Trails: North Pool and Beer-can Trails
Hike Location: Chautauqua National Wildlife RefugeGeographic Location: northeast of Havana, IL (40.38507, -89.96120)Length: 3.6 milesDifficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)Last Hiked: May 2019Overview: A pair of out-and-backs along the east shore of the North Pool.Refuge Information: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/chautauqua/Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=749228
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 97 and US 136 in Havana, take Promenade Street north. Promenade St. becomes E. Manito Road after it leaves the town of Havana. Drive a total of 7 miles from SR 97 to reach CR 1950 E. Turn left on CR 1950 E. Drive CR 1950 E 3.3 miles to the small signed North Roundtree parking lot on the left. Park here.
The hike: Located about 25 miles downstream from Peoria, Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge is one of three sites that form the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Complex. Before it became a refuge, this land was drained and diked for agricultural purposes. Yet the Illinois River proved too powerful to be tamed in this way, and after only two years the land became a shallow backwater that received large amounts of silt from the river. The refuge dates to 1936, when the Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the land. Most national wildlife refuges are good only for short birdwatching hikes, but a new system of nature trails constructed in the summer of 2018 by the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) provides options for longer hikes at Chautuaqua. These trails allow hikers to explore the low bluffs that line the east side of the Illinois River’s wetlands, and they make for good bird viewing during the spring and fall migrations. The YCC built 4 new trails, two of which are used to form the double out-and-back described here.

Trailhead at North Roundtree parking area

From the small North Roundtree parking area, the common entrance trail heads northwest into the woods. Very quickly the trail splits with the longer North Pool Trail going left and the shorter Beer-can Trail going right. This hike will eventually go both directions, and for no reason I turned left to hike the North Pool Trail first. The narrow North Pool Trail heads southwest through a narrow strip of trees with the open wetland known as North Pool to the right and moderately traveled CR 1950 E audible but usually not visible to the left. Some wooden arrows nailed to trees mark this trail, but the trail markers are rather infrequent. While the trail was discernible on my visit, some areas were rather overgrown. More foot traffic is needed to pound this trail in, and the route will need to be marked better and/or re-cleared in the near future.

Hiking the North Pool Trail

At 0.3 miles, a spur trail exiting left leads to a small parking lot on CR 1950 E that serves the Roundtree Trail, another of the new trails constructed by the YCC. Continue straight to remain on the North Pool Trail. Soon the trail briefly uses the shoulder of CR 1950 E to cross a small stream on the road bridge, and this section may require wading through some waist-high grass. Look for the wooden arrow that marks where the trail reenters the woods.

North Pool

The rest of the North Pool Trail undulates slightly as it stays in the narrow strip of forest. The forest features a lot of oak trees, hickory trees, and honeysuckle. Some nice views of the North Pool can be had to the right; water levels were very high due to recent rains on my visit. The trail starts following a buried electric cable as it approaches the Eagle Bluffs boat launch, which is reached at 1.3 miles. Eagle Bluffs boat launch features a parking area, a picnic area, a restroom building, and of course a boat launch.

North Pool at Eagle Bluff boat launch

The North Pool Trail ends at Eagle Bluffs boat launch, and no other trails lead to this point. Thus, you need to head back up the North Pool Trail to its north end. Alternatively, if you really want to form a loop or trail conditions are very bad, you could walk back on the shoulder of the road. When you get back to the North Pool Trail’s north end, head north on the Beer-can Trail. Supposedly the Beer-can Trail is named for a ring of beer cans that marks a secret birding hotspot, and despite the trail’s odd name it was in much better shape than the North Pool Trail on my visit. The Beer-can Trail offers more of the same scenery, and I never found the metal construction for which this trail is named. I did see a decent number of songbirds on this trail.

End of Beer-can Trail

Just past 3 miles, you reach the north end of the Beer-can Trail. Another trail called the Beach Trail also comes to this point, but it stays very close to North Pool and was underwater on my visit. Thus, I retraced my steps along the Beer-can Trail to return to the trailhead and complete the hike. While you are here, the Chautauqua Nature Trail located near the refuge headquarters offers an ADA-accessible 0.5 mile loop, and it is the oldest and most popular trail at the refuge. The Chautauqua Nature Trail makes a nice short add-on to this hike.