Pierce Lake Loop

Rock Cut State Park, Illinois

Trip Date: Sunday, August 19th, 2018
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 4.4 miles roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

Rock Cut State Park is conveniently located along Interstate 90 about an hour from Chicago, and thus it's the perfect stop on a roadtrip to or from the city. As a leg stretcher, this is a decent hike, but frankly this hike dragged on near the end -- the scenery is rather one dimensional after a while. I wouldn't bother driving from Chicago or anywhere else just for this hike, since there are so many better places nearby. There may also be better hikes in the park, and I'll probably stop to explore on another trip to Chicago.

From the parking area, walk towards the lake until you find the trail. You can choose to go either right or left, but I will describe the hike by turning left first and doing the loop clockwise. This first part and pretty much the entire trail is covered by forest, which makes this a great option for a hot summer day. After a short romp through the forest, you'll reach a giant grassy picnic area riddled with geese, like pictured below.

Hordes of geese hanging out in the grass by the lake

Hordes of geese hanging out in the grass by the lake

The trail disappears in this grassy area, but you'll eventually find it again if you follow the lakeshore. Soon after the trail reenters the woods, turn right at the intersection and cross the little wooden bridge over a trickling creek -- when I crossed the bridge, a friendly photographer pointed out a cute (non-poisonous) snake cooling off on the rocks below. Continue following the trail around the lake, and you'll eventually reach the boat launch area and concession stand. Again, the trail kind of disappears, but keep following the lake until it resumes.

After the boat launch, the trail will start to curve to the north, and you'll cross over the top of the dam. This vantage point gives you the longest view of the lake, as pictured below.
A view of people paddling the lake from the dam

A view of people paddling the lake from the dam

Turn right after crossing the dam to continue circling the lake. In this next section, the soil is sandier and has bright, south-facing views of the lake like pictured below.
Another shady view of the lake

Another shady view of the lake

The trail crosses through the main campground, and the trail disappears yet again. Follow the road straight across (I mistakenly tried to follow the lake and took a few extra steps to reach the same place in the end) and you'll find where the trail resumes. After winding next to the lake for a bit, you'll reach the Youth Camp, where the trail disappears into the mowed grass. In the area where the trail resumed, there were a few use-trails that obscured the correct route, but keep following the lake and you can't go wrong.

The portion after the Youth Camp is where I started to tire of the trail, having hiked over 3 miles at this point with a constant lakeside view. Eventually the trail meets with the road, and you'll turn right to follow a trail beside the road. This section is particularly noisy since it's adjacent to I-90, but the wetland plants provided some of the nicest lake views of the entire hike, see the picture below.
Lily pads covering the surface of the lake

Lily pads covering the surface of the lake

After a long trek, you'll finally reach the Lion's Club Picnic Area where you started. This hike certainly tired me out enough that I didn't mind sitting for a few hours on my long drive back to Minneapolis! And that's exactly what the purpose of this hike should be, since it wasn't interesting enough to warrant a special trip to this park. Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

I struggled to find any explicit mention of rules about pets on trails on the park's official page linked below, but dogs are allowed in campgrounds on a leash up to 10 feet long -- I would presume this also applies to trails. There is also a dog training area in the park that you can access by continuing straight at the first stop sign after entering the park (instead of turning left to reach the trail described here). This loop is much too long for a family hike, but there are other good trails in the park for kids, such as the 0.25 mile Prairie Trail or the 0.7 mile Lone Rock Trail. The trail is good for all three warmer seasons, but during the winter about half of the trail around the lake is groomed for skiing and off-limits to hikers and snowshoers. Since this park is within Rockford city limits, adjacent to the interstate, and only an hour from Chicago, expect to see many people no matter when you go.


From Chicago, take Interstate 90 west to Rockford. Exit at Riverside Boulevard, then turn left. Turn right at the light ahead for Bell School Road and continue straight until the road ends at Harlem Road. Turn right, pass under the highway, then turn left -- you'll see the entrance sign for Rock Cut State Park. Turn left at the stop sign ahead, following the sign for picnic areas. Turn left when the road ends after passing over the highway, then park in the first parking lot on the right side.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There are pit toilets and a covered picnic area near this parking lot.

Nearby Hikes

The view from the top of the observation tower on Lapham Peak
Moraine Ridge Trail Loop
Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak Unit, Wisconsin
Wide open river views at the end of the trail
River Route
Apple River Canyon State Park, Illinois
The Twin Sisters and the Mississippi River beyond in the late afternoon sun
Sentinel Trail to the Twin Sisters
Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois
Indian Head
Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois

External Links