained park and the staff should be applauded for their efforts to make it a top notch park! We’re already discussing our next trip back to the area……….
Fox Ridge, while being a State Park under DNR jurisdiction is also funded by the efforts of the Fox Ridge Foundation and monetary donations would be greatly appreciated.
As an added treat, just north of the entrance to Fox Ridge is a wonderful, large, round barn…..and on the other side of the river, just a few miles away is Lincoln Log Cabin State Park…..a must see when in the area!