One of the perks of living in Chicago is enjoying the best of both worlds: the amenities of a world-class city as well as the pleasures of forest and fen, pond and prairie. Local forest preserve districts are home to thousands of acres of natural beauty. Besides their obvious curb appeal, many preserves offer unique educational programs and recreational opportunities. We polled forest preserve district administrators for not-to-be-missed forest preserves in five counties.
Pack a picnic, dig out the fishing rods and camping gear, family adventures await!
Palos Preserve, Willow Springs; fpdcc.com
Comprising nearly 7,000 acres that represent some of the most hilly, wooded and scenic areas in Cook County, the preserves include 20 lakes, ponds and sloughs.
- The Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, with live animals, displays featuring local wildlife, nature programs and three miles of trails
- Camp Bullfrog Lake, a new family campground scheduled to open this spring
- Boat rentals at Maple Lake
- 50-plus miles of trails for hiking, biking and bird-watching
- 10 fishing lakes
LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, St. Charles; kaneforest.com
It contains grasslands, prairies and flood plain forests and boasts the only existing native colony of Speckled Alder, growing next to the meandering Ferson Creek.
- Creek Bend Nature Center, with hands-on exhibits, including a newly unveiled exhibit showcasing the White Oak, Illinois’ state tree
- Durant House Museum, an 1843 brick farmstead featuring costumed guides
- Pioneer Sholes School, a restored and furnished one-room country school
- Trails for horseback riding, biking and hiking
Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve, Beecher; reconnectwithnature.org
Formerly the site of a Boy Scout camp, the land represents a diversity of habitats such as forest, wetland, prairie and a segment of Plum Creek.
- Plum Creek Nature Center, with a live bee hive and reptiles, a craft area and library
- Nature Playscape for children
- Six miles of trails for hiking, biking or equestrian use
- Garden area with bird and butterfly viewing, small pond and waterfall
- Earth Day activities in the spring
- Family campground
Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville; dupageforest.com
Marshes, prairies and savannas abound, left by the Wisconsin Glacier thousands of years ago.
- Seven miles of trails
- Three fishing lakes and a Just for Kids Fishing Derby in June
- Archery range
- Off-leash dog area
- Boat rentals at Silver Lake
- Family campground
Independence Grove, Libertyville; lcfpd.org
It is built around a breathtaking 115-acre lake that was formerly a stone quarry. The lake and lush prairies and woodlands that border it offer something special for everyone.
- More than six miles of hiking trails around the lake and surrounding scenic natural area
- Swimming area with 400 feet of sand along the lake’s South Bay
- Rental of fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and pedal boats
- Rental of comfort bikes, quadracycles and adaptive trikes
- Children’s Grove, a sensory-rich play environment with handicap-adaptable equipment
- Tuesday evening summer concerts
- Note: Parking for residents is free; $5 for non-residents Monday-Thursday; $10 Friday-Sunday and holidays.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of both the Cook County and DuPage County Forest Preserve districts. Numerous special events are planned and can be found on their websites.