Richmond to Spring Grove:
An attractive creek in northeastern Illinois, admirably maintained by volunteers that effectively begins in a glacial moraine and concludes in a woodsy area before feeding one of the chain of lakes, with countless riffles along the way.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: November 3, 2013
Skill Level: Beginner
Class Difficulty: Riffles
Gauge Recorded on this Trip:
Spring Grove: ht/ft: 3.9 | cfs: 65
Spring Grove: ht/ft: 4.31 | cfs: 124
We recommend this level.
Time: Put in at 11:30a. Out at 4:15p.
Total Time: 4h 45m (with lots of down time and diversions)
Miles Paddled: 15.25
A dozen+ great blue herons, a couple of green herons, a generous combination of wood ducks, a deer, an owl, some unidentifiable fish, lots of kingfishers.
The “Nip,” as the locals call it, has been on my radar for some time now but I’d been putting it off because it’s a long drive for a paddle that I wasn’t entirely certain would be worth such effort. But visiting a friend in Chicago was all the occasion I needed to justify diverting towards the Nippersink. I’m glad I did it and there’s much to admire about this paddle but I generally found it way too long and slow for a single-day paddle, particularly on the first day of returning to Standard Time, when it’s easy to forget that it’s basically night-dark by 5:00pm.
What we liked:
How and where this trip begins is in my opinion, the best aspect to this entire trip. The parking lot to the landing is fully facilitated, as it serves for the trailhead for all sorts of walking paths in Glacial Park, a beautiful and fascinating public park that shows and tells about the last ice age and how the receding glaciers sculpted the surrounding landscape.
On the creek, easy riffles are everywhere. As you turn one tight-angled kink after another, huge moraines and kames loom in the near distance, their massive size all the more prominent by the tiny stick-figure people walking up or on top of them. The first two miles of the “Nip” are very crooked (fitting perhaps for a river so close to Chicago…) and yet the creek here is fairly wide, wider than anywhere else during this trip. Thus, if you find yourself bored and curious if the whole paddle will be like this, it won’t. Shortly after the Prairie Trail bike path bridge, the creek narrows and it begins to feel like a truly intimate creek and it remains as such until the end. The intimacy of this kind of seclusion is not easy to come by and is most welcome.
The water on the Nip is predominantly clear with a sand-gravel bottom and muddy banks. While the glacial highlights grace only the very first few miles of this trip, there’s a lot else to love about the scenery surrounding the creek. Low-lying tree limbs stretch just overhead in charming woodsy areas, resplendent in their autumnal blush this time of year. Here and there the banks will rise as high as 20’, adding to the sense of private enclosure. The landings along this section are first-rate and well conceived. They punctuate the trip thoughtfully, allowing a paddler to shorten a trip to her druthers and each includes generous parking, a water pump and toilets.
If you like oak trees, these beauties flank the banks for many sections of this trip, towards the end in particular. And the wildlife in general, was outstanding.
Lastly, the riffles. There are too many to count, most of them along the first 2/3 of the trip. I paddled this in below-average water, in November no less. It had rained over an inch a couple days before but the effects of that had subsided by the time I was paddling. Thus the riffles had just enough water to glide over without much scraping or butt-scooting. I would not want to paddle the Nip with less water than what’s recorded above. Alternately, in higher water I think some of these riffles would truly sing like fun Class I rapids; still easy and safe but a little more challenging and demanding attention.
What we didn’t like:
A few things. First, the length. With all due respect to Meister Mike Svob, his mileage calculation in Paddling Illinois is way off. The true length of this trip is nowhere near 12.5 miles, as he states. Rather, it’s 15.25-15.5 miles (based on Google maps and corroborated by the official McHenry County Conservation District Nippersink Canoe Trail guide).
This definitely threw my day off, especially after losing an hour of daylight thanks to falling back to Standard Time earlier that morning. By the time I’d paddled to the takeout and then pedaled my bike back to the car at the put-in, it was 5:00pm and dark as night. Fifteen and a quarter miles is a long distance for a pretty but hardly spectacular trip. True, the first segment of the river is quite lovely and worth paddling but after that, the surroundings get flat and fairly boring.
While the gradient averages 3.3’ per mile, there were spots of dead flat, or barely moving. It took me nearly 5 hours to complete this trip at essentially constant paddling (only bathroom breaks). That’s a long day without dramatic rock formations or rapids. The last 1/3 of this trip is particularly slow-going. Many were the coalescences of molten yellow leaves stuck together like a weightless mass floating atop the surface. Pretty and picturesque as such happenings are, and surely a rite of passage in this late paddling season of autumn but they are good indicators of weak current.
Also worth mentioning is the middle segment of this trip, Pioneer Landing to Lyle C. Thomas Memorial Park. Riffles continue and there are some areas easy on the eye but for the most part, this section is residential and commercial. Houses, a trailer park, a golf course, a private park (that warns not only of no trespassing but alludes to 24/7 security cameras) and even a loud foundry call the shots here as you paddle through two towns, Solon Mills and Spring Grove. It’s also in this section that the only set of barbed wires are found. Someone was thoughtful enough to add lots of fluorescent orange tape and even PVC pipe around some of the wires for easy spotting of and crossing under the hazard.
If we did this trip again:
I would only paddle the first segment, Keystone to Pioneer, making for a leisurely and very pretty paddle of 6.5 miles. The second segment is residential and fairly boring, although riffles do continue. The third segment from Lyle C. Thomas Memorial Park to the Nippersink Canoe Base is pretty, too but less dramatic (and no riffles) than the first segment. That said, I could see this last section potentially open (at least for a short while) during the winter months. Covered in a thin lace of snow, I imagine it would be gorgeous.