Walkin’ in the Woods: Lake Homer Scenic Trail: Culture: Smile politely

With gas prices at record highs and a wave of abnormally hot weather, the theme for this month’s long trek in the woods was “Shorter, Flatter, Closer.” With this in mind when I filtered through the local options on AllTrails, I decided to head to the Homer Lake Forest Preserve. Honestly, it’s been a long time since my visit because it’s a sweet and bustling little park that was full of families and people fishing and enjoying an afternoon in nature.

I decided to try the 5.2 miles Lake Homer Scenic Trail Trail because I’m a sucker for landscapes. Although AllTrails described it as a “moderate” trail, it was very flat and smooth—there was literal pavement at one point—and I’d call it easy.

Getting there and parking

It takes less than 20 minutes to get to Homer Lake Forest Preserve from Urbana. It is an easy and scenic ride and as a bonus you can pass near the village of Saint Joseph, home of Wheelhouse Restaurant and Wyldewood Cellars (among other places) so you can spend your entire afternoon grabbing brunch or a slush as a reward for a good walk.

Now you know that for all of AllTrails’ useful features, getting one to the right parking spot is a constant failure and this trail is no exception. You’ll want to park near the West Lake Trail trailhead that looks just outside the park proper. There is still ample parking and it wasn’t hard to find.

West Lake Trail sign image with prairie and some trees in the background.  The primary colors are greens and sky blue in the back.Photography by Mara Thacker.

Passage conditions

The lanes were in very good condition. I was about to call them fertile. It was spacious with the lawn mowed neatly most of the time. and mud? never heard of it! Thanks to the dry heat, the ground was hard, dry and even slightly cracked. While it was a nice change of pace from the spring slush, I think we’re behind on some rain.

Picture of legs in colorful walking shoes and socks standing on cracked, dry, brown dirt.Photography by Mara Thacker.

The first mile or so of trail was the prairie, which was great in terms of being kind of a Midwest specialty but less so in terms of providing shade. There are also two short stretches where you walk along the roads. The sun is intense in these sections. You’ll want to use sunscreen and consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat for the occasion. You will also need a lot of water. I brought my gallon jug and burned everything.

Picture of a path leading to dense trees.  Many shades of green in this photo.  Shows where the prairie path turns into the forest.Where the prairie path finally enters the forest. Photography by Mara Thacker.

bathroom case

Full of confidence that the driveway was close to home and it wasn’t that long, I wasn’t too concerned about the availability of bathrooms. But then I got burned in a gallon of water and had no choice but to use the woods. Dear readers, I looked in all directions, looked at the situation carefully, and saw that there was no one anywhere on the road. I was separated anyway. However, upon appearing I saw the only other person I would have seen on the road all that day. Did he see me? I don’t know, I hope not. Anyway, I’m here to tell the tale and also to tell you that there are no obvious bathrooms along the way. Maybe if the interpretation center is open the day you’re there, or if you go off the driveway to go to the proper park. But in any case, you are warned in advance and make sure that you are prepared not to leave a trace.

Photo of writer Mara Thacker standing with a gallon jug of water and wood in the background.  Thacker wears sunglasses.  The main colors are greens and brown.Photography by Mara Thacker.


The most dangerous thing about this path is getting stuck in the occasional loop you didn’t intend to go on and adding some unplanned miles. While there were a number of educational signs to teach visitors about the landscape and wildlife, there were fewer one might hope for and it would be easy to take an unexpected turn. Aside from that, there were no real safety concerns on this track. The driveway itself was in good condition. Although there were a few other hikers, there were plenty of people in the lake or within the park itself, thus within sight in case something unexpected came up.

Wildlife and beautiful scenery

This trail has a lot to offer in terms of scenic views. There is a lake and river, and you can watch people fishing or paddling. But you also get to have woodland and prairie landscapes. I saw a lone deer, but tons and tons of birds and dragonflies were the size of birds. I wish I could share a snapshot of audio instead of just pictures of conveying the constant buzzing of insects in the prairie.

Picture of a meadow with small trees scattered and a large open blue sky in the background.  The primary colors are greens and blues.Meadow as far as the eye can see. Photography by Mara Thacker.

I would also say that this driveway benches like Fox Ridge for collecting trash cans. If there’s anything picturesque even in the distance, you can bet there’s a random seat nearby. There is no symmetry, rhyme, or reasoning in the aesthetics of the seats but they are plentiful and charming!

last thoughts

The Homer Lake Forest Preserve is a treasure in the park and this was a fun and easy trail that suits most beginner hikers and families. It would also be a great trail for people who want to try trail running and I think the next time I go it will be for a jog in the woods instead of a walk.

Having said that, you might be better off doing the “West Lake Trail” rather than merging which is the “scenic trail” because I think the only thing the scenic trail adds to is some stretches of trail. It’s like going to Meadowbrook Park and deciding to walk along Windsor and Reese instead of staying inside the park It’s good for miles but not really essential or scenic. However, I know I’ll be going back to Lake Homer the next time I need something shorter, flatter, and closer.

Top photo of Mara Thacker.

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