Middle Fork River

Middle Fork River Forest Preserve contains 1,702 acres composed of old hardwood timber, reforested lowlands, grassy meadows, and in-progress prairie restorations. Rich in trails, Middle Fork contains one of the region's premier Waterfowl Management Areas, and it is also home to a favorite camping area, the Harry L. Swartz Campground. Illinois' first International Dark Sky Park!

About four miles of the Middle Fork River run through the preserve. The site includes three ponds: Willow Pond (4 acres); Cypress Pond (2.7 acres) and Emerald Pond (3.2 acres).  Horseback riding is not allowed on the trails.


Middle Fork River Forest Preserve opens at 7 AM year-round, weather-permitting.

Although some portions of the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve close to automobiles at dusk, the North Waterfowl Management Area is open 24 hours a day for night sky viewing. The entrance and parking for the waterfowl area are located 2554 County Road 3500 North.  

Closing times vary: 

Time of Year Closing Time
May-October 9 PM
November-April 6 PM

Activities Include:




Cross-Country Skiing


Building Rentals



Harry L. Swartz Campground

Only Online reservations are being taken for campground until further notice.

Harry L. Swartz Campground consists of 65 campsites that can accommodate individuals as well as larger groups. Fifty-three of the sites have electricity. Each campsite is a quiet retreat shaded by large oak, hickory and hackberry trees. Wildflowers grow in abundance. All sites are close to the swim beach and other facilities. Campsites are available per night on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are allowed for stays of at least three consecutive nights. 

Waterfowl Management Area

The Middle Fork River Forest Preserve is home to one of the region's premier Waterfowl Management Areas. More than 130 acres of prime nesting habitat for migratory waterfowl are located here. An easily accessible viewing area allows visitors the opportunity to observe a wetland teeming with life.

Please note that visitors are not able to enter the wetland area itself between March and June in order to allow waterfowl to nest.


Middle Fork offers more than eight miles of trails:

Oak Burl Trail (2.4 miles)

This trail travels through a variety of habitats including an oak/hickory forest, a prairie rich with wildflowers, and a river bottomland forest. Look for the wildlife drawn to these habitats. Signs of beaver are visible along the river. Raccoons leave tracks in wet areas and live in the trees along the trail. White-tailed deer are often seen. 

Prairieview Trail (.8 mile)

Walk through prairie grasses and wildflowers and enjoy the rolling terrain. This short trail winds through areas of tree plantings and also through areas where nature is rapidly filling in open areas with trees of its own.

Sugar Creek Trail (.8)

This trail is a fine, short walk from the campground. It passes through former agricultural lands, restored prairie and a small wetland area frequented by herons.

Midland Trail (1.4 miles)

This moderate trail introduces you to areas where pheasant and deer are common. Look for signs of farming that took place here until the mid-1970s. You'll see examples of succession, as trees have sprung up in old fields.

South Loop (2.2 miles)

This trail will take you to the southern extreme of the preserve. Hikers are treated to beautiful views of the Middle Fork River. Beaver cuttings are found on saplings along the riverbank, while deer tracks are found right on the trail. 

All lands, waters, plants and animals at the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve are protected by law under the stewardship of the Forest Preserve District. We welcome you to enjoy your stay with us and ask for your help in preserving and protecting these valuable resources for generations to come.

Point Pleasant (2.0 miles)

This trail takes visitors on a journey along the edge of high-quality oak-hickory forest and through beautifully restored prairies.  Hikers are rewarded with views of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, the Point Pleasant wetland, plentiful wildlife, and the site of one of the 5 U.S. Post Offices to exist in Champaign County in the 1850s. 

Tomlinson Cemetery

This rural one-acre cemetery prairie/savanna was protected and maintained with dedication and perseverance by Elisabeth and Al Hanson, with the help of friends, for more than ten years. Presently it is managed by the CCFPD in cooperation with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 

Theoretically, it best represents a savanna, a transition area from upland prairie to forested tracts along the pristine Middle Fork River in northeastern Champaign County (Illinois). Until recently, a few large bur and white oaks stood nearby on unfarmable slopes.

First Dark Sky Park in Illinois

Come along to Illinois' first and only Dark Sky Park, Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. Lisa Sprinkle and Matt Kuntz, of Champaign Country Forest Preserve District, and David Leake, of the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society, join Jarrod Scheunemann to discuss the importance of Dark Sky Parks and how they went about receiving the designation in Central Illinois.

Plug into Nature at Middle Fork River

An amazing adventure awaits you at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District's largest preserve with over 1700 acres. The preserve is also Illinois' only International Dark Sky Park, as the darkest spot in the county on a clear night you can see millions of stars

Sights and Sounds of Middle Fork River

Visit the sights and sounds of Middle Fork River Forest Preserve in Penfield, Illinois. It's the state's first International Dark Sky Park, designated in 2018.

Help Support Our Foundation

The Foundation supports the facilities, programs, services, goals and mission of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. Help us make an environment to encourage cultural, historical and environment opportunities for all.