Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area and Heidecke Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area do not have a plethora of adventure travel activities to take part in. Some parks like Starved Rock and Devil’s Lake allow the adventure traveler to pretty much do whatever their pleasure is in the great outdoors. Goose Lake and Heidecke Park are not in the same category, however, what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality.
Goose Lake Prairie and Heidecke Lake are located about 70 miles from Chicago about five miles off of I-55. Goose Lake Prairie is largest stand of tallgrass prairie left in Illinois and lies on the banks of Heidecke Lake near the junction of the Illinois, Des Plaines, and Kankakee Rivers.
Heidecke Lake is a 1,300 acre manmade lake built by Midwest Generating for a cooling lake for its Collins Station Plant. The Illinois DNR has leased the lake since 1978 and has aggressively stocked the lake with bass and according to the DNR brochure now produces trophy sized fish.
With a state natural area and a lake one would think it would be a great place to canoe, swim, and camp. If looking for these activities this area is not for you. The park closes at sunset, there is no camping, and only fishing boats propelled by gasoline motors are allowed on the lake. Fishing is allowed from the shore at the east entrance off of Dresden Road.
Despite the fact there is not a lot to do here for the adventure traveler does not mean the area is not worth a visit. The Goose Lake tallgrass prairie is surprisingly beautiful. There are only about 7 miles of trail that cross the prairie, so backpacking and hardcore hikers could complete them in two or three hours.
Since there is abundant birds and wildlife in the park and the prairie wildflowers are intense the trails in the park should not be hiked at light speed anyway. Visitors should explore the trails and walk slowly and appreciate the scenery and wildlife like a savory craft beer instead of chugging them like a Miller Lite.
Two trails leave from the visitor’s center. The Tallgrass Prairie Trail and the Prairie View Trail are each close to 3 miles long. If there is only time for one definitely take the Prairie View Trail. This trail winds through the southern part of the prairie. This area is full of scenic ponds, which are a left over from the actual Goose Lake that was drained in 1890 by farmers.
It is recommended to visit the park at dusk if possible, but do not linger too long as the park closes at sunset. Near dark the fascinating ring-necked pheasant becomes active and can be easily viewed. Their cacophonous call can be heard all day, but they stay hidden in the prairie especially during the summer heat. At dusk they come out and can be seen crossing the park’s lawn mowed trails and near the roads. The pheasant is a bird that is getting squeezed out of the Chicago area due to loss of habitat, so it is great to get a glimpse of this beautiful bird that is disappearing as the prairies in the Chicago area are lost to development.
Take a day trip to Goose Lake Prairie and Heidecke Lake and fish for trophy sized largemouth bass and take a stroll through the park’s seven miles of trails.
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