Rock Cut State Park features two lakes and over 3,000 acres to explore. Located in Loves Park, Illinois, Rock Cut is a short distance north of Rockford. This park is a gem for outdoor recreation: birding, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, horseback riding, camping, and more. Thus, it is popular and often busy.
Birding at Rock Cut State Park
Birding at Rock Cut State Park is best done early in the morning and better yet on weekdays to avoid the crowds. However, with 40 miles of trails, you can find solitude even on the busiest days.
Top birding spots include below the dam by Pierce Lake, the eastern side of Olson Lake, and many of the parks northern trails. A hike around Pierce Lake, the larger of the two, is a great way to see a wide variety of birds.
Specialty birds found at Rock Cut State Park include: Yellow-throated and Cerulean Warblers (both nest here), Pileated Woodpeckers, White-eyed Vireos, and more. It is a prime place during spring and fall migration. The lake attracts a wide variety of waterbirds, including gulls, ducks, loons, grebes, and more.
Camping at Rock Cut State Park can be enjoyable during less busy times. There are 270 camp sites, many which have views of the lake. There is also a primitive cabin that can be rented (well in advance).
Conservation efforts are ongoing at Rock Cut. Willow Creek Natural Area is a beautiful trail that meanders around the Willow Creek. Prairie restoration is as well as prairie restoration is being done near the north entrance. Two grassland natural areas exist, one north and one south of Hart Road.
There is also the Plum Grove Nature Preserve, a state natural area. There are no trails into the natural area, but there is limited access adjacent to it.
Horseback riding is done on 14 miles of wide trails. There is a special entrance for trailers with direct access to the trails. This is located off Perryville Road, on Hart Road. The equestrian trails are underused and offer some of the best hiking and wildlife watching as well.
Dog Training Area
On the east side of Rock Cut is an off-leash dog training area. I am unfamiliar with the rules and regulations for this area so contact the park if interested. This part of the park also offers some good hiking. When the beach is open, this area is busy, but the trails remain mostly empty.
The wide range of habitats, including two large lakes, make Rock Cut State Park a wonderful place to visit. Expect to spend many hours here or camp for a few days. You can enjoy a short hike, but this park is best experienced with a full day of exploring.