Located just northwest of Rockford, Ill., and bordering I-39, Rock Cut State Park is a welcome chance to take your mountain bike off-road, with more than 10 miles of singletrack and 24 total miles of trail available to cyclists. 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 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—and park rangers strictly enforce the rules. Blue trails are for mountain biking and hiking, and while the trails aren’t necessarily very technical, you will find some roots, logs and hilly meadows to add some challenge to your ride. There isn’t much of an elevation change, especially compared to Palos or Kettle Moraine, but you’ll find some rolling hills and lots of tree-lined trails to keep things interesting. Find the trail map here.
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. Camping is available in the park, with 270 sites, which can be reserved in advance. You’re also not far from the Espenscheid Forest Preserve, which is about three miles south of Rock Cut, and features another three miles of singletrack.
The mountain bikers in the area have done a good job of building and maintaining the trails, so please stick to the designated routes and don’t ride when trails are wet or closed. The hills aren’t very technical, so it’s a great place for beginning mountain bikers to get their feet wet.
Who is Going to Love It
Mountain bikers hungry for singletrack. Beginners 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
There’s plenty of parking in the park. Take I-90 West to Rockford and take the exit for Highway 173. Go west a half mile to the entrance of the park.
Summer hours at Rock Cut (April 1 to Oct. 30) are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.