Even though we had driven through Illinois the day before, we had not met our criteria for checking it off our map, so we headed south from our campground in Wisconsin back to Rock Cut State Park just outside of Rockford, Illinois.
When we began this adventure, we knew it was next to impossible for us to physically camp in every state, so we set a rule that we either had to stay a night or go on a hike in the state to count it. Just driving through (even when driving through Chicago on Memorial Day while towing) does not qualify. We had already scoped out Rockford as where we wanted to go, so when we passed a sign on the interstate for the state park, we did a little research and made our plan.
Unfortunately, there was not a lot of information available online about the park or the hiking trails, but we figured we would be able to track down a good map and some information when we arrived. We were wrong. We first tried to stop at the park office, which was technically located outside of the park (so we went in, we went out, we went back in, we were all over the place). There was a questionable map on a sign but not a person to be found.
In our drive around to find the office, we had seen signs for a concession stand. We tried there next. The concession stand was more of a bait and tackle shop, but they did have a printed map of the same map we had already found that I could take a picture of. Still nothing tangible, which is truly more ideal when you are on the trail. I did talk with the gal working, and she recommended the trail around Pierce Lake. She assured me there was no way to get confused, just to follow the trail around the lake.
But you know what, nothing is ever that easy. On the map, each leg of the trail was numbered. It was not until about ¾ of the way through the hike that we even saw signs with these numbers. There were no blazes indicating you were on an actual trail. Thankfully, the trail was mapped on the AllTrails app, so we were able to find it when we passed through wide open grassy areas and navigate to the correct trail when it diverged in several directions.
Even if the signage and maps were severely lacking, we truly enjoyed the almost 4-mile hike around the lake. It was a very easy trail and gave us some nice views of the lake. We love state parks. If a state deems an area important enough to make it a state park, you know you are going to see a snapshot of the state’s highlight reel when you visit. We also know that funding for these parks is tight, so while we would love to have a tangible map, we know that is not always feasible. However, for the safety of people trying to enjoy the park, it would be reassuring to have a reliable map available at least online or at trailheads, so that visitors can plan ahead and have a solid perspective of where they are at and where they are going.
Once we finished our loop around the lake, we made our way into Rockford to see another mural by Kelsey Montague. The downtown area, which is where the mural is located, is clearly being rejuvenated with lots of shops and art. I truly adore her work and love the challenge of finding the murals in unfamiliar places.
Since we have seen her work in many states during our adventure, it is fun to look at how Bird has grown through the progression of pictures with the murals. One of the things I love is that all of the murals have some sort of interactive element. This mural of a treehouse included a tire swing and ladder, and of all the murals we have visited, this is the first one where Bird understood that it was interactive and jumped right in posing beside me.
From Rockford, we took the long way home and enjoyed some beautiful backroads across the Illinois and Wisconsin countryside and promptly added a pin to our map when we got home, crossing another state off our map.