Description - *This information was provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources*
Apple River Canyon State Park is in the hilly northwest art of Illinois in Jo Daviess County near the Wisconsin border. This scenic canyon area was formed by the action of the winding waters of Apple River. Limestone bluffs, deep ravines, springs, streams and wildlife characterize this area which was once a part of a vast sea bottom that stretched from the Alleghenies to the Rockies.
The 297-acre park was purchased by the State of Illinois in 1932. Apple River is also in charge of other sites in JoDaviess County, Apple River Canyon State Park - Thompson and Salem Units, Witkowsky Wildlife Area, Tapley Woods, Hanover Bluff Natural Area, Hanover Bluff Nature Preserve, Wards Grove Nature Preserve, McKeague Unit Nature Preserve and Falling Down Prairie.
Joutel, who was in the Mississippi Valley in 1687 and who was later to record LaSalle's expedition, wrote tales of Indian lead mines told by travelers to the "Upper Mississippi." The first white man to see the lead mines was Nicholas Perrot, a French trader who settled on the east side of the Mississippi in 1690. The first to exploit them was a Scotch adventurer, John Law. His Company of the West, founded in Paris in 1717 on the fraudulent claim that the Illinois lead mines were well-developed, collapsed with a thud, which was heard all over France and went down in history as the "Mississippi Bubble." In the nineteenth century American settlers arrived, the Sauk and Fox Indians were driven out in the Black Hawk War and Galena, thriving on the profits of lead mining, became a roaring boom town. Miners by the hundreds entered this country through a canyon which is now one of the principal attractions of the Apple River Canyon State Park.
The town of Millville was established where the park is now, but not a trace of it remains. Named after its two sawmills, Millville became a stop on the Galena-Chicago stage route and flourished until 1854 when the Illinois Central Railroad, building its line from Freeport to Galena, passed four miles north of the town. In 1892 a devastating flood washed out the dam, swept away many buildings and drove out the people of the town forever.
- Natural Features -
Flowing endlessly for countless centuries, the Apple River has cut through the masses of limestone, dolomite and shale until massive cliffs now rise high above the water and canyons have formed. Vast ages of water and erosion widened and deepened the crevices as rivers and streams cut their way through the stone. Close-up views of the colorful canyon reveal walls dotted with mosses, lichens and tenacious bushes which have found crevices to hold their roots on the sheer walls.
The glacial sweep which ironed out hills and filled valleys in other parts of the state left this area unscratched. This circumstance accounts for the large number of fossil remains to be found near the surface here. It also was responsible for the easy availability of the lead veins that has much to do with the early development of this section of Illinois.
The park contains such wildlife as deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, eagles, hawks and 47 varieties of birds. At least 14 different ferns and over 500 different herbaceous plants and 165 varieties of flowers can be seen throughout the park.
The park offers 47 Class "C" sites without showers and also two handicap accessible sites. Reservations are not accepted, sites are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Camping permits must be obtained at the park office. Walnut Grove offers youth group camping and requires a reservation. The reservation form is available on this website or may be obtained by contacting the park office. Winter camping is available from 11/1 - 4/15 in our Walnut Grove Youth area only.
Recreation - Picnicking-
Four picnic areas with tables, grills, accessible drinking water and toilets may be found along the river’s banks. There are also three shelters, two are handicap accessible. The reservation form is available on this website or may be obtained by contacting the park office.
The Apple River has a variety of fish including smallmouth bass, sunfish, crappie, carp, and suckers. When economically feasible the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks Apple River with keeper-size trout. The river is one of several in the state where the department releases this fish. Trout require clean, clear, cold water and in the spring, Apple River meets these requirements. However, the fish do not live through the hot summer months so the stream is stocked on a put-and-take basis. License and trout stamps may be obtained at the park office.
Five trails: Pine Ridge, Tower Rock, River Route, Sunset and Primrose Trail (handicap accessible) - wind through the woods for several miles within the park.
Climate - Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.
Apple River Canyon State Park is located in the Northwest corner of Illinois. If you are traveling from the south, you can take I-39 to Rockford, then US Rt.20 West to Rt. 78 North, go 6 miles to Canyon Road, take a left on Canyon Road. The Park is well signed on Rt. 20 and Rt. 78.