Located just northwest of Rockford, Ill., and bordering I-39, Rock Cut State Park is a welcome chance to camp, hike, mountain bike, fish and boat in one of the bigger state parks in northern Illinois. The 3,092-acre preserve features rolling plains, two large lakes and—as you may expect from a park called “Rock Cut” located near Rockford along the Rock River—several rocky outcroppings.
What Makes It Great
The Winnebago occupied the territory through much of the 18th Century, while the Potawatomi, Ottawa and Chippewa all laid claim to various parts around the Rock River in the early 19th century. But after the Black Hawk War in 1832 the land was ceded to the United States and settled mostly by Scots, Canadians and some New Englanders. The Kenosha to Rockford rail line was built in 1859, which required them to cut through rock to lay a suitable rail bed, earning the area its name. The park was built around a popular fishing spot—Pierce Lake—and was declared a state park in 1957.
The park attracts visitors for a variety of activities, including sports on the two lakes, camping, hiking and horseback riding. The trail system includes 40 miles of hiking trails, 23 miles of mountain biking trails and 14 miles of equestrian trails, which are well-marked and maintained. Stick to designated trails for mountain biking (blue) and equestrian (yellow), while the red trails are for hiking only.
Rock Cut is also unique in that it allows mountain bikers to use the trails at night—so grab your headlamps and plan a night outing on the trails.
Who is Going to Love It
Family campers. Hikers looking for plenty of trails. Beginning mountain bikers who have never taken their bikes off-road before. Campers who would like more than a paved bike path around the campground. It’s a nice destination for a weekend away.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Take I-90 West to Rockford and take the exit for Highway 173. Go west a half mile to the entrance of the park. There’s plenty of parking in the park.
Summer hours at Rock Cut (April 1 to Oct. 30) are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Camping is available in the park, with 270 sites, which can be reserved in advance here. Each campground provides electricity on the site and running water at each section of the campground. You’ll also have access to showers, toilets and a sanitary dump station. A primitive cabin is also available, with electricity but no water or plumbing in the building. You can camp year-round, but from November to April, only electricity is available—no access to water (or the dump station).