Know before You Go: Hunting Safety and More For Planning Your Visit

Prairie Restoration The USDA Forest Service - Midewin NTP was established in 1996 by the Illinois Land Conservation Act. Legislation identified four purposes for use of the land: (1) To manage the land & water resources in a manner that will conserve & enhance the native populations & habitats of fish, wildlife & plants; (2) To provide opportunities for scientific, environmental & land use education & research; (3) To allow the continuation of agricultural uses of the land; & (4) To provide a variety of recreation opportunities that are not inconsistent with the preceding purposes. There are bunkers, roads, railbeds & buildings that were essential to operation of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. Infrastructure is being cleared to make way for native plant & wildlife communities that are being restored. Volunteers, partners & staff are working with over 275 species of native Illinois prairie plants. Some of the area will be wetland, some will be prairie & some will be wooded or savanna.

Look for Bison Bison are America’s National Mammal & are native to prairies. At Midewin NTP, bison roam a large expanse of land & are not always visible. It takes most people approximately 90 minutes to hike in & back from the Iron Bridge Trailhead to spotting scopes that are located along the Route 53 Trail (southwest overlook) & the Group 63 Trail.

Welcome Center Learn about native Illinois prairie birds, bees, butterflies & more in the Welcome Center. Look for America’s National Bird, the bald eagle, which nest in areas throughout Midewin NTP. See a real bison pelt & read a page from the diary of pioneer woman Eliza Steele: “I started with surprise & delight. I was in the midst of a prairie! A world of grass & flowers stretched around me, rising & falling in gentle undulations, as if an enchanter had struck the ocean swell, & it was at rest forever. …Those glorious ranks of flowers! …How shall I convey to you an idea of a prairie? …We rode thus through a perfect wilderness of sweets, sending forth perfume, & animated with myriads of glittering birds & butterflies.” Outside, words of Aldo Leopold are etched in concrete: “Prairie was, in fact, a community of plants & animals so organized as to build, through the centuries, the rich soil that now feeds us.” Access to the Route 53 Trail. 

Trails & Trailheads Trails are non-motorized. Trails are open every day, 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Some areas are dedicated to pedestrians. In the descriptions below, each trail is noted as either “multi-use” or “pedestrian only.” Self-guided hikes through these areas & trails are a screen-tap away on your smartphone:

East Side

Bailey Bridge Trail Multi-Use Named for the WWII-era portable bridge installed by volunteers here in 2007, this trail connects the southeast corner of the Twin Oaks Trail & the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Wauponsee Glacial Trail. Klingler Cemetery connects the Wauponsee Glacial Trail to the Bailey Bridge & Turtle Pond. This active cemetery is owned by the Klingler-Love Cemetery Association and is registered with the state of Illinois. In the woods on the north side of the trail, between Klingler Cemetery & the gate to the east that leads to the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, you can see where the Klingler farmstead was located in the mid-1800s.

Group 63 Trail Multi-Use This trail connects Henslow Trail & Twin Oaks Trail, looping through the Group 63 bunker field. Bunker 63-1 is open to experience inside. 

Hedgeapple Trail Pedestrian Only Rows of hedgeapple trees (also called Osage orange trees) connect Twin Oaks Trail to Group 63 Trail. The trail begins at the northwest corner of the Twin Oaks Trail, parallels Hoff Road and turns south to follow a former farm-to-market road lined with hedgeapple trees. Farmers planted Osage orange trees as cattle fences, & now they are where loggerhead shrikes have been spotted in early summer.

Hoff Road Trailhead Located on the south side of the intersection of Hoff Road & Chicago Road near Elwood. Access to Bailey Bridge; Hedgeapple & Twin Oaks trails; Turtle Pond  

Iron Bridge Trailhead A great place to set out to look for bison. Wear sturdy, close-toed shoes & bring binoculars & water. The bison pasture is south, & the Group 63 bunker field is east. The trailhead provides access to all trails on the east side. The nearby “Iron Bridge,” which is a decommissioned railroad bridge, connects to the west side. Two historic farmstead sites (1840-1940) lie southeast of the parking area. Access to Group 63, Henslow & Route 53 trails.

Route 53 Trail Multi-Use Meanders along State Route 53 (Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway) & the bison pasture & connects to the Midewin Welcome Center. There is an overlook with benches & spotting scopes. 

Turtle Pond Trail Pedestrian Only Located along the south leg of Twin Oaks Trail, this trail starts alongside the Chicago Road seedbeds where upland prairie plant species grow. These native plants are a colorful spectacle through much of the summer & early fall. There is an “Acorn Prairie” planted by students in the Mighty Acorns program.      

Twin Oaks Trail Multi-Use Passes through remnants of the ammunition plant & rolling fields of hay, soybeans & wheat. 

Wauponsee Trailhead Located on Hoff Road near Gougar Road, the USDA FS manages this trailhead with the Forest Preserve District of Will County. Access to Bailey Bridge Trail, (Multi-Use); & Wauponsee Glacial Trail, (Multi-Use).  managed by the Forest Preserve District of Will County.

West Side

811 Bunker Field An outwash plain created by a geologic event during a massive flood that left the landscape mostly flat.

Blodgett Marsh Trail Pedestrian Only Out-&-back trail starts at the River Road Trailhead, then goes north on Boathouse Road and exits the roadway to the west via old rail bed. The trail crosses Prairie Creek on a converted railroad trestle. The trail leaves the railbed & takes off across country to the north; then passes through where stone walls of the Lamping dairy barn can be seen just north of Prairie Creek. North of where the trail forks, up the left fork (going west) the Harlow Nicholson farmstead was located on the west side. This farmstead represents local farming from the mid-nineteenth century through 1940. The trail runs north & crosses Grant Creek. North of Grant Creek the trail branches into a loop that runs through the Blodgett Marsh area. Ducks, geese, blue-winged teal, black-necked stilts songbirds, great blue herons, egrets & various other wildlife have been seen and heard here. Nearby is very rare Dolomite Prairie where cactus grows.

Henslow Trail Multi-Use This trail connects Iron Bridge Trailhead & trails on the east side to River Road Trailhead on the west. Henslow Trail goes south from the trailhead through a wooded area where you can see where the Rodgers farm was located. From the Iron Bridge, the trail turns south & crosses through the Rockdale glacial moraine with views of the 811 bunker field & the Illinois River valley. The trail crosses Explosives Road & meanders southward. Just north of Explosives Road stands a 19-ton pre-historic glacial erratic. It was pushed by glacial activity possibly from as far away as Wisconsin. Henslow trail crosses Prairie Creek on a converted railroad trestle. You might see a kingfisher, great blue heron or great egret. Where the trail intersects with Boathouse Road, turn south to get to River Road trailhead & seedbeds. Cross the Iron Bridge traveling west & you will be on the first parcel of Midewin NTP land settled by Euro-Americans. Joseph Shoemaker farmed here since 1831. While there are no farm foundations, a house, barn & schoolhouse stood near the trail during the 1800s.

Prairie Creek Woods Trail Pedestrian Only Go through the fence on the north side of the parking lot & turn right onto Boathouse Road. A short distance north on the left, the trail begins on the west. Hike through the shade provided by an ancient savanna of oak trees which mostly pre-date European settlement. The trail continues through riparian forest. There are scenic overlooks, including at Buttonbush Pond, which is an oxbow lake. There are frogs, muskrats & red-winged blackbirds flitting from one cattail to another. Continue north through the woods to return to Boathouse Road.  In the vicinity of the trail, archaeologists have identified Native American sites that are about 8,000 years old. At the north end of the trail, near where it rejoins Boathouse Road, stands a bur oak “Witness Tree” used as a reference point by government land surveyors in 1821. On the east side of Boathouse Road is the South Patrol Road Restoration Area.

River Road Seedbeds Picnic nestled amid royal catchfly, cardinal flower, wild bergamot, black-eyed Susans, compass plants & more in the largest of three seed reproduction gardens (seedbeds are also at Turtle Pond & Welcome Center).

River Road Trailhead North of River Road on Boathouse Road there are hundreds of native plants in thousands of acres. In fall, the area is full of purple asters & goldenrod. Access to Blodgett Marsh, Henslow & Prairie Creek Woods trails.

South Patrol Road Prairie Restoration Area This area has wet prairie, marsh & sedge meadow & mesic prairie communities. It is the most mature prairie restoration area at Midewin NTP. There are hundreds of different species of prairie plants, including grasses, forbs & sedges. There might be purple spiderwort & white foxglove beardtongue; and wetland plants such as cardinal flower, blue flag iris, swamp milkweed & a variety of sedges & rushes. In fall there is goldenrod, bottle gentian & asters. In winter, people have seen long-eared owls, red-tailed hawks & other raptors.

Cattle are helping maintain grassland bird habitat, & their curiosity or maternal instincts may cause them to approach visitors. Please keep your distance from the cows & keep pasture gates closed.