When I think of Illinois, I think of Chicago. Then I think of the surrounding areas of Chicago and I think prairie land. When I think of prairie land, I think of flat and boring. To my pleasant surprise the North Fork Trail at Clinton Lake is anything but flat and boring. It’s kinda weird.
Clinton Lake is a man made lake that serves as a “cooling lake” for the Exelon Company. Exelon has a nuclear power plant located just 6 miles from Clinton, IL in Dewitt County. When I found this out, I was very circumspect as to what I would find at this destination. Thoughts of the movie, “Cabin Fever” came to mind. (SIDE BAR: Forget about the 2017 remake. It was so terrible, it would have driven a nun to commit a holy sin in hopes that you would turn it off. The 2002 original was enough.)
I had no trouble finding the trailhead when I typed in North Fork Trails. Google Maps came up with a location in DeWitt, IL and this took me to the North Fork boat launch access, where you’ll find plenty of parking and bathrooms. Once you park, walk back out to the main road to find the trail marker across the street. If you want to do the trail from the opposite end, cross the street, turn left to take the bridge across the lake and up the hill. Once you crest the hill, look to your right for a circular parking lot and you’ll find the trail marker here, towards your right. Websites say this is a nine mile loop and the trail markers total it at an 11 mile loop (5 miles on the east side, 6 miles on the west side). I completed the entire loop in 10 miles within 6 hours. 6 hours, you say?! Well, I’m here to tell you I have little legs and I kept stopping for pics, okay.
Signs are posted that tout it as a primitive, non-maintained trail. I found the path to be well marked and the white blazes, along with intermittent markers, made it an easy trail to follow. The day I hiked, Illinois had been graced with storms and tornado warnings, so it was a mudfest for me in early April. However, with the rain and the warming weather, the wildflowers were eagerly making their debut. Dead, brown areas were littered with green and colorful surprises and the sun was sending the cloudy clouds on their way making the day blossom into bluebird skies. The only thing that was missing from this nirvana were my trail dogs. I found my heart aching as I crested a slight incline and looked up to imagine two faces looking expectantly, two tails wagging excitedly, and eight paws muddy as hell. For me, having my furry companions always makes a hike that much better.
I would definitely go back to Clinton Lake. This had fast become one of my favorite spots in Illinois to hike. Not only does it provide the mileage, but the trail has been cut so it kept me entertained and the beauty of the area kept me wanting more.
Drop me a line and let me know what sort of friends you make out at Clinton Lake. I’m wondering if I had missed any…
Much love and Aloha,
your Snow White ain’t got nothing on me clueless wanderer