McHenry Dam, nestled in the southwest corner of Moraine Hills State Park, is a large and peaceful destination in itself. With the quiet roar of the dam in the background and stand of large, dense trees, the dam offers a lovely place to relax for fishermen and picnickers alike. Moraine Hills State Park’s system of hiking trails connects the dam to the rest of the park, but the dam has its own parking area and facilities as well.
One of the favored fishing spots in the area, and it’s easy to see why fishermen like McHenry Dam: a nice elevated fishing perch, an onsite bait and concessions store, restrooms, and lots of free parking. Fish Tales Concessions offers bait, boat rentals, ice cream, and other snack items, as well as a place to congregate and tell your own fish tales about the one that got away.
The same things make it a perfect picnic spot, with the addition of picnic tables under the trees, a smattering of fire pits and grills, and a couple of swings for the kids. Keep in mind, this is an old-school park with lots of grass to run on and nature to explore rather than a fancy playground-type park. And that’s a good thing.
To find the dam, set your GPS to 42°18’36.3″N 88°14’59.1″W, or look for the intersection of South River Road and McHenry Dam Road southeast of McHenry at the bottom of Moraine Hills State Park. Then just follow McHenry Dam Road until it ends in the parking lot.
McHenry Dam is actually the only dam on the Fox River that is served by a lock system. The dam gates date back to 1939 and the locks were built in 1960. Both will be reconstructed this winter in a $16.7 million improvement project, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The good news is that next year’s boating season (May 1 thru October 31) should remain unaffected. Read all about the project at IDNR’s site.