The river carves a meandering path through Illinois' Grand Prairie glacial deposits, exposing scenic, steep, valley slopes with high bluffs. Most of the area along the river is forested, and there are also several prairie sites. With its sand and gravel bottom, boulders, high bluffs and varied wildlife, the distinctive environment will capture paddlers' attention as they canoe or kayak through the river.
Designated a National Scenic River in 1989 for its outstanding scenic, recreational, ecological and historical characteristics, it is the first river in Illinois included in the register. The majority of the designated river segment is publicly owned with a wide variety of access opportunities.
The Middle Fork river valley supports a great diversity of plants and animals including 57 types of fish, 45 different mammals, and 190 kinds of birds. In the river, you may see mussels, turtles, ducks and other waterfowl, and sunfish, or bass. Along its banks you may see frogs, salamanders, or raccoons. In the trees you may see or hear chickadees, bluebirds, woodpeckers, hawks, and many other birds. The many types of trees include oak, dogwood, walnut, redbud, and ash.