Biking, fishing trips near Illinois

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of August 28-September 3, 1997
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Biking, fishing trips near Illinois

Biking, fishing trips near Illinois
Question: My husband and I just moved to Normal/Bloomington, Illinois. We came here to go to grad school. We had to have a good reason because we moved from Hood River, Oregon. Needless to say, we don't quite know what's available in the region for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and fly-fishing. We love to do these things and don't relish the thought of a three-year hiatus. Our anniversary is coming up — any nifty ideas on a closeby trail to backpack, or even a campground? Also, could you give us any information on what there is to do in this region? We wouldn't mind a bit of a drive, say 150 to 200 miles or longer for something really neat.

Kris Dallman
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Fear not. Your time in the Midwest needn't be spent watching Friends reruns. Though it doesn't lay claim to the highest peaks or the best fly-fishing rivers in the land, you'll learn that within Middle America's modest boundaries you have access to freshwater, miles of hiking trails, and some incredibly rich countryside filled with rolling hills and dense forests.

For immediate relief, try the Pondside Backcountry Campsite located on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion, Illinois's only national scenic river. Located about 70 miles east of your new home, the campsite is in the center of a mosaic of deciduous trees and 100-foot high bluffs on the banks of the river. The river promises pretty good bass, bluegill, and crappie fishing, as well as ideal stretches for canoeing. Call Kickapoo Canoe Rentals (217-354-2060) for details.

There are also 35 miles of interconnected trails radiating in various directions from the campsite. Though it's not quite as spectacular as Rocky Mountain camping, it'll get you started. To get there, take I-74 past Champaign-Urbana to Oakwood, where you'll turn north on County Road 900 East. Turn right on County Road 2400 North and go a half-mile to the park office where you can pick up a camping permit. Call the park office at 217-776-2614 for details.

On your next three-day weekend, head north to the Great Lakes. On the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan you'll find the 33-mile Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has massive dunes, swaying grasses, and pretty big swells. Bring your bike and ride the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.4-mile loop through the forested highlands above Lake Michigan. Or you can spend some time casting for bass, coho, and king salmon along the shore. No camping is allowed on the beach, but primitive sites at D.H. Day campground are a mile and a half east. The only problem is that this trip would be a tad bit longer than a three-hour car ride. Call 616-326-5134.

Another event to look into is the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, held every September in Wisconsin's Chequamegon National Forest. The biggest mountain bike race in the region, the Chequamegon is also a great way to meet like-minded souls who also feel exiled to the Midwest.

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