Monee Reservoir

The preserve that has it all

|  Story by Meghan McMahon |


If you’re looking for a preserve that has it all, look no further than Monee Reservoir. From its 46-acre lake suited for all kinds of recreation and wildlife viewing to the picnic grove and shelters perfect for family reunions and get-togethers, there’s plenty of reasons to visit this preserve.

The preserve is 248 acres in all. The land was acquired by the Forest Preserve District between 1982 and 2006, and is part of the Rock Creek preservation system, which conserves more than 460 acres.

The lake is certainly the focal point at Monee Reservoir, but the preserve is also home to woodlands, prairie and open fields, a pond and marshy areas. This diversity of habitat allows the preserve to support a wide variety of wildlife, from birds at the treetops to fish and other aquatic creatures dwelling at the deepest depths of the lake.


“The lake and associated woodlands and open field habitat allow for a large number of different animal and plant species to be found here, so there are great opportunities for wildlife observation,” said Bob Bryerton, a program coordinator for the Forest Preserve.

The lake itself can be a way to see the entire preserve in a new way. You can get out on the lake using your own canoe or kayak, or by renting a watercraft from the visitor center.

“When you get out on the water, you see everything from a different perspective, and it is really cool,” explained Bryerton.

Three people in a canoe.

In fact, he said some of his best moments at the preserve have been out on the water, particularly at the end of the day.

“I have had some really great times kayaking there. We sometimes do sunset paddles, and I find this is a really great time to be on the water,” he said. “Watching the sun set and the preserve getting ready for the night is a very calming experience.”

Bryerton, an avid birder, also had one of his most unusual birding experiences at Monee Reservoir. On an out-and-back hike on the trail there, he passed the pond wetland and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but then on the return trip he noticed a small group of ducks that looked out of place.

“Once I got a closer look, I noticed they were black-bellied whistling ducks. I recorded the sighting on eBird, and it appears this may have been the first sighting ever of this species in Will County,” he said.

Black-bellied whistling duck

“These ducks are normally found much farther south but occasionally show up in our area and have been spotted in adjacent counties. It was a really rare sighting for me, and I was so glad I decided to take a walk in the preserve that day.”

One of the things Bryerton enjoys about Monee Reservoir is how each visit can be an entirely new experience.

“The habitats in this preserve can support so many different species, so you never know what you will run into when you visit, which helps make it a very special place,” he said.

Wildlife and habitats

Visitors interested in wildlife viewing won’t leave Monee Reservoir disappointed because there are many ways to take in the sights and sounds of local critters, whether you are looking for an active or passive experience.

A close-up of a dragonfly on vegetation.

Bird watching, in particular, is a good reason to visit the preserve, especially if you want to spend some time looking for birds often seen near water. That doesn’t just mean ducks and geese. Bald eagles, swans, pied-billed grebes and even occasionally common loons are all spotted regularly, and it’s a particularly busy place for birds during the spring and fall migration seasons, Bryerton said. In the winter, when the world seems quiet, Canada geese keep part of the lake from freezing over, and other birds, like snow geese, greater white-fronted geese, canvasbacks, tundra swans and more, all take advantage of the open water.

If you’re up for a walk, you can take the main trail from the visitor center. This trail traverses prairie and woodland areas and will take you by the lake and a pond. It then branches out to a nice viewing spot where you can sit on a bench, Bryerton said.

“Sitting on the benches here will allow you to view red-winged blackbirds, muskrats, beavers, deer and other wetland species like minks,” he said.

A muskrat eating in the water.

If you’re not up for a walk, a stop by the visitor center will offer good chances for seeing birds, both on the water and at the feeders staff maintain. Among the birds that visit the feeders are ruby-throated hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles and red-headed woodpeckers.

Both the shelter areas, Bluegill Hill and Catfish Corner, are nice places to sit and take in the wildlife, Bryerton said. Bluegill Hill offers a different vantage point of the lake and can be a good place to see eagles, owls, ducks and swans, while Catfish Corner is tucked into a wooded area.

“Sitting quietly in this shelter can be a good way to view wildlife without being seen,” he said of Catfish Corner.

Recreation opportunities

A fisherman along the shore with a fishing pole in his hand.

With a lake as large as the reservoir, fishing is obviously one of the main attractions at the preserve. One reason Monee Reservoir is popular with anglers is because you can catch fish that aren’t as common at other preserves and local waterways, including bass and catfish.

Anglers trying to catch catfish often do best later in the summer, when the water has warmed up for the season, he said. They, too, are a big draw, and large catfish are often caught. Other fish in the lake include bluegill, sunfish, crappie and even some perch.

“Largemouth bass is the big draw at Monee Reservoir. They are caught pretty consistently, and many are good-sized,” Bryerton said. “A lot of visitors come specifically for the bass, and with the majority being catch and release, the bass fishing seems to always be pretty good.”

An underwater view of a largemouth bass.

Fishing requires a valid Illinois fishing license, which can be purchased from the visitor center. Bait, tackle, snacks and drinks are also for sale, and fishing poles can be rented. The Forest Preserve encourages catch-and-release fishing.

Those looking to get out on the water, whether to fish or just enjoy the tranquility, can launch their personal kayaks or canoes at the launch. Kayaks, canoes, pedalboats and rowboats can all be rented from the visitor center. Personal fishing boats cannot be launched at Monee Reservoir.

The preserve also hosts nature and recreation programs throughout the year, including paddling and fishing programs and bird hikes.


Two people in a kayak on the water.

Geocaching is permitted, although permits are required. The preserve is also one of several with District-sponsored geocaches that can be found via


Monee Reservoir’s Bluegill Hill Shelter has a capacity of 200 people, and Catfish Corner Shelter has a capacity of 75 people. In addition, a picnic grove that can accommodate 100 people can be reserved.

Photo credits: Alan Bulava, Glenn P. Knoblock, Chad Merda, Byron Morgan, Anthony Schalk

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