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Illinois - Indiana

Kankakee Sands

The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is a prairie-savanna complex in northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois. Nearly 25,000 acres of remnant and restored lands across state borders are protected by The Nature Conservancy and partner organizations. 

The area’s sandy soils support globally significant oak barrens, prairies and sedge meadows, and offer rich habitat for rare species such as the plains pocket gopher, western slender glass lizard, northern leopard frog, red headed woodpecker, wild yellow indigo, ornate box turtles and least bittern. 

Since 1997, The Nature Conservancy, its volunteers and partners have worked together to restore nearly 6,500 acres in the Kankakee Sands area, turning land previously used for agriculture back to the unique prairie, savanna and wetland habitats that thrived here 300 years ago. 

St. Anne and Pembroke Townships in Kankakee County in northeastern Illinois and Newton County in Indiana

Open sunrise to sunset

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Prior to European settlement, the Kankakee Sands area was a mosaic of rich habitat including large marshes and lakes, oak barrens, prairies and sedge meadows. Development of the land since the 1800s has caused fragmentation and changed the natural processes of these systems. The Kankakee Sands region presents an unequaled opportunity to protect a naturally functioning landscape.

Conservation of this area has additional benefits, as plants in grassland and wetland habitats at Kankakee Sands sequester carbon from the air, helping reduce the impacts of climate change.These plant communities also prevent erosion and runoff, which helps keep the water clean for people and for wildlife. Wetland and grassland habitats found within Kankakee Sands collect and slowly filter rainwater, which recharges the aquifers local communities rely upon for drinking water.  

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
The Nature Conservancy owns and manages approximately 10,300 acres at Kankakee Sands. Of this total, approximately 8,000 acres are in located in Indiana and just over 2,000 in Illinois. The Conservancy is restoring this natural habitat in a way that is beneficial both to nature and the local economy. 

The Nature Conservancy and its volunteers at Kankakee Sands are rebuilding the historic prairie, oak savanna and wetland habitats of the region through restoration tactics such as harvesting and sowing locally sourced seeds, monitoring and removing invasive species, and performing prescribed burns. Prescribed fire is an integral component of keeping Kankakee Sands diverse and healthy, as it was once a natural occurrence in nature that kept invasive species at bay and soils rich.

In an effort to create a diverse habitat for animals and recreational opportunities for people, The Nature Conservancy has also planted more than 600 native species at Kankakee Sands across 6,500 acres of land.

Research is critical to the understanding and management of grassland and oak barrens ecosystems. The Conservancy shares its research findings from Kankakee Sands with grassland restoration projects around the world.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Indiana Heritage Trust, Illinois Division of Nature Preserves, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Friends of the Kankakee, Friends of the Sands, the Black Oak Center for Sustainable Renewable Living, Kankakee County Youth Intervention Association, University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Newton County Soil and Water Conservation Service, Newton County Historical Society, Lilly Endowment, and the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Friends of the Sands
Friends of the Sands is a group dedicated to increasing community interest, support, and use of Newton County's natural areas, especially the Kankakee Sands Restoration Project of The Nature Conservancy.  The group was established in January of 2004 and meets once a month, usually on a Sunday late afternoon. 

All ages are welcome. Through participation in the group, Friends learn about ecology, animals, birds and plants of Newton County.

Past projects have included: native plant display garden at the Newton County Fairgrounds; placemats about Kankakee Sands and surrounding natural areas distributed to local diners; hikes for the community at Kankakee Sands; and brochures distributed to local libraries.

If you'd like more information, please email Friends of the Sands at

While visiting, staff recommends wearing hiking boots, sunscreen and insect repellent.

For information on ADA accessibility and use of OPDMDs, click here.

Use our trail guides and maps to see the many areas of the preserve.

To make the most of your visit, call or write the Kankakee Sands Project Office at (219) 285-2184.

Directions to the Indiana Side
  • From Interstate 65, take exit 220 to travel west on IN State Road 14 for 9.5 miles.
  • Turn right onto US 41. Travel north for 2.3 miles.
  • The project office is located in the large red pole barn on the west side of the highway.
Directions to the Illinois Side

From Chicago and points North, East and West:

  • Take I-57 S out of Chicago
  • To IL-17, exit (Exit 312) left/east toward Momence
  • Turn right/south onto IL-1
  • Turn left/east onto 4000S Rd.
  • Turn left/north onto 11000E Rd.
  • Proceed ¾ mile north on 11000E to parking area on left/west side of road.

From the South of Kankakee:

  • Take I-57 N
  • To IL-17, exit (Exit 312) right/east toward Momence
  • Turn right/south onto IL-1
  • Turn left/east onto 4000S Rd.
  • Turn left/north onto 11000E Rd.
  • Proceed ¾ mile north on 11000E to parking area on left/west side of road.

Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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