Location and Visiting
The Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes is a restoration project of the Wetlands Initiative located in north-central Illinois along the Illinois River, 40 miles north of Peoria and two hours southwest of the Chicago Loop. The site is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk for hiking, nature viewing, and birdwatching.
Please note that the Wetlands Initiative may temporarily close the Refuge (or a portion of it) to visitors at short notice when legally protected birds or other wildlife are present.
For information on parking and access to trails and other amenities, please see the Dixon Refuge site map here.
Things you can do at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge:
- Climb the 30-foot Arthur A. Nolan Jr. Observation Tower for a sweeping vista of the site. This is an ideal location for viewing the spring and fall waterfowl migrations in March/April and October/November.
- From May 1 through September 30, use the boat launch to access the lakes for boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Boats with gas motors are not allowed on the lakes, even if the motor is out of the water. No rentals are available. No boating or paddling is permitted on the lakes from October 1 through April 30 to avoid disturbing migrating waterfowl.
- Hike the new Marquis Oak Ridge Trail, a 2.7-mile crushed-gravel trail. This trail begins at the north end of the Refuge and leads through diverse prairies and wetlands to the Oak Ridge marsh and savanna complex in the site’s interior.
- Hike the half-mile Prairie–Wetland Boardwalk, which begins near the observation tower and ends by the boat launch.
- Explore the one-mile Seep Trail, which begins at the boat launch parking lot and leads south through rich woodland and a rare wetland seep habitat.
- Look for some of the more than 270 bird species that have been seen at the Refuge. (Download the site’s bird checklist here.)
- Fishing at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes is allowed only in summer. For safety reasons there is no ice fishing, since the thickness of the ice is variable and unpredictable even during very cold spells. Dates and permit information for the 2018 summer fishing season will be posted here in late winter. A Dixon Refuge fishing permit is required in addition to an Illinois state fishing license.
- Dogs must be leashed and horses are not allowed at the Refuge.
- Drones are not allowed at the Refuge.
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