Smile Politely

Walkin’ in the Woods: Sangamon River Trail

I’ve been walking in the woods and writing about it for a while now. Most of my favorite trails have been south or east of here, near Danville and Charleston. So this time I decided to browse options for trails to the west of us and see if there are any other overlooked towns in Central Illinois with cool parks. My criteria was that it be less than 90 minutes drive time and between 3-8 miles long. The Sangamon River Trail fit the bill perfectly, clocking in at a 65 minute drive time and 3.8 miles. This gem of a trail is situated within the Rock Springs Conservation Area, a well-maintained park practically bursting with amenities for it’s visitors. My only regret is not bringing my dog, Elmo, because at Rock Springs Conservation Area dogs aren’t just allowed, they are welcomed (if the poop bag dispensers and pet friendly water fountains are any indication)!

Getting There and Parking

Cue the angels singing, for once All Trails directions were perfect and led me directly to the closest parking area to the trailhead. The drive is a boring 65 minute slog along I-72 W. Once you exit the interstate at the Harristown Township exit you can spend a few minutes wondering why all the signs claim it is “the one and only” when you know damn well there are other Harristowns in the United States, most notably in Pennsylvania. But I digress. Anyway, there is decent signage for Rock Springs Conservation Area which is nice. 

Trail Conditions

Photo depicting a wide, grassy trail with tall plants on either side. There are trees in the background and a grey-blue, cloudy sky. Main color in the photo is green. Photo by Mara Thacker.

Photo by Mara Thacker.

The Sangamon River Trail is extremely well maintained. In fact, park employees were mowing the first part of the path when I got there. Most of the path is wide and grassy and maintained by machinery. There are a few parts in the deep woods that are more narrow and require manual maintenance. But for the most part it’s wide, grassy or gravel trail where two people could easily walk side by side. There were a few muddy spots though, so I’d highly recommend waterproof hiking boots, but generally it’s in great condition and pretty well marked. There are two trails that overlap in places so if you don’t have All Trails I recommend picking up one of the park maps available near the trailhead. 

Photo depicting a puddle in the middle of a dirt trail. There are trees and plants on either side. Main colors in the photo are greens and browns. Photo by Mara Thacker.

Photo by Mara Thacker.

The Bathroom Situation

Did I mention this park has nice amenities? The pavilion by the parking area had a pristine bathroom with flushing toilets that somehow even smelled nice. Outside the bathroom there were water fountains including a bottle filling station if you need a top off. 


This is a popular park so if safety in numbers is your thing, then this feels like a safe park. While I didn’t run into many other people on trail, I did see a few. The biggest safety issue is this park is probably ghosts from a haunted looking building in the woods. Seriously, why do so many parks have creepy looking abandoned buildings or foundations of old houses rotting away on trail? Apart from ghosts, the biggest safety issue is ticks and mosquitos. I had the constant irritating hum of mosquitos in my ear so you’ll definitely want to bring good bug spray. 

Photo by Mara Thacker.

Wildlife & Scenic Views

Photo of the author, Mara Thacker, standing in front of a rustic wooden shelter leaned against a pine tree. There are tree trunks and a smooth brown floor. Main colors are brown.

Photo by Mara Thacker.

All Trails mentioned that this was a popular spot for bird watching and I can see why. I saw tons of little birds flitting along the path. Were they warblers or finches or songbirds? Who knows! But they were pretty and came in lots of colors and patterns. I also saw more than one species of woodpecker. Apart from birds, I saw one massive deer crashing through the woods. It wasn’t just the wildlife that was scenic though, this trail gives a lot of bang for the buck in terms of trees, flowers, and river views. There was one point on trail where there were huge thatches of yellow flowers as far as the eye could see. If you want to take your time to enjoy the views there are a number of benches scattered throughout.

Photo depicting small yellow flowers in abundance between trees it he woods. Main colors are yellow, browns, and greens. Photo by Mara Thacker.

Photo by Mara Thacker.

Final Thoughts

I was absolutely delighted by my experience on the Sangamon River Trail. Although it was on the easy side with little to offer in terms of elevation gain, I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and appreciated how well taken care of the park was. I also noticed a large and well-maintained bike trail that would be fun to roller skate aroundm, or a good option if you want to bring a friend or family member who uses a wheelchair. So I will definitely be back, either with Elmo or to try out roller skating. As a bonus pro tip, Decatur Brew Works is only ten minutes away so if you want a great date or outing idea, you could visit the park and then cap off your trip with a nice cold, local brew. 

Top photo by Mara Thacker. 

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