White Pines State Park.
Near Dixon, Mt. Morris and Oregon. From Dixon, we take Lowell Park Road from Route 26 and hang a right at a stop sign far out in the country. This eventually leads to the distinct boundaries of the park. Field after field suddenly rams up against a dark wall of pines. It reminds me of the Old Forest in Lord of the Rings. The change is so abrupt, you rather wonder if there’s something mystical about the woods.
After three hours of wandering the paths, though, I can attest that it’s pretty safe.
White Pines is nothing new on my radar. I’ve enjoyed hikes there since I was young. The park’s fall brilliance is something I had yet to experience, however, until a few weeks ago.
What a day for a hike. The sun shone brightly and a breeze complemented the brisk morning air. I dressed in layers and repeatedly removed and put on my sweatshirt. My coldness varied wildly depending on level of activity and whether we were in the sun.
From the main entrance, we took a left at the fork and went to the farthest parking lot possible. From there, a neat stone bridge crosses Pine Creek and provides access to our first trail of the day: straight up the side of a timbered ridge that borders the creek for a time before drifting off to the left.
The sun, on its upward arc in the sky, threw light straight through the canopy of gold above us. What a beautiful, beautiful sight. I stopped several times at the top of the uphill climb to gaze at the fall wonder.
After the initial steepness, the trail isn’t too difficult. We crossed paths with an older couple, at least in their 70s, several times. The two were very well dressed. They could’ve stepped off a subway in New York and fit right in with the cityscape, but they also looked classy traversing the paths dusted with pine needles.The sight of them was as inspiring as the dappled sunlight that sank through golden boughs and speckled the path ahead of us. Yeah, pretty inspiring. The first time they appeared on the trail and walked past us, I turned my head to watch them negotiate the cement stones spaced across the creek. They did it with ease. How cool is that?
We ran into other small groups, but morning hikes are an almost surefire way to avoid crowds. That’s a good thing if you enjoy experiencing the nature-y side of nature like I do. Woods, as far as I know, don’t usually have indigenous species of cellphone-wielding hipster humans wandering about. If such a thing does in fact exist, then that’s my Discovery Channel moment of the day.
It was a beautiful out and we felt pretty invigorated, so it was only natural to keep walking. White Pines is crisscrossed with paths with names such as “Red Squirrel Trail,” “Sunset Trail” and “Whispering Pines Trail.” Many of them intersect and are marked with colored guide posts. We didn’t pay particular attention to where we were going. Unless you’re stressed for time, sometimes it’s fun to just go where your feet take you. However, pay attention to your energy level. When you’re starving and limbs are dragging and you find yourself in a campground on the opposite end of the park from where you parked, it won’t be quite the exhilarating experience in nature on the way back. Bring water and granola bars or pretzels. You’ll be happy to have it if you need it.
White Pines isn’t completely isolated. A roller skating rink is across the road, as well as the White Pines Inn, home to the popular Wedding Canyon. I think you know what happens there. The park is about 30 minutes north of Dixon and 20 minutes west of Oregon.
For the best experience, go wherever there’s a concentration of deciduous trees in the park, and wait until peak color is almost winding down. I would consider it the second stage of fall. Some of the trees were already bare, but then you get a round of brilliant gold contrasting against the pale sky. Maybe you’ll even see the mythical hipster human in residence under the railroad trusses from the Look Out Trail at the far edge of the park.
Either way, you won’t be disappointed.