As a kid, growing up in Channahon, I often rode the I&M Canal and spent a great deal of time at McKinley Woods. Besides family bike rides and picnics, we also went there in the winter to sled. I took my wife there while we were dating. It came full circle once I began taking my kids there for picnics.
In all those years visiting this great park I had never camped there. I began bike camping last year and have been looking for an opportunity to include my friends on a trip. McKinley Woods was an obvious choice for us.
Obtaining a permit was surprisingly easy. My friend, Billy, took care of that over the phone. They mailed him the permit and he was able to make updates through email. A person might be able to get away with stealth camping, but a permit is needed if a vehicle is to be parked at any preserve entrance.
Billy, his son Owen, and I began our journey at the Lower Rock Run Preserve canal access. It was Billys first time bike camping and Owens first time camping. The route to the campsite was ten miles of crushed limestone. It was a nice scenic ride; we even caught some glimpses of Illinois wildlife.
Shortly after we arrived at the site we met up with another friend, Warren, and his son, Liam. Liam has done some camping at his grandparent’s farm, but this was his first time camping in a forest. They backpacked in from the McKinley Wood’s parking area. With our party complete we set to gathering wood and cooking.
When planning this trip I had two concerns: wood and food. Food was definitely not a concern, largely because of a miscommunication on the length of our trip. It worked out great because we feasted. Billy made what can only be described as a skillet without the eggs. It was delicious and plentiful; in fact, we ate it three times and still wanted more. I made a sweet & spicy shrimp and scallop mix. We also had a pound of bacon for breakfast. Having a cast iron skillet added weight, but made the all the meals taste that much better.
Around sunset, we adventured into the park proper to star gaze and clean the dishes. The view from the river lookout was incredible. I am so used to the flatlands and corn fields that McKinley Woods can make me forget I’m in Illinois.
We all really enjoyed the adventure and are planning a longer outing for next year. Our plan next time will be to ride more of the I&M Canal Trail and camp at a couple different sites along the way.