A sylvan oasis set in the middle of America’s agricultural heartland, Sand Ridge State Forest is a place of beauty and surprise. Among the seven-thousand plus acres at Sand Ridge, visitors will find rich oak-hickory forests, stately pine plantations and remnants of diverse and bustling sand prairies, which hearken back to a time when Illinois earned its “Prairie State” moniker.
Hikers, equestrian riders and snowmobilers will find an extensive network of trails which they can use to explore every corner of the park. A boon to hunters, the park is also rich with game species; and for those who’d like to practice their shot before heading out for game, the park also has a beautiful shooting range for both hand-trap and archery.
Nature-lovers – especially plant and bird enthusiasts – will have no problems getting their fill at Sand Ridge, which attracts many neo-tropical migratory bird species and, due to its unique natural history, is also host to fascinating communities of seemingly out-of-place, arid-climate plants (including a healthy population of prickly pear cacti!)
Regular RV campers have the option to stay at the park’s lovely Pine Campground, which is set within a pine plantation started in the 1930s by the CCC. Horse camping is available at the aptly named Horseman’s camp, which offers fantastic access to some of the park’s equestrian trails.
Illinois is famously flat, and Sand Ridge isn’t much of an exception. Roads into and within the park are flat, paved and straight, offering few challenges for drivers. Two main roads bisect the park, E County Rd. 2300 N, which runs East-West, and Cactus Road which runs North-South. The shooting range, three campgrounds and most of the hiking trails branch off of one of these two roads (both RV campgrounds are off of E County Rd. 2300 N).
Several small towns with cafes and limited food supplies surround the forest; the larger town of Havana, IL, is a half-hour drive away, and offers groceries, banks, camping supplies, parks a hospital and more. And the large, full-service city of Peoria is about a 50 minute drive to the northeast.
Both RV campgrounds are spacious, making for easy maneuvering and parking. In addition to the campgrounds, there are over a dozen parking areas throughout the park, so access to any section of the forest is easy.
Set in a beautiful pine plantation at the park’s center, Pine Camp offers 24 RV-suitable sites for those looking to camp. Individual sites have fire pads and picnic tables, and water spigots and vault toilets are available at the campground. Camping is primitive, with no hook-ups for water, electric or sewage. A sanitary dump station, however, is available just across the road from the campground. Camping among the rows of stately pines, you’ll have a hard time believing your smack dab in the middle of the Corn Belt.
The campground’s central location means that any activity or trail within the park is just a short drive away. Park headquarters is also within walking distance, for those who want any additional information on the park or camping regulations.
The largest sites available at Pine Camp are 52-ft pull-through sites, though most sites are smaller, ranging in length from 25 to 45 ft. All sites are reservable.
If you are traveling with your equine companions and planning to stay overnight, Sand Ridge has accommodations. Horseman’s camp, located just off on of the park’s main roads (E County Rd. 2300 N), offers twenty reservable equestrian campsites. Hitching posts, picnic tables, water spigots, shelters and outhouses, are all available at the camp, though individual sites are primitive, with no water, electric or sewer hook-ups.
Horseman’s camp serves as an excellent launching point from which riders can explore the park’s many miles of equestrian trails; make sure, however, that you check up-to-date park guidelines about which trails horses are not permitted on. Sand Ridge’s website also warns that Horseman’s camp may be forced closed at times during the spring thaw, when melting snow and rains turn the area into a muddy quagmire. Make sure that you and your horse are also made well-visible, with orange blazes, during the park’s hunting season.
Maximum site lengths are 55 ft, though most sites are in the 35-45 ft range.
Over 50 miles of equestrian trails snake their way across the park’s woodlands, ridges and sandy prairies. Fire lanes, also open to riders for most of the year, add another 120 miles of routes to this already impressive system. Riders can get a taste for the area’s diversity as they pass from one distinct habitat to another; ferns and woodland flowers, prairie grasses and prickly pear cacti can all be seen on the same short ride.
Because it is surrounded on all sides by uniform, monoculture cropland, the diverse, wooded park draws wildlife like a beacon. The forest is a favorite stopover and breeding spot for migratory neotropical bird species, such as rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, cerulean warblers, yellow-throated warblers, and indigo buntings, among many others. Permanent residents include deer, red fox, grey fox, coyote, painted turtles, snapping turtles, leopard frogs, eastern hognose snakes, milk snakes and more. Be sure to take binoculars or a guidebook, or both, with you as you explore the park’s fields and forests.
You don’t have to be on a horse to get into Sand Ridge’s back woods. Hikers can enjoy and explore over 44 miles of walking trails, and foot travel is allowed on fire lines, meaning there are few nooks and crannies that cannot be reached. Stroll underneath the canopies of grand oaks and hickories, watch the sun rise or set through the pines, or observe the diverse wildflowers and buzzing insects present at the park’s rare patches of surviving sand prairie.
When winter rolls around, visitors to Sand Ridge can take advantage of 26 miles of maintained snowmobile trails. Explore the park's rolling hills and ridges while gliding along a blanket of freshly-fallen snow; and don't worry about scrambling back to your RV, as trails are open 24 hours a day, even in winter. Cross-country skiing is permitted, too.
Visitors should note that at least four inches of snow must be present before snowmobiling is allowed.
Though located in the center of the prairie state, Sand Ridge offers a deep-woods hunting experience. Traverse forested ridges and valleys or walk the margins between woods and grassy fields. The park’s hardwood species flush red and yellow and provide a vibrant background during autumn. Hunters can set their sights on the park’s deer, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, quails, pheasants, woodcock and more. Hunters should consult the Illinois State Hunter’s Fact Sheet or park headquarters before setting out.
Avid marksmen and markswomen will want to take advantage of the hand-trap and archery ranges at Sand Ridge, where you can hone your skills while shooting in a scenic, tree-lined setting. The ranges are only closed during the upland game season. Come to shoot in the off-season and enjoy sparser crowds – or maybe even a range all to yourself!
Head to park headquarters before shooting to register and familiarize yourself with the park’s specific hand-trap and archery regulations.