Just down the street from Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park is the much smaller(and less crowded) Buffalo Rock State Park. It has some trails, camping, a playground and other facilities, and is right next to the I& M Canal Tow Path.
At a leisurely pace, it only took me a couple of hours to walk all the trails. They are nice well-kept trails. Most of the surface is gravel but some parts are just dirt. The trail is wide and mowed at least two feet on either side. I’m not sure if bikes are allowed; I did see bike tracks and did not see any sign that indicated they were not allowed. Very little elevation changes and none that were steep. There are a couple of overlooks that offer beautiful views of Illinois River.
The campsites are directly off of the towpath. The furthest site(the group site) is three miles from the ranger station. There are four sites total. One of the sites is kinda small but big enough for a single tent and two campers. The largest site is the group site which is the only site with a picnic table and shelter. The shelter needed some work but overall was in decent condition. It as a fireplace that was pretty neat. Each site has a fire ring with grill. I did feel a little exposed being right off the trail. I was nervous leaving all my gear behind when I went for a hike. Nobody messed with my stuff though and everyone I saw was very friendly. I did have a visitor around two in the morning my second night. He was looking for a place to rest for a few hours and left at daybreak. The sites are only accessible by walking or biking.
The park has a playground, restroom(with running water), and drinking fountains with spouts. The water tasted funny but it was nice having a source to refill my bottles. Also, there are buffalo and that’s pretty cool.
Our site was at Indian Meadows and it is large enough to fit my big 8-person tent, a picnic table, my truck, and all our other stuff with room to spare. The sites are very close to each other. The sites at Riverview and Silva both seemed smaller. The Riverview sites had great shade and a breeze coming off of the Mississippi river but had very little privacy. Each site at Indian Meadows and Silva are surrounded by a wall of trees. Our site had a picnic table and a fire pit with a swing over grill. There was no trash can, though. My plan was to collect the garbage then walk it to the trash point, a dumpster up the road. Unfortunately, while we were at the shower house raccoons got into it. I was better prepared the second day. Just remember to bring trash bags and dispose of your trash often, the raccoons out there are brave. The Loud Thunder office is top-notch. They sell a few necessities like batteries, firewood, ice, and stuff for s’mores. Service was incredibly helpful and nice.
At the center of Loud Thunder is Lake George. Lake George is a boon for kayakers and anglers. For us, it was the highlight of the trip. Loud Thunder rents kayaks, john boats, pontoons, and mini-pontoons. I had never heard of a mini-pontoon prior to this trip; they are amazing and now I want one. For 30 dollars we navigated the lake for two hours. My son loved steering the boat. Even though we were in the sun there was a nice breeze. We could have easily spent another two hours on that lake.
There are also plenty of trails for horses, bikes, and hiking. The trail we went on started as a wide gravel path then narrowed to a single-track dirt path. It had one hard climb. The trail was very nice and led to some great views.
Read about my adventure at https://www.lost13.com/camping/2019/7/26/loud-thunder
McKinley Woods offers me a lot of nostalgia since I grew up in the area. In McKinley Woods proper there is a large camping area and two of the sites have concrete pads for ADA accessibility. Further west along the I&M Tow Path is another camp site; that's were my friends and I stayed. Three of us biked in and two hiked. The spot is more secluded than the ones in the park proper, but it still receives a lot of visitors through out the day. A person could kayak in; there is a concrete boat ramp into the Illinois river. The main draw to this place is the tow path. I high recommend bringing a bike to enjoy the trail. The trail is also part of the Grand Illinois Trail network. Fire wood is scarce near the camp site, but we were able to find plenty further up the path.
For my write up on our trip click here.
For my video click here.
My brother and I camped here in September on a weekday. We were the only tent campers, so it was nice and peaceful. The sites are large and include a cooking grate. It was easy to find firewood with out having to go very far, becareful there is a good amount of poison ivy. The only trail I hiked was Happy Hollow. A large portion of it is an equestrian trail, so the path was very wide. The veiws on the trail were amazing.