November 22, 2015

Illinois Beach State Park (Nov. 2015)

Cattails at Sand Pond

Illinois Beach State Park, Illinois
North of Chicago, on the border of Wisconsin.
42.426496, -87.804924

November 15, 2015
Sunday - appx 60 degrees, sunny

We wanted to escape the city on a Sunday afternoon, so we took the quick car ride up to Lake County near the border of Wisconsin on the Illinois side. There rests Illinois Beach State Park, a nice slice of green space on our handy topo map that travels along the edge of Lake Michigan.
The park is divided into two units (north and south), split by the Zion Nuclear Power Plant. You can access both via Sheridan Rd. There are two nature preserves in the park as well, one in each of the units.

It was a brisk fall morning by the time we left, so we were unsure of what we would see in terms of wildlife. As we arrived, we were pleasantly greeted by the sun, which remained out for the remainder of our trip.

Most of our time was spent at Sand Pond and Sand Prairie, the two primary nature features in the northern unit of the park that are visible from the main park road. I am sure there are other trails to explore, but for a day trip these features had ample wildlife and beauty, even in the fall.

Sand Pond was surrounded by high grasses and cattails, along with other marshy plants. A duck was swimming in the pond when we arrived. It was undisturbed by us as it continued to dive for food for the course of our hike around the pond.

Sand Pond

We stopped at a few feet of shoreline as we were distracted by a frog jumping into the water. As we approached the shoreline, we rustled an entire family of frogs as at least 20 swam, jumped, and floated up to the surface. Seeing so many frogs at such a late time in the wildlife season was a real treat for us.

Frog on a log

We continued our walk and admired the pristine cattails as the sun started to angle down for its evening descent.

Sun peeking through the trees

Cattails at Sand Pond

A short trip up the road from Sand Pond is Sand Prairie. Most of this prairie appears to be growing on an old dune, which is reminiscent of the camps back on the Oregon coast that I scouted at as a kid.

Sand Prairie

Throughout the prairie, old milkweed plants were bursting forth with seeds. A number of birdhouses were also scattered throughout the fields.

Sand Prairie birdhouse

Sand Prairie seed pods

As the winter approached, much of the tall grasses remained, although the wildflowers that likely painted this landscape had long died off. Despite the spread of brown grasses, there is always something comforting about watching the prairie's plant life blow synchronously in the wind. The waves the wind produces are mesmerizing.

After abandoning the car, a short hike from the prairie gets you to one of the beaches. Coarse stone blankets a portion shoreline. Some of the beach that rests at the bottom part of the northern park unit looks recently reconstructed, with large rocks, steel water breaks, and concrete buttressing the weaker parts of the shore.

Lake Michigan shore

We concluded that we will definitely return to the park during the height of wildflower season to experience the more forested campground area, as well as during the winter to stay at the resort for a room with a view of icy Lake Michigan.

For not being during the peak seasons that people are recommended to visit, we still saw much wildlife, including many birds and pond life. The beaches were serene, even in the chill of the fall. The beach grass adds a nice touch to the shoreline as you sit and gaze out to Michigan. In the evenings, we experienced beautiful color contrasts with the angles of the light, so a sunrise or sunset would be a perfect time for quiet sitting, observation, or photography.

For this trip, I only shot photos from my phone (OnePlus One). You can see the album at Flickr 

Points of Interest

  • The Illinois beach on Lake Michigan, living up to its namesake
  • Sand Pond, a roundish pond in the northern unit
  • Sand Prairie, a substantive prairie area in the northern unit with shelters and a lake view in the distance
  • A nature trail on the southern unit of the park
  • The Dead River, a dry river bed in the southern nature preserve
  • Campground in the southern unit
  • The IL Beach Resort for a comfy stay on the lake


Google Map of our Hike

Photos are embedded in points of interest that we visited (click on red diamonds)

Flickr Album (hover to find slideshow controls)
Illinois Beach State Park (IL) Clicking on a photo will take you to the photo on Flickr

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