Grand Kankakee Marsh

Video produced by MAP Video Productions.

Directions to The Grand Kankakee Marsh

  • Exit Interstate 65 at Route 2 (Lowell/Hebron exit) then east to Range Line Road (Clay Street). Travel south for 5 miles to the park.
  • GPS: 41.220505,-87.276058

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Grand Kankakee Marsh River
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Welcome to The Grand Kankakee Marsh

Located along the historic Kankakee River, the park is dynamically affected by seasonal flooding. This, along with different natural communities, provides ideal feeding in the fields for a variety of wildlife. Densely wooded areas and the remnants of old river channels provide excellent habitat for a large deer herd, many species of ducks, and other wildlife. Preservation of these natural habitats is one of the primary goals of the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department.


Hunting, wildlife and bird viewing, biking, hayride tours and canoe workshops make up the majority of recreation opportunities at the Marsh. The levees are also heavily used as bridle trails. GKM, along with Stoney Run and Deep River, are the Lake County Parks where the public may ride their horses. For the past 19 years, the park has been the site of the annual Voyageur Rendezvous, a living history reenactment of the early French fur trade era that presents educational information in a colorful re-creation.

Grand Kankakee Marsh Trail
Grand Kankakee Marsh Field
Grand Kankakee Marsh Tree Path


GKM was acquired in 1977 with assistance from the Nature Conservancy. Through the years the marsh has been developed and managed for wildlife as well as public use. The careful management and regulation of hunting seasons has helped to make this property a noteworthy hunting area.

The majority of the park land was acquired through grants. In 1977 $425,000 was provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the purchase of 872 acres. Since then many other grants, donations, and purchases have been combined to increase the park site to 2,069 acres.

In 1991, the park department received an Indiana Waters Grant of $250,000 (Dingle/Johnson Funds) to construct public access site on Kankakee River at Grand Kankakee Marsh. Special design included floating finger pier that "rides" with the 12' high and low levels of the river. Parking for ten cars with trailers adjoins handicapped accessible ramp.

Other Dates of Interest for the Grand Kankakee Marsh

  • 1977: Lake County Parks received Land Water Conservation Fund grant (LWCF) and acquired 300 acres from TNC at the Grand Kankakee Marsh together with remaining land options. LCPRD acquired remaining parcels through proceeds from a General Obligation Bond Issue (861" acres) at GKM.
  • 1979: Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park dedicated - 920 acres of marsh land as the only county managed fish and game area in Indiana.
  • 1991: Plans for a 160 acre Wetland Restoration Project are developed for the Hog Marsh Unit at the Grand Kankakee Marsh as part of a system-wide Bond Issue.
  • 1992: Waterfowl USA and the USFWS Partners for Wildlife Program assist LCPRD in developing the 120 acre Little Hickory Unit at GKM. Ducks Unlimited proposed to redesign Hog Marsh as 270 acre Moist Soil Management Unit and finance the project via local Life Sponsors. They expanded the project by 100 acres and were able to construct the project for less than the original estimate of $150,000.
  • 1996: IGKMRP received Phase II NAWCA Grant of $1,000,000 for GMK. Ducks Unlimited developed plans for a 520 acre Moist Soil Unit at Goose Lake. 
  • 1998: Construction began at Goose Lake after 18 month permit process is concluded.

A Brief history of the Grand Kankakee Marsh

  • 1834: First settlers arrive.
  • 1837: The first bridge over West Creek is built.
  • 1838: The remainder of the Pottawatomie Indians in the region are gathered together in Plymouth, taken to Chicago, then relocated to Kansas.
  • 1850: By an act of U.S Congress, the national government gives title to the swamp lands of the Kankakee to the State of Indiana.
  • 1855: The upper portion of Eagle Creek Ditch is excavated with a plan to enter the river one mile east of the Illinois state line.
  • 1869: Camp Milligan is built by Heartand Milligan of Chicago. This is the beginning of the heyday of the hunt clubs.
  • 1871: Chicago Fire - Resulted in the removal from the Marsh of large red oak, white oak, beech, and maple sent to Chicago to rebuild the city.
  • 1872: The Cumberland Lodge is built.
  • 1873: The Singleton Ditch is dug using steam shovel and connected to the Eagle Creek Ditch. By 1911 the Singleton was cleaned and enlarged at least twice so that the flood waters of several creeks and ditches that connected to it could be carried to the river.
  • 1878: White House Hunting Club is built.
  • 1879: Rockville-Terre Haute and the Indianapolis club houses are built at Baums Bridge. About the same time the Diana Club and the Fogli Hotel are built. The Grand Kankakee Marsh is recognized as one of the best waterfowl hunting areas in the world. Hunters supply the markets in Chicago with wagon loads of waterfowl and deer.
  • 1885: The Big Brown Ditch is dug south of and parallel to the Singleton varying from one to two miles away. The Brown empties into the Singleton NW of Schneider.
  • 1889: The Indiana State Legislature passes measures for the sale of lands bordering the river. The State in 1889 and 1893 appropriates a total of $65,000 to remove the natural dam rock ledge in Momence, Illinois.
  • 1893: The rock ledge dam at Momence is removed.
  • 1900: Land speculators move in. The Lacrosse Land Company, Tuesberg and McWilliams Land Company, Strauss Brothers of Chicago, B.J. Gifford of Kankakee City and several smaller concerns accumulate nearly 100,000 acres of swampland with 40 miles of river front.
  • 1902: Formation of the Kankakee Reclamation Company - objective to further deepen, widen, and straighten the river from South Bend down to the Porter County Line. The fall of the river will increase from 5.34 inches per mile to 14.2 inches per mile. The bends will be removed so that 45 miles of rever length will be reduced to 17 miles. 150,000 acres of swampland will be drained by this action.
  • 1903-1922: The Jasper Circuit Court ordered the river be straightened and deepened from the east line of Jasper County to section 1, range 9 west in Newton County. This section of the river is to be called the Marble Ditch. Specifications for the Marble Ditch: bottom width 100 feet, with side slopes of bank 1 to 1, and the grade of fall 1 foot per mile. After a contract was let for the construction of the Marble Ditch a petition was filed in the Newton County Circuit Court to straighten and deepen the Kankakee River from the west end of Marble Ditch to the Illinois state line, this section to be called the Williams Ditch. The river dredging and associated ditch connections that drained the Grand Kankakee Marsh were completed in 1922.


The Grand Kankakee Marsh that bordered the Kankakee River once consisted of between 500,000 and 600,000 acres of marsh land in Indiana.

It was from two to fifteen miles wide for the length of the river in Indiana and was the largest contiguous marsh in Indiana and one of the largest on the continent.

To understand how such a magnificent Marsh could be obliterated, one must consider the prevailing sentiment in the country at the time. The push was one to settle the area and then stake claim to the land further West. Settlement, at the time, meant agriculture.

Grand Kankakee Marsh Down River
Grand Kankakee Marsh Area

Portions of the Kankakee Marsh soil were a black, sandy loam, three to six feet deep. This was potential prime farm land, all that needed to be done was to remove the water. Once the actual draining process began and well connected land speculators became involved, the drainage project became unstoppable. The voices of those who objected to the project could not be heard over the din of the activities of the steam shovels.

Other Great Features of Grand Kankakee Marsh

  • Barbecue facilities
  • Barrier free toilets
  • Boat launch (public access to the Kankakee River)
  • Canoe launch (no rentals)
  • Cross country ski trails (no rentals)
  • Fishing (Indiana waters. Fishing license required)
  • Hiking trails
  • Horseback riding (no rentals)
  • Hunting (deer and water fowl)
  • Jogging
  • Photo blinds
  • Picnic shelters
  • Picnic tables
  • Toilets (pit)
  • Activities and public access to trails closed during hunting season
Grand Kankakee Marsh Pavilion