STONE BRIDGE AND LONG PRAIRIE TRAILS

5.8 - 13.9 miles     Winnebago, Boone County

Stone Bridge Trail Description

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Built on a former rail bed dating back to the 1850s, the Stone Bridge Trail provides a crushed limestone pathway through rural countryside. A highlight of the trail is passage on Stone Bridge over the scenic South Kinnikinnick Creek. Built in 1882, the double-arch bridge is included on the National Register of Historic Places.

The trail passes both the Stone Bridge and Roland Olson Forest Preserves. The latter is more developed, offering athletic fields, picnic tables and restrooms. On its eastern end, the Stone Bridge Trail connects to the paved Long Prairie Trail, continuing the journey through gently rolling hills, wooded areas and farmland.

Long Prairie Trail Description

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The Long Prairie Trail journeys across the width of agricultural Boone County for nearly 14 miles on the railroad corridor previously used by the Kenosha and Rockford Railroad, later known as the Kenosha Division, or KD Line. Formed in the 1860s, the railroad served many small communities in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin as it connected Rockford, Illinois, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Offering passenger service and hauling milk and ice from dairies and lakes in the region, the railroad ceased most operations in 1939 due to the growing use of cars and trucks.

The old KD Line still serves the rural communities of Capron, Poplar Grove, and Caledonia in its new life as the paved Long Prairie Trail, part of the 500-mile Grand Illinois Trail. Three other trails also follow the old rail line: the connecting Stone Bridge Trail in the west and the Stone Mill Trailand Hebron Trail in the east.

At the trailhead about 2 miles east of Capron, the first of many interpretive signs greets visitors. This one explains the history of the Potawatomi tribe in the area. Other signs inform users about the local flora, fauna, and geology.

Heading toward Capron, you’ll likely be thankful on hot summer days for the shady leaf canopy that arches over the trail for miles. You’ll see farm crops and cattle ranches through breaks in the trailside growth, though some native prairie survives. Reportedly, rail cars on the KD Line sparked periodic blazes in the adjacent grasslands. Woody species couldn’t tolerate the frequent burns, enabling the preservation of some native grasses.

The small town of Capron dates to the same year as the railroad: 1861. Leaving town, you’ll parallel IL 173 for 2.5 miles. Gazing across the countryside, you’re reminded that this is one of the most rural areas of Boone County.

You’ll arrive in Poplar Grove 5 miles past Capron. The small business district offers restaurants and cafés to slake your thirst or curb your appetite. About 2.5 miles west of town, you might be surprised at the sight of mowed fairways and manicured greens. You’re passing the golf course for the Candlewick Lake Association, a private community for more than 4,000 residents.

The last village on the Long Prairie Trail is Caledonia, less than a mile from the golf course. While the main KD Line headed west from here through Rock Cut State Park, the trail follows a spur line toward Beloit, Wisconsin. Nearly 4 miles past Caledonia, the trail ends at McMichael Road, where it meets the Stone Bridge Trail, a crushed-stone pathway that continues on into Winnebago County to a shopping district south of Beloit.