Places We Protect

Kankakee Sands

Illinois

Closeup of a blue butterfly in native habitat at Kankakee Sands.
Kankakee Sands Eastern tailed blue butterfly at Kankakee Sands, Newton County, Indiana. © Carol Freeman

The Kankakee Sands preserve supports one of the greatest concentrations of black oak savannas remaining in the United States.

Overview

Description

Kankakee Sands takes its name from its sandy soils, which support globally significant oak barrens, prairies and sedge meadows. This region offers rich habitat for birds and small animals. The Mskoda Sands preserve contains some of the best examples of black oak barrens in the Midwest. Unspoiled sand dunes and swales stretch as far as the eye can see.

The Kankakee Sands region presents an unequaled opportunity to protect a naturally functioning landscape, which remains almost unchanged since pre-settlement times.

Why TNC Selected This Site

Oak savanna once covered about 27 to 32 million acres of the Midwest. By 1985, only 113 sites remained. Development has dramatically impacted the natural processes needed to maintain quality oak savanna ecosystems, making all the more important the preservation of what remains.

At nearly 1,800 acres of oak savanna, this preserve is part of a cross-state TNC project, on the border between Illinois and Indiana an hour south of Chicago. The project supports one of the greatest concentrations of black oak savannas remaining in the United States.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Kankakee Sands Preserve in Illinois is located in St. Anne & Pembroke Townships.

Hours

Open sunrise to sunset

Highlights

Kankakee Sands visitors can enjoy walking, hiking, nature photography and birdwatching in one of the greatest concentrations of black oak savannas remaining in the United States. Visitors can explore four areas with this unique habitat.

Explore our work in Illinois

Photos from Kankakee Sands

At 1,800 acres, Kankakee Sands sees a number of state-listed plant species and many bird species.

A barren tree in a grassy field at sunset.
Rattlesnake master flowers in a grassy field.
Light blue wildflowers.
A grasshopper sparrow standing on a branch.
Trees in a grassy field at Kankakee Sands.
A regal fritillary butterfly sitting on a wildflower.
A hoary puccoon insect sitting on a yellow flower.
Wildflowers in a grassy field.
A snow-covered field of grass.
A grassy field at Kankakee Sands.

Visit

TNC’s Kankakee Sands-Illinois preserve is free and open to the public 365 days a year. Every season offers a reason to visit: 

  • Spring:  Great Plains pocket gophers may be seen digging up new mounds as glass lizards emerge from hibernation and the preserve’s black oaks bud green.  

  • Summer:  Dragonflies and butterflies—including the threatened regal fritillary butterfly—will be flitting among the wide variety of prairie flowers, including wild lupine, yellow indigo and purple prairie clover. 

  • Fall: Sassafras trees will be turning orange and red and the bugling sound of migrating sandhill cranes can be heard as they fly overhead.  

  • Winter: Redheaded woodpeckers, redtail hawks and other birds can be spotted, as well as coyotes, minks, foxes and badgers. 

Know Before You Go

  • As shown on the trail maps linked below, TNC’s Kankakee Sands-Illinois is made up of four savanna and prairie sites located in Hopkins Park and St. Anne, Illinois: 

    Each site has a walking trail, ranging from 1 to 1.5 miles in length. View the full map of all four areas here.

    If you have never been to Kankakee Sands-Illinois before, we recommend you start at Pembroke Savanna to see one of the best examples of black oak savannas left in the world. The other three sites, which are home to many plants, birds and small animals, are within a 10- to 20-minute drive of Pembroke Savanna. 

    For a chance to see bison grazing, consider also visiting nearby TNC Kankakee Sands-Indiana preserve, an 8,000-acre restored prairie that is home to a herd of bison and other wildlife. The distance between the Indiana Kankakee Sands preserve and the Illinois Kankakee Sands preserve is about 20 minutes by car. 

  • Finding TNC’s Kankakee Sands-Illinois preserve can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with the Pembroke Township, Illinois area. If you are looking online or on your phone for the preserve, be sure to search specifically for “The Nature Conservancy Kankakee Sands Illinois.

    There are three different Kankakee Sands Preserves, which can cause confusion. TNC manages two of these preserves: Kankakee Sands-Illinois and Kankakee Sands-Indiana. Also, the Forest Preserve District of Will County, Illinois, has a Kankakee Sands Preserve. 

  • Walking, birding and nature photography are all welcomed at Kankakee Sands-Illinois. Our staff are available to provide guided tours to schools, clubs and other groups. For more information, contact Mihesha Gibbs (mihesha.gibbs@tnc.org).

    Kankakee Sands-Illinois is designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. Only Illinois lands that have rare plants and animals or unique natural features receive this important designation. 

    To protect the diverse and rich prairies and savannas at Kankakee Sands-Illinois—and maintain our nature preserve designation under state law—some activities are not allowed: 

    • All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are not allowed because they destroy the preserve’s fragile prairie and savanna landscapes. The deep ruts and soil compaction caused by these vehicles hinders the growth of critical species and plants.  

    • Biking on or off trails can harm important wildlife habitat. If you want to bike, consider Kankakee River State Park in Bourbonnais, Illinois.  

    • Horseback riding contributes to the spread of invasive plants when horses eat the plants and spread seeds through their manure. Horseback riding is allowed at Kankakee River State Park.

    • Hunting. To hunt, consider Iroquois County State Wildlife Area.

  • Kankakee Sands-Illinois is rustic and natural. The sandy trails are not paved. Currently, there are no bathroom facilities, water fountains, picnic tables or garbage cans at any of the sites. Please bring water and pack out what you bring in to help keep our preserve clean for other visitors. 

    Limited roadside parking is available at each of our four preserve sites. 

    Public washrooms are available at the following locations: 

    • Rodeo Park, 3687 S. Main Street, Pembroke Township, Illinois

    • The Iroquois County State Wildlife Area, 2803 E 3300 North Rd, Pembroke Township, IL 60958

    We recommend that you wear comfortable shoes, apply sunscreen and take precautions against ticks when you visit.

Support Our Work in Illinois

You can help us do important conservation work at Kankakee Sands and beyond.

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Current Conservation Work

TNC continually works to increase the protected acres of savanna in the Kankakee Sands project area and restore this land to help protect the natural functions of this unique and fragile ecosystem.

Working across borders with TNC's Indiana chapter, Illinois land stewards have restored nearly 200 acres of agricultural land to native prairie and constructed shallow wetlands at TNC's Mskoda Sands Preserve, one of the four natural areas within the Kankakee Sands-Illinois Preserve. TNC staff performs prescribed burns at two of the largest protected tracts, and stewards worked to control invasive species. Additionally, TNC is working with local officials to reduce the damage caused by trespassers riding all-terrain vehicles.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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