Located just northwest of Rockford, Ill., and bordering I-39, Rock Cut State Park is a good cross-country ski destination in north central 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.
Rock Cut State Park offers some very nice tree-lined trails and plenty of space to ski. If you’re coming from Chicago, it’s probably better to head north to Wisconsin than west to Rockford to get in your cross-country fix. There are more extensive trail systems there about the same distance away. But if you’re west of the city and conditions are good, this isn't a bad option. If you’re interested in groomed trails, call ahead after a snow to see if they have indeed been groomed.
The park attracts visitors for a variety of activities, including sports on the two lakes, camping, hiking and horseback riding.
Who is Going to Love It
For cross-country skiers in the area, this is their go-to place. For those within an hour, it’s a good spot to explore and enjoy the groomed trails. For those driving longer than that, it may be better to head north to Wisconsin for more groomed trails with better variety.
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. Parking is easy.
The mountain bike season in the park runs from April 1 to Nov. 30.
During the rest of the year, those trails are reserved for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Ski trails are groomed for both classic and skate skiing, and rentals are available for $20 through the camp store in the park off of Harlem Road from Friday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.