Middle Fork River

Middle Fork River Forest Preserve contains 1,702 acres composed of old hardwood timber, reforested lowlands, grassy meadows, and in-progress prairie restorations. Rich in trails, Middle Fork contains one of the region's premier Waterfowl Management Areas, and it is also home to a favorite camping area, the Harry L. Swartz Campground. Illinois' first International Dark Sky Park!

Plug Into Middle Fork River Forest Preserve (video)
Middle Fork River Forest Preserve (video)

Activities include:Swimming, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking, building rentals, programs
Swimming iconFishing iconHiking iconPicnicking icon


Middle Fork River Forest Preserve opens at 7 AM year-round, weather-permitting.

Although some portions of the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve close to automobiles at dusk, the North Waterfowl Management Area is open 24 hours a day for night sky viewing. The entrance and parking for the waterfowl area are located 2554 County Road 3500 North.  

Star Charts

What you'll see in the Winter sky

First & Only Dark Sky Park in Illinois (video)

Closing times vary: 

May-October 9 PM
November-April 6 PM

About four miles of the Middle Fork River run through the preserve. The site includes three ponds: Willow Pond (4 acres); Cypress Pond (2.7 acres) and Emerald Pond (3.2 acres).  Horseback riding is not allowed on the trails.


Harry L. Swartz Campground 

 Only Online reservations are being taken for campground until further notice. 

Harry L. Swartz Campground consists of 65 campsites that can accommodate individuals as well as larger groups. Fifty-three of the sites have electricity. Each campsite is a quiet retreat shaded by large oak, hickory and hackberry trees. Wildflowers grow in abundance. All sites are close to the swim beach and other facilities. Campsites are available per night on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are allowed for stays of at least three consecutive nights. 

Waterfowl Management Area

The Waterfowl Management Area offers more than 130 acres of prime nesting habitat for migratory waterfowl. An easily-accessible viewing platform allows visitors the opportunity to observe a wetland teeming with life. Please note that visitors are not able to enter the wetland area itself between March and June in order to avoid nesting disturbance. 


Middle Fork offers more than seven miles of trails: 

Oak Burl Trail (2.4 miles) 

This trail travels through a variety of habitats including an oak/hickory forest, a prairie rich with wildflowers, and a river bottomland forest. Look for the wildlife drawn to these habitats. Signs of beaver are visible along the river. Raccoons leave tracks in wet areas and live in the trees along the trail. White-tailed deer are often seen. 

Prairieview Trail (.8 mile) 

Walk through prairie grasses and wildflowers and enjoy the rolling terrain. This short trail winds through areas of tree plantings and also through areas where nature is rapidly filling in open areas with trees of its own. 

Sugar Creek Trail (.8 mile) 

This trail is a fine, short walk from the campground. It passes through former agricultural lands, restored prairie and a small wetland area frequented by herons. 

Midland Trail (1.4 miles) 

Cutting across an expanse of canary grass, this moderate trail introduces you to areas where pheasant and deer are common. Look for signs of farming that took place here until the mid-1970s. You'll see examples of succession, as trees have sprung up in old fields. 

South Loop (2.2 miles) 

This trail will take you to the southern extreme of the preserve. Hikers are treated to beautiful views of the Middle Fork River. Beaver cuttings are found on saplings along the riverbank, while deer tracks are found right on the trail. 

All lands, waters, plants and animals at the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve are protected by law under the stewardship of the Forest Preserve District. We welcome you to enjoy your stay with us and ask for your help in preserving and protecting these valuable resources for generations to come.