Black Hawk Trail

*** Notice - the Black Hawk Trail is closed until further notice ***

  • Location - hike both starts and ends at Camp Lowden
  • Trail length - 18 miles round trip
  • Trail difficulty - pretty easy to light moderate. Mostly flat land.
  • Day hike or backpacking experience - plan for the hike to take the entire day. Best to start in the morning and pack a lunch to eat at the Black Hawk Statue (halfway point).
  • Trail medals and patches - available for sale upon completion of the hike

Quick Links:

Trail Map

Patches and Medals

The Statue

Postcard with
Lowden staffers


The Black Hawk Trail Hike is an 18-mile round trip hike from Camp Lowden to Lorado Taftís "Black Hawk Statue" in Lowden State Park. The hike both starts and ends at Camp Lowden. The trail between Camp Lowden and Daysville crosses land that belongs to the family of former Illinois Governor Lowden. It is alleged that the trail was walked by members of the Stillman campaign during the Black Hawk War, by Sauk and Fox Indians, and even by Abraham Lincoln. As many as 300 Scouts in one day have taken the trail.

According to former camp director Arnold Schenk, Dwaine Murphy (the first Camp Lowden director, from 1940-1941) was always looking at Black Hawk Statue, and set up the trail hike. He went to the library and found a book that each hiker had to read and then write a report. He walked the original trail, got permissions from landowners, etc. He personally set up the rules for the hike. It was to be a buddy hike, and could not have more than two at a time. Pairs were sent out 20 minutes apart. When each pair arrived at the statue, one Scout went up to the statue and looked at the river for 20 minutes, then they switched. Hikers were also to report on any littering, etc. Mr. Schenk states that the trail hike started in 1940 or 1941, as it was already in operation in 1942.

Bill Peterson was at Camp Lowden in 1941-1942 and was one of the first to hike the Black Hawk Trail.

The trail was very popular and troops came from near and far to hike it. The beginning of the trail was at the southwest corner of the parking lot, down Backbone Ridge (one of the trails that leads to the waterfront), and then north along the river through Daysville, and then on to the Black Hawk Statue. Ray Gierhart states that the original philosophy was to jog for 40 paces, walk for 40 paces, etc. Once you reached the statue, you had to take a compass reading and there was a symbol at the base of a tree. This was to prove that you were there. The medals and patches were highly sought after. The first medal had the American Legion emblem (rather than the fleur-de-lis) because the Legion gave them out. The next medals were a heavy lead back with a bronze face, the lead being engraved with the hikerís name and date.

Ray recalls that when the river was more navigable, owners were not allowed to fence down to the water and they had to stay 10 to 15 feet from the waterís edge. In later years the owners were given the right to fence off to the water line, which also blocked part of the Black Hawk Trail. Therefore the original trail was redesigned, and once you got to the railroad tracks you had to go up to the blacktop and take the blacktop into Oregon. The trail became more of a blacktop route than actually enjoying Mother Nature.

Ken Merwin recalls that the drug store in Oregon used to have picture cards of the Black Hawk Statue that showed Lowden staff members in the foreground. The photo was taken in 1954 by a company that was doing postcards of things around Oregon. Pictured (l-r) were Ed McKeown, Wayne Torgeson (in shorts sort of in the front), and an unknown Explorer (Ken thinks it might be Tom Skibba, who was on the staff in 1952 and 1953). On the right: Ted Kjellstrom and Ken Merwin.

In later years the trail became in disrepair, had high weeds, poison ivy, etc., and the trail became impassable. The landowners blamed Scouts for vandalism, but that could have occurred along the river from just about anybody.

In the late 1970s an ad was placed in the council newsletter for help in rehabbing the trail. More than 85 Scouts and leaders showed up to help. Under the guidance of Ranger Bob Ford and Ray Gierhart, the volunteers marked it, built a 30-foot bridge, cut weeds, removed downed trees, and basically put the Black Hawk Trail back into service. The trail reopened as of October 1, 1979.

However, due to issues regarding property boundaries, routing of the trail, and upkeep, the Black Hawk Trail was closed indefinitely in 2004.

Panoramic View from the Statue