If you are looking for an Illinois hike big on views and low on crowds, check out White Rock Nature Preserve. Located near the more popular Salt Lick Point Reserve, White Rock is less well known and offers a quieter experience. The trails at White Rock also stay further back from steep bluff edges for those with young children or a fear of heights.
History of White Rock Preserve
During the Great Depression, miners cut and hauled limestone from the White Rock Mine and quarry located here. After the mining operations ceased, the mine was even used for a chicken farming business in the 1950s!
The land then sat dormant for years and nature began to reclaim the area. In 2011, a joint venture between two nonprofits allowed the land to be purchased and developed by Clifftop Alliance and Heartlands Conservancy. These two nonprofits promote conservation, preservation, and outdoor recreation in southwestern Illinois. Today, visitors can explore this intact hilltop prairie and blufftop viewpoints.
White Rock Trails
- Length: About 2 miles each way for all trails, out and back
- Difficulty: 3/5. Not long but makes a moderately steep climb at start
- Scenic Value: 4/5. Scenic views from the bluff tops plus an old mine site
- Trailhead Address: 6438 Bluff Road, Valmeyer, IL
The first challenge of hiking White Rock Nature Preserve is finding the trailhead. The parking area is located on Bluff Road a couple miles south of old Valmeyer. Keep an eye out for a small brown sign on a road curve sign. The parking lot will be on your left if heading south.
Once you have parked, you will have to walk briefly back up the paved road heading north until you reach a gravel road on your right. It can be a little confusing as a sign states no trespassing, but public pedestrian access is allowed along the road to reach the start of the trails. Please be respectful of private property and remain on the road and trail.
Continue to follow the road across a bridge until it curves to the right. You will see a gate on your right and signs about the trail. A box on the left holds trail maps.
From here the path starts out on the 1/6 mile Early Venture Trail. This trail follows an old gravel road steadily and steeply uphill. Clifftop has created some nice trail markers along the way that state the name of each trail.
After a steep but short climb, you will reach a resting spot called Madeline’s Rest. There are benches and tables scattered around in a shaded clearing to catch your breath.
Signs nearby explain the history of the area and mission of Clifftop. Be sure to check out the sealed off White Rock Mine entrance. It makes a nice photo op and a great spot to cool off.
From here, the trail is now called the White Mine Trail. This path continues for another quarter mile. Unfortunately, it is all uphill again but not quite as steep as the very start of the trail.
Once you reach the top of the climb, the trail splits and becomes much easier. Take the path on the right, the North Ridgetop Trail, for the best overlook of the hike. The trail to the viewpoint is short and mostly flat before it dead ends at the bluff edge.
Take a moment to enjoy the panoramic view of farmland and the Mississippi River floodplain. The bluff has a more gradual slope down instead of a steep drop off, but still use caution with kids and pets. Remain on the trail in order to protect the ongoing prairie restoration.
If you wish to have a shorter overall hike, you can turn around at this point and head back to the parking area for a total hike of just over a mile. If you wish to continue, retrace your steps to the trail split and turn right on the South Ridgetop Trail.
The South Ridgetop trail rambles through the trees for another mile. The path is fairly easy and wide with a few small hills near the end of the trail. There is nothing remarkable about this section, just a pleasant walk in the woods and seasonal wildflowers.
Keep an eye out along the way and see if you can find a friendly face in the woods. (Hint: He is on the right side of the trail when hiking south.)
At the end of the South Ridgetop trail is another overlook. This one is less dramatic than the North Ridgetop overlook as trees obscure much of the view. There is a bench if you need a quick rest before heading back to the trailhead.
Retrace your steps back down the hill and along the road to the parking area. Your total hike if you do all the trails is just over 4 miles.
Additional Things to Know
- There are no restrooms here. The nearest restrooms are in new Valmeyer a few miles northeast.
- Hours are sunrise to sunset daily.
- You can print a trail map here.
- Additional hikes worth exploring in the area include Salt Lick Point, Fults Hill Prairie, and Piney Creek Ravine.
- Be sure to stay on the trail, pack out what you bring in, and leave no trace.