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Tmom, Lred and I met at Cracker Barrel in Urbana at 0800, swapped boats to my trailer, and boogied on over to the Heron County Park canoe access on the feeder river into the lake. The park is located by taking I-74 to MLK Drive exit, which is route 150, then taking a left by The Nugget restaurant to Henning Road, and traveling north for about 7 miles to county road 2300, and taking it east. The county park is marked by a boardwalk and a wooden tower for eagle viewing (all free). Unfortunately, despite having three keen set of eyes (one of us is an experienced birder), there was no convenient access to the water either from the board walk (long portage, poor put-in off the railed dock), or the bridge over the river (steep incline off busy road, plenty of riprap). A rudimentary boat launch through heavy thicket from the Heron Park parking lot only led to algae strewn marshland.
Disappointed at the poor Heron Park Access, we hopped back in the red Avalanche for the main boat launch on Denmark Road, across the street from the entrance to the Danville Country Club and south of the Danville Boat Club. The main launch is for power boats and requires $10 launch fee, but driving in parallel to Denmark Rd leads to a tidy, pocket parking area above wooden boat docks. The docks, however, require a portage down about 30 stairs only to get to boat docks that are woefully improper for kayak launching: they are 3 feet off the water. With plenty of effort, we portaged and launched at 10AM, and headed north on the pretty waters.
The first portion of the paddle is the open water by many lakeside homes complete with boat docks, terraced plantings and flagpoles. The trio got our “sea legs” from occasional motorboat wakes, and we headed due north.
The second portion of the trip is the marshland delta where the feeder becomes lake. Lily pads, lotus flowers and soaring birds signal that civilization is being left behind us. The paddling becomes easier, we hit a stride despite the noon heat of the day upon us, and our war stories about work life begin to fade into the mid-day haze.
The final portion of the navigation was up the actual feeder stream—a winding, tree canopy over a 20 foot wide low flowing river that meandered through north Danville, past the Heron Park Area (still no access as viewed from the water). Occasional openings in the trees revealed forked sticks for rod holders and 5 gallon buckets left from harried catfishermen, but the river is otherwise pristine, with no major homes (with the exception of the area right at the Vermilion Road bridge; and the riverside home of CD2’s friend, Becky).
We found one simple riverside shoal, just as the river was losing depth and width, and took a 30 minute break in the shade for sweet peaches courtesy of LRed. The Prijon, Dagger and Impex were casually beached and we shared a spot on the gravel under a shady paper-bark elm. Here, after working up a froth from about 2.5 hours of straight paddling in July direct sunshine, we began to get really relaxed, acquainted, and at peace with our return paddle.
The return was aided by the flow’s gently urging glide. Despite our fatigue, the 0.5 mph (approximate) flow assist cut about 45 minutes off the entire run back to the boat launch. Lake Vermilion, however, is not for the weak; we had to carry three kayaks and plenty of gear up a 3 foot dry dock, and then 30 stairs back to the truck. My female kayaking companions on this cloudless day handled the duty like athletes.
No summer paddle can be complete without trading salty post-paddle skin for a salted rim. We skipped to La Posatina on Gilbert for a front window booth and slurped margaritas over plates of Mexican rice and tacos. It was super to spend time getting to know one another and let down our hair—Tmom, literally.
Lake Vermilion remains on the recommended paddle list. Silverwave and Chuck_IL hit it for a moonlight paddle the weekend prior, and we rollicked for several hours on and around the lake on this Saturday. About 75 miles from Bloomington (thanks, LRed) and 35 miles from C-U, it will be a regular stop on the tour of day paddles in central Illinois. Another associated day paddle is heading south on the same lake, paddling under Denmark Road to the dam basin, and viewing the large homes from “old money” Danville high atop the waters. I’ll have to ask my paddling friends if they’ve recovered enough for another foray on the access stairs, and to wrap lips around another limey margarita, sometime this autumn. Lake Vermilion is highly recommended.
Vermilion County Conservation District website
The Kayak Wing