For some reason, this gem  in Northwestern Illinois hardly ever makes it on to anyone's list save for a few locals and some folks from Rockford. Personally the novelty of hiking through a 300 foot deep and narrow canyon through farm country is well worth the visit. Its a great spot to cast a line too.
Apple River Canyon State Park
Visiting Apple River Canyon State Park was a stop along our way back from Galena. The entire fin of Northwestern Illinois is part of the Driftless Area. Most rest of the upper Midwest was essentially pulverized into flatness by four glacial advancements. Curiously, the four state area of NE Iowa, NW Illinois, SW Minnesota and a substantial portion of Wisconsin are quite rugged. There aren't mountains, per say but certainly there are enough hills to keep a hiker in good shape. Apple River Canyon State Park is towards the eastern edge of the area and about 2.5 hours from Chicago.

As we were crossing some of the flatter land along the way, I almost thought we were headed in the wrong direction. The road takes a very abrupt drop into the densely wooded canyon and it was hard to tell we were still in Illinois. At the bottom, three rivers converge and form a nice pool where the fishing is excellent. A few families were there picnicking as well. It was a perfect lunch spot for us too.
Along the banks of the Apple River
The hiking trails follow the river and the rim and although there aren't more than 10 miles in the whole park, any trail is worth hiking. We chose the Tower Rock and River Route Trails were well worth the effort. Both trails involve a substantial amount of elevation gain and loss- don't be fooled!

River Route brought us to the view in the first picture. In the early summer after some torrential rains, the river was running quite high but the sounds were soothing. On a hot, humid day such as this, we appreciated the shady and comfortable temperatures of the canyon's bottom.
Nature walk
The pool where most people like to fish
Another nice walk along the river bank
Tower Rock Nature Trail kept us well up along the rim and led to, well, a towering rock! I was bummed I didn't have any climbing shoes with me because it looked like a scramble to the top would have offered a perfect vista. But we were contented to walk through the forest and enjoy the sounds of nature- much different than what we usually hear living in downtown Chicago.

I've always been interested in finding the "Grand Canyon" of every state. I would call this the grand canyon of Illinois but somebody already gave that name to another canyon in southern Illinois in the infamous Shawnee Hills. Well, I suppose this could be the grand canyon of Northern Illinois. It was well worth the visit while we toured the Galena area.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!