Grasses and Flowers
Visiting Goose Lake Prairie today is much like seeing the Prairie State as it was 150 years ago. Tall prairie grasses, including big bluestem, Indian grass and switch grass, make up 60 percent of the prairie. By far the tallest of the prairie grasses is prairie cordgrass, commonly reaching heights of 8 to 12 feet. When you’re near 2-foot-tall northern prairie dropseed, you may get the sudden urge to see a movie - its seeds smell like hot buttered popcorn. Broad-leaved flowering plants, known collectively as forbs, compose the prairie’s other 40 percent. Cream false indigo, shooting star and violets are the first to bloom in late April or early May, while New England asters and goldenrod bring up the rear of the colorful display in early September. Autumn is a lovely time on the prairie - some say it’s the prettiest season of the year - as prairie cordgrass, big bluestem, switch grass and other grasses turn bronze and gold.
Wildlife sightings are the order of the day at Goose Lake Prairie. Animals living here include deer, coyote, red fox, cottontail rabbit, muskrat, beaver and badger. Barred owls, Kestrels, red-tailed and marsh hawks are among the birds of prey you may see. Marsh birds, such as red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, great blue herons and great egrets, might be spotted in the warmer months, while waterfowl species include Canada geese, wood ducks, mallards and blue-winged teals. In addition to the area’s year-round inhabitants, such as ringneck pheasants and northern bobwhites, migrating birds include catbirds, eastern kingbirds and a variety of warblers.
The marsh is home to turtles, snakes and frogs, while butterflies frolic among the flowers each spring and summer. Rare papaipema moths, previously thought to be extinct, have been found at the site.
A reconstructed cabin at Goose Lake Prairie stands as a monument to the pioneer spirit. The original cabin was built by John and Agnes Cragg in the late 1830s near Mazon, 10 miles to the southwest. A predecessor to a truck stop, the Cragg cabin served as a stop on the old Chicago-Bloomington Teamster Trail. The second story - which was added to accommodate the Cragg’s six children, making it one of the first two-story homes in Grundy County - earned the cabin the nickname of “The Palace.”
One of the best ways to experience Goose Lake Prairie is to hit the trails. With 7 miles of hiking trails, visitors have many opportunities to view the plants and animals that make the area unique.
Tall Grass Nature Trail is a self-guiding trek that winds through the prairie and the trail’s trademark grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass, which can grow to 8 feet in height.
The Sagashka Trail allows a chance to contrast many different habitats - nature preserve, restoration areas and marshy areas supporting waterfowl.
Prairie View Trail, with 3.5 miles of moderate hiking, goes through prairie and farmland. Visible are surface mine reclamation areas, low-lying marshes and farmland.
Depending on the route selected, the trail can be 1 or 3.5 miles long. One loop offers a hard-packed, accessible surface. The surrounding terrain lets you see the effects of a turn-of-the-century attempt to gain more farmland by draining Goose Lake. Farmers found the drained land, which remained wet even after the draining, was suitable only for grazing livestock, and some acreage couldn't even be used for that.
One of the major reasons why Goose Lake Prairie survived was that it was generally far too wet for planting crops. The marsh was helped along by the decision to drain the lake, and today is home to all kinds of wetlands wildlife.
Trails are available for cross-country skiing in the winter. The trails are not for motorized vehicles, bicycles or dog sled teams. Check the visitor center for maps.
Work up an appetite along the trails, then stop for picnic. Tables, grills, shelters, water and toilets are provided at two picnic areas at Goose Lake Prairie.
Update: The Visitor Center is closed indefinitely.
Visitors should plan on a 30-minute or so stop at the visitor center to enjoy a visit to Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area a little bit more. A video will acquaint visitors with the area, as will the center’s nature displays. The volunteers present different weekend programs year-round. Stop in the visitor center for a map of the trails for self-guided hikes. Groups of 25 or more need advance permission from the site superintendent to enter the park.
Adjacent to Goose Lake Prairie is the 2,000-acre Heidecke Lake, previously a cooling lake for the Midwest Generation Collins Generation Station (now dismantled). The lake area is known as Heidecke State Fish and Wildlife Area. Managed by the IDNR, the lake offers fishing and hunting. A boat launch is available only for those purposes. Water skiing, swimming, wading, sailboating or personal watercraft are not allowed at Heidecke Lake. The boat access is open from 6 a.m. - sunset. The bank fishing access area is located on the east side of Heidecke Lake on Old Collins Road. Bank fishing access is open from 6:30 a.m. - sunset. Boat areas are open seven days a week, weather permitting. The fishing season at Heidecke Lake opened April 1 and remains open until just prior to waterowl season in the fall.
Season hunting programs are offered at the site. For details on seasons and other site-specific hunting regulations please review the Hunter Fact Sheet.
- City of Morris - Calendar of Events (815) 942-0103, city.mornet.org
- Dollinger Family Farm - Civil War Reenactment, Corn maze, hayrides and pumpkins 7502 E. Hansel Road, Channahon 60410 815-467-6166; www.dollingerfarms.com
- Grundy County Chamber of Commerce (815) 942-0113; www.grundychamber.com
- Grundy County Corn Festival - 919 N. Liberty Street, Morris 60450 (815) 942-2676; www.cornfestival.org
- Joliet Area Historical Museum - 204 N. Ottawa Street, Joliet 60432; (815) 723-9039; www.jolietmuseum.org
- Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie - 30239 South St Rt 53, Wilmington 60481 (815) 423-6370; www.fs.fed.us/mntp/visiting/tours.htm
From I-55 to exit 240 Lorenzo Road/Pine Bluff Road travel west approximately 7.5 miles to Jugtown Road. Turn north on to Jugtown Road and travel one mile to the entrance on the right side to Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, Visitor Center, and park trails.
- Actions by nature can result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.