north and south through western McHenry County to Kane County,
Marengo Ridge a glacial moraine left by the last
Ice Age is three miles wide from east to west, and
200 feet thick. Made of sand, gravel, clay, and boulders,
it is the westernmost and oldest of the moraines in our
I-90 west and exit U.S. Rte. 20. Take U.S. Rte. 20
west to Marengo. In Marengo, head north on County
Rd. 23. About 1.5 miles out of town, look for an entrance
sign to Marengo Ridge on the right side of the road.
Turn right and continue until you see the sign for
the conservation area.
Ridge rises 930 feet above a predominantly agricultural
area. Its height and the clear scope provided by surrounding
farm fields made it the site of a mobile radar station.
Established in October by the Wisconsin Air National Guard
to monitor the air space around Chicago, the station is
part of our homeland security system.
Marengo Ridge, close to 400 acres in all, encompasses a
pine plantation called Kunde Woods, originally owned by
Dr. Emerson Kunde, who planted 15 species of conifers in
1955. When Dr. Kunde bought the land, it had been heavily
grazed by livestock. "The soil was so hard you could
hardly put a pickaxe into it," he said. Young tree
shoots couldn't root there, and most wildflowers had disappeared
munched to death by cows.
Dr. Kunde doubted the forest could heal itself, as rain
couldn't soak into the soil, so he planted evergreens that
he believed would survive even these harsh conditions. They
survived, thrived, and healed the land, so that today oak,
hickory, aspen, sumac, and ash trees grow in abundance.
Marengo Ridge is now a gloriously wooded and hilly area
that is so tucked away and diverse you hardly know you're
close to civilization. The densely wooded and sometimes
ruggedly banked trails take you far away from the highly
developed areas nearby.
Beginning with a short .6-mile hiking loop and interpretive
trail in a stand of mature white oak trees, we hear blue
jays, robins, and flycatchers in the woods. Going north
onto a longer hiking loop of 1.1-miles, conifers appear
and the carpet turns to pine needles. A half-dozen small
wooden bridges cover ephemeral streams that lace the moraine
and drain into the nearby Kishwaukee River.
The west side of the longer hiking loop flows into an even
longer 2.6-mile hiking loop labeled "more difficult."
As these trails are open for cross-country skiing in the
winter, this was a good warning: the incline becomes steeper
and the path more twisted. The woods thicken and erratic
boulders, or "sitting" rocks, appear as we climb
up and then down this northernmost loop. A mid-level skier
would find this trail very enjoyable, but beginners might
Looping south and back onto the eastern side of the long
hiking loop, the area opens up and the path becomes grassy.
Wild raspberry, rosehips, bees balm, gooseberry, and honeysuckle
bushes grow here. A mourning cloak butterfly floats by.
Prairie grasses and goldenrod wave to our left. As we veer
east again to the last loop the campground loop
we enter an area of planted pine. Right before the campground
loop we see false Solomonís seal, staghorn sumac, and aspen,
and our carpet again changes from grass to darkened leaves
to pine. This moderately-paced two-hour walk covers about
four miles of trail. All hiking loops and nature trails
are open for cross-country skiing during
A popular area for picnics and group activities, Marengo
Ridge offers a picnic shelter and fire ring off the main
parking lot, and restrooms and drinking water at both camping
areas as well as at the main
Dogs are allowed on the trails; they must be leashed at
all times. Biking is permitted on county roads (bring your
own bikes). There is no horseback riding at Marengo Ridge
or Coral Woods (see next).
Woods is located near the small town of Coral, off of
U.S. Rte. 20 and south of Marengo off County Rd. 23. There
is a historic maple grove here and a maple sugar loop trail.
Coral Woods has a 1.2-mile nature trail and 1.2-mile hiking
trail. The maple sugar loop and hiking trails are open for
cross-country skiing. Coral Woods boasts many wildflowers
in the spring, including spring beauty, trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpit,
and May apple.
Horseback riding is permitted year-round in Glacial
Park in Ringwood, Hickory Grove in Cary,
and Rush Creek in Harvard.
Candlelight skiing is offered in the winter on trails throughout
the McHenry County Conservation District. Bring your own
skis (no rentals). The trails are groomed, but the district
advises calling ahead for ski conditions: (815) 338-6223.
Rangers place candles along designated trails, build campfires,
and provide refreshments (hot cocoa). Candlelight skiing
is held between 5 - 9 p.m. on the following weekends in
January and February:
Woods in Marengo January 4 and 5
Hollows in Cary January 11 and 12
Marengo Ridge in Marengo January 18 and 19
Harrison Benwell in Wonder Lake January 25 and
Creek in Harvard February 1 and 2
Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake February
8 and 9
Hickory Grove Highlands in Cary February 15 and
Festival of the Sugar Maples For two weekends
in March (9-10, 16-17), Coral Woods hosts a sugar maple
festival. The sugar maple loop trail is marked with historical
information, documenting the use of the maple grove up until
present time. A costumed interpreter provides information
as well. Learn how to identify a maple and how to tap a
tree. There will be an evaporator house, and sampling of
Coral Woods' maple syrup. (Only Canadian maple syrup
will be available for sale.)
in the town of Union, visit the McHenry
County Historical Society Museum at 6422 Main St.
The museum includes the Luke and Margaret Gannon log home
built in 1847, West Harmony School (a one-room school house
built in 1855), and the 1870 Union School that houses the
museum. Currently, a special exhibit is running titled "Marching
Off-Left Behind: The World War II Experience." A local
history research library is located here, and is open year-round
on weekdays, by appointment only: (815) 923-2237. The museum
is open May - October, Tuesdays - Fridays 1 - 4 p.m. and
Sundays 1 - 4 p.m. Special programs are held on the third
Wednesday, 7 - 9 p.m., June - October. Admission is $3;
senior/student, $2; families, $8.
in Union at 7000 Olsen Road is the Illinois
Railway Museum. Take a 9-mile ride on an antique
steam locomotive and clamber onto more than 250 cars and
rail cars, including the gleaming stainless steel of a complete
Burlington Zephyr Streamliner. This "heaven" for
rail buffs is open May-October. Admission charges vary.
Call (800) BIG-RAIL.
Off Randall Rd. and I-90 is the Kane County Fairgrounds
where the largest flea market in the world the Kane
County Flea Market is held the first Sunday of
every month and the afternoon before. There is an admission
charge: (630) 377-2252.
There is also an Opera House in Woodstock, constructed in
1890 and restored in 1977 to its original Steamboat Gothic.
It is a year-round performing arts center. Call for the
schedule of performances: (815) 338-5300.
Union, one block east of the McHenry County Historical Society
Museum at 6524 Main St. is Checkers II, (815) 923-2000,
a family-oriented restaurant and lounge serving lunch and
dinner ($6-$15). Also in Union, at the intersection of U.S.
Rte. 20 and Union Road (8512 S. Union Rd.) is Doneley's
Old West Lounge, (815) 923-8000, a steakhouse open Friday
-Sunday, with a Sunday brunch and children's menu. Open
Friday - Saturday 4:30 - 10 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Prices range from $6-$22.
Between Harvard and Woodstock, at the intersection of Rte.
14 and 120, is Deeter's
Restaurant, serving European and American cuisine.
Known for its German specialties, it offers a full menu
including fish, lighter fare, steaks, and seafood. Open
Tuesday - Sunday, 4 - 10 p.m., with an early bird menu (4
- 6:30 p.m.). Located at 1510 S. Rte. 14; (815) 338-6550.
Heading south on U.S. Rte. 20 past I-90, a side trip to
Rock Brewing Company in Elgin; (847) 622-8888, may
well be worth the time. Located on 127 S. Grove, one block
north of the Grand Victoria Riverboat Casino, this is an
above average brewpub, known for steak, ribs, chops, and
an excellent, highly rated wine list. The restaurant has
an expansive dining room and centrally located fireplace
and is housed in a beautiful building that was once the
Grove Theatre. Extensive beer list.
camping is available year-round at Marengo Ridge. The campground
holds up to 160 people. Camping in Thomas Woods at Marengo
Ridge is available from May 1 - October 31. For fees and
availability call (815) 338-6223.
nearest lodging can be found in the town of Woodstock. A
bed and breakfast, Bundling Board Inn with 6 rooms,
is located 2 blocks from the historic square and Opera House
at 220 E. South St.; (815) 338-7054. Weekday rates are $75/room;
weekend $95/room. Full breakfast served.
Days Inn Woodstock at 990 Lake Avenue with 44 rooms
and 6 suites has rates ranging from $60-$107; (815) 338-0629.
Holiday Inn Express at 1785 S. Eastwood Dr.; (815)
334-9600 has 51 rooms and 2 suites. Rates range from $79-$105
(children under 19 stay free with adult).
There is also an AmeriHost Inn in Harvard at 1710
S. Division St.; (815) 943-0700. 58 rooms, 2 suites, $79-$175.
County Conservation District's Trail of History is
an interpretive event portraying life as it was from 1670-1850
in the former Northwest Territory which encompassed Illinois,
Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and parts of Minnesota.
Trail of History takes place every October in Glacial
Park at Harts Rd. and Rte. 31 in Ringwood. Call
(815) 338-6223 for information about next year's event.