Dominated by a core of century old red and white oaks, the environmental significance of Coral Woods is the protection of these diminishing oak woodlands. Coral Woods represents one of only eight oak groves which remain in McHenry County that contains 100 acres or more of continuous oak woodland. This conservation area also boasts the county’s largest sugar maple grove where trees have stood for 80-100 years.
In autumn the brilliant colors of red, orange, and yellow leaves from oaks, hickories, and sugar maples make this a favorite fall hiking spot. In the spring, the woodlands are noted for their spectacular show of spring wildflowers. Sharp-lobed hepatica, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wood anemone, spring beauty, toothwort, and bloodroot give way to wild geranium, blue phlox, and red trillium.
Throughout the year, the trees at Coral Woods are an attractive respite for numerous songbirds, owls and woodpeckers. Scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, numerous warblers, flickers, bluebirds, meadowlarks, great horned owls and screech owls, as well as downy and hairy woodpeckers claim these woods as their home. Nesting boxes are also strategically placed along the edge where prairie and woodland meet to encourage the re-population of bluebirds. Chorus frogs, tiger salamanders, leopard frogs, and painted turtles can often be seen enjoying the springtime vernal ponds along the trail.
Hiking: Coral Woods offers three trail systems. The Sugar Maple Loop trail is a short .4 mile walk off the parking lot. During the fall this trail displays an array of vibrant red, yellow, and orange colored leaves. For a longer trek, the 1.2 mile Nature Loop trail is known for its woodland wildflowers during the spring . The 1.2 mile hiking/ski trail is another favorite. Visitors can hike through maples, oaks, and a grassy sloping field. Wildlife is active in the these woods and visitors are sure to catch a glimpse of deer, numerous birds, and an occasional turtle enjoying the seclusion of an ephemeral pond.
Shelters/Picnic: A reserveable picnic shelter with fireplace and picnic area are available for up to 80 guests or can be used for free for casual day use individuals and groups less than 15.
Cross Country Ski: A 1.5 mile trail is open for cross country skiing. The trail is not groomed but is on relatively flat terrain, ideal for beginning skiers.
Birdwatching: Birdwatching is popular at Coral Woods during migrations, as well as during the summer when many birds nest in the branches of the mature white oaks. Watch for the white breasted nuthatch, northern flicker, red-eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, American goldfinch, indigo bunting, blue jay, robin, downy woodpecker, great-crested flycatcher and cedar waxwing.
History: Expedition visited “Wakesa”, the last recorded Native American village that existed in the area of present day Coral Woods. The village was inhabited by 60 Menomones and a few intermarried Potawatomis, who had built four bark covered lodges. The first European settlers, Elijah and Mary Humphrey Dunham, arrived in 1836 and settled in Coral Township.
The woods were soon subdivided as other settlers arrived which included Ephraim Frink, Henry Osborn, Benjamin Hampden, William M. Jackson and Laugher Bache. As the area continued to attract more people, the Frink and Walker Stagecoach established a route along the former Indian trails. Today that same trail is roughly U.S. Highway 20, although the stagecoach turned more to the south and west through present day Coral Woods. The intersection of US Highway 20 and Coral Road was known as Coral Crossing and was the location of the post office and stagecoach stop. The stagecoach ran from Chicago to Galena from 1830–1851 until the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad began passenger service.
By 1872 most of Coral Woods was divided into smaller 2–4 acre timber lots that provided fuel and building material for settlers. Fields were cleared for livestock grazing and hay production, which further fragmented the woodlands. In the 1920’s during prohibition, the remote “Wilcox” farm was disguised as a hog raising operation, although historic records refer to it as the hot spot for the manufacturing and distilling of alcohol where the spent mash was fed to over 180 hogs.
It wasn’t until 1976 that the Conservation District began protecting the remaining oak woodlands through a series of land acquisitions. The site opened to the public in 1988.
Closed for hunting Nov. 17-19
775 acres | 2.8 Miles of Trails
7400 Somerset, Marengo
Daily Sunrise to Sunset
Festival of the Sugar Maples – First two weekends in March.
Hiking trails are closed the first two weeks in March for daily drop-in visits.