Hikers, bicyclers, horseback riders and cross-country skiers can enjoy more than 6 miles of turf and limestone trails, including a convenient route to the Illinois Prairie Path. Trails around the McKee Marsh area feature two observation decks, a bird blind, and signs that describe the history and ecological significance of the marsh.
Horseback riders should park their trailers at the McKee Marsh lot on Mack Road and should not ride in developed recreational areas, such as picnic areas and campgrounds.
When conditions permit, rangers groom trails for cross-country skiing. Classical cross-country skiers should use the outside of the trail, leaving the inside area for freestyle skiers and other trail users.
Ample picnic sites line the shores of Silver Lake. Picnickers can reserve the Hawthorne Grove picnic area and the preserve’s four picnic shelters by calling Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248 but must do so at least three business days before their visit.
Ground fires are not allowed, but visitors can bring their own grills and use the on-site hot-coal disposal containers. For everyone’s convenience, Blackwell offers several restrooms with pit toilets; flush toilets are located near the north shelter, and a portable toilet is near the off-leash dog area.
The 62-acre Silver Lake, the site of the District’s annual Just for Kids Fishing Derby in June, features bluegill, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, rainbow trout and walleye. Anglers can access the lake via two fishing piers but may not fish from the boat docks or boat-launch area. Blackwell’s White Pine Pond and Sand Pond feature bluegill, channel catfish and largemouth bass.
The Forest Preserve District allows ice fishing at Blackwell at the angler’s own risk; rangers do not monitor ice conditions. As a guideline, not a guarantee, a minimum of 4 inches of ice is recommended for any ice activity.
Anglers 16 or older who are not legally disabled must carry valid Illinois sport fishing licenses. They also need to carry Inland Trout Stamps in order to take trout from District lakes. Anglers must follow all state and District regulations.
Federal and state regulations require that watercraft contain one wearable, well-fitting, Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each member on board and that children under 13 wear their PFDs at all times. In addition, District regulations require that all individuals, regardless of age, must wear PFDs when in private kayaks or canoes or any District-rented watercraft.
At Silver Lake, visitors can bring their own nongasoline-powered watercraft up to 20 feet in length including boats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks and multichambered inflatables with factory-installed hardened floors and transoms. Watercraft must be registered with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and have a District private-boating permit. Boaters can purchase daily and annual permits at the boat-rental area and at Forest Preserve District headquarters. A steel lockbox is available at Blackwell to collect daily permit fees.
A canoe launch on the south side of Mack Road offers free access to the West Branch of the DuPage River. However, ongoing work to clean up and restore habitat along the river will make sections downstream impassable during the spring, summer and fall. As a result, the launch will be open only as a take-out site for paddlers from the north. The District will post warning signs at the launch during these times.
Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and boats with electric trolling motors for use on Silver Lake by the hour or the day at Blackwell’s boat-rental area. Visitors can provide their own electric trolling motors for use on District boats, but the District does not provide motors for use on private boats. Oars, paddles and personal flotation devices are provided for rentals only and cannot be rented separately for use in private watercraft.
The boat-rental facility is open weekends from the beginning of April through May from 8 a.m. until 6.30 p.m. (the last boat rental of the day is at 5:30 p.m.). From Memorial Day through Labor Day, it is also open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. (the last boat rental of the day is at 5:30 p.m.). Between Labor Day and the end of September, the facility is open only on weekends from 8 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. (the last boat rental of the day is at 4:30 p.m.).
There are 62 wooded and semiwooded family campsites at Blackwell. Each includes a gravel parking pad, fire ring and picnic table and is within easy walking distance of restrooms with pit toilets, drinking water, and trash and recycling containers. There are sites suitable for tents (many with crushed-rock tent pads), trailers and motor homes; some have electricity, but none have sewage or water hookups. A shower house with restrooms with flush toilets, a dump station and firewood are available near the campground office. Firewood is $5 a bundle; as part of Districtwide efforts to help slow the spread of the emerald ash borer, outside firewood is not allowed.
The campground is open from May through September on Friday and Saturday nights with additional nights during holiday weeks. Campers interested in reserving a site should call Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248; advanced reservations are accepted up to three business days prior to the campers’ stay.
Each of Blackwell’s 12 semiwooded youth-group campsites can accommodate up to 25 campers and has its own picnic tables and fire ring. The sites are close to trails, lakes and an open play field as well as restrooms with pit toilets, drinking water, trash and recycling containers, and firewood. As part of Districtwide efforts to help slow the spread of the emerald ash borer, outside firewood is not allowed.
Open year-round, these camping areas are set aside for use by youth groups. The District defines youth groups as recognized, nonprofit organizations. Only members of these groups, with their accompanying leaders, may camp in these areas. Camping permits and adult supervision of one leader over 21 years of age for every 10 children are mandatory for campsite use. Groups can reserve sites through Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248 but must do so at least three business days in advance.
The archery area at Blackwell features three ranges. The beginner range is enclosed on three sides with safety netting and has eight lanes and eight standard targets up to 25 yards. The advanced range has 11 lanes and 11 standard FITA targets up to 90 meters. The interactive range has nine lanes and 15 two-dimensional targets up to 60 yards. Each range has bow racks and limestone shooting lines with overshot and clear zones. All three share a common spectator area.
The range opens one hour after sunrise except on Wednesdays, when it opens at 10 a.m. after routine maintenance; it closes daily at sunset. Archers do not need permits or have an associated fee. For the safety and enjoyment of all forest preserve visitors, archers must follow all rules and regulations, which are on display at the range. When open, the boat-rental area at Blackwell sells Tyvek targets for $6.50 each.
Off-Leash Dog Area
Dogs with valid Forest Preserve District permits can enjoy Blackwell’s fully fenced off-leash area. Rules for the area, which is on the south side of Mack Road, are posted at the preserve. Owners must have their dogs’ permits in their possession when in the off-leash area; dogs must be leashed in all other areas of the preserve. The area is open during regular preserve hours except on Mondays, when it opens at 9 a.m. after routine maintenance. Owners should call Visitor Services Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at (630) 933-7248 for permit applications and information.
The Blackwell compass course on Mount Hoy challenges users to find their way through the outdoors with the aid of this classic navigational tool. Visitors may reserve supplies for the course by calling 630-933-7248.
Tubing on Mount Hoy
Tubing fans can take a thrilling ride down Mount Hoy when 3 or more inches of snow covers the hill. District inner tubes are the only devices that may be used on Mount Hoy and can only be rented on weekends and school holidays December through February at the base of the hill. Call the Outdoor Report at (630) 871-6422 for hours of operation and snow conditions.
With the exception of the Mount Hoy area, sledding is allowed at Blackwell at the user’s own risk.
When snow conditions allow, dog sledders can use the Regional, Bobolink and connector trails through the McKee Marsh area north of Mack Road. During the rest of the year, mushers can use wheeled training carts up to 4 feet wide on every trail except the Egret Trail. For the safety of other visitors and the protection of the county’s natural resources, mushers must stay on the trails and travel in a controlled, safe manner.