Gander Mountain Forest Preserve is a Lake County Illinois preserve literally just south of Wilmot, Wisconsin's, Wilmot Mountain. The two areas share a property line south of Wilmot's famous ski run called, "State Line". Which it literally is, and the other side of that is this forest preserve.
^The entrance is a small gravel pull-over on theeast side of Fox River Rd. which is also Wilmot Rd. on the Illinois side. Being a Forest Preserve this area has a few extra rules, but mainly it is explained in this sign pictured below.
^A great time to hike in Gander Mountain is just before sunset. Starting to the south on the main gravel "road", if you will, lends itself to a nice loop route that can be good for timing some good chances at seeing some wildlife as well as a sunset from a higher vantage point.
^The south side of the preserve and the majority of the western parts of the preserve are wooded with some areas sprouting huge old oak and hickory trees like this one pictured above. There is a main gravelly road that runs through most of the preserve, but there are also a bunch of informal single track trails that dive off the road throughout. Nothing out there is very well marked or mapped, but a compass and basic navigation skills make for relatively easy navigation with the river to the east, Wilmot Mountain to the north, a gravel pit to the south, and the road to the west. Eventually even the most lost soul would find there way to some sort of delineating marker at some point.
^With scenes like this one pictured above maybe getting lost in the woods for a bit is not so bad.
^When going out to Gander Mountain with the sunset in mind one must keep an eye on the time to navigate from the lowland floodplain forests of the western portions of the park to make it back around and up to the higher elevations of the highest point in Lake County atop the 125 vertical foot hill in the northwest portion of the preserve that stands at 957 feet above sea level. Pictured above, a hiker climbs up an informal single track trail up along the northern border of the preserve in thicker woodlands.
^Atop the hill the terrain turns to open grasslands, and an informal single track trail runs along the ridge line north and south in colorful tall grass and sparse trees.
^The sunset from above serves as the big climax to the hike. Obviously, sunsets don't always cooperate, but the effort is worthy and the hike lifts spirits regardless of the sunset finish or not. When it does workout, its definitely a really great cherry on top of the experience.
^Sunset is also an active time for local wildlife too. Deer are spotted often roaming the landscape, but one can always find activity all around if they look close enough. In this picture above, a busy bee works on a flowering plant as the sun turns into a big orange ball in the western sky.
^Look closely for this landmark at the highpoint. It is right off an intersection of informal single track trails on the top of the highest point of the hill.
^The views to the east of the Fox River and beyond is gorgeous too! From the highest point in Lake County it is as good as it gets in the region with the help of open grassland on top of the hill as well. The combination of elevation and grassland offers a unique landscape to the region and views that are found in very few places in the Wilmot and Lake Geneva area.
^A couple hikers make their way down an informal single track trail into one of Gander Mountains more spectacular rolling meadows in the northwest corner of the preserve in this picture above.
^Coming down off the high point of the hill through some sparse trees on one of the informal trails in the northwest corner of the preserve yields this view pictured above. The mapping of the area is almost non-existent, and signage is, so actually finding this spot may prove more difficult for some, but not to highlight it would seem unjust. Coming down off the highest point of the hill heading west on one such informal single track trail brings hikers down through some sparse large old trees with low grassland undergrowth when the trail slightly levels out and then rolls over again as the view of this rolling meadow breaks out from the trees with the setting sun to the west. The breakout nature of the view from out of the tress coupled with the western sunset makes for those special dramatic viewpoint moments that sticks out in any hikers mind. It provides an opportunity for those little moments of pause, gasps, and real life appreciation of the natural beauty of the rural landscape of the region. After that climactic view the same trail leads onward to the pull-out parking area along busy Wilmot/Fox River Rd. that borders the western edge of the preserve. Being a preserve the priority is on the habitat and the wildlife, and as such the human friendly amenities of the preserve are minimal, but it is a unique little gem in the region. With some basic navigation, hiking, and route finding skills one can yield all sorts of explorations and adventures in Gander Mountain Forest Preserve.
For more information about Gander Mountain Forest Preserve from Lake County's website, click here.