Exploring Skokie Lagoons

Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I journey from Northbrook to Winnetka to hit up Peet’s Coffee and Tea (which, incidentally, wins “best espresso from a chain” in my book). Along the way, I drive along Skokie Lagoons for about half a mile. Corny though it sounds, that half-mile is the most calming, beautiful drive of pretty much my entire week. The water stretches hazily to the horizon, and there’s always a cool critter or two — birds with long legs, birds with colorful beaks, deer with fuzzy tails — just whiling away the time.

If spring ever gets here, I’m looking forward to exploring Skokie Lagoons, and I’m here to tell you: there’s a lot to explore. Check out these cool facts and things to do — and see ya out on the trails. 

Skokie Lagoons at a glance 

Total acreage: 894

Miles of paved trail: 5.9

Miles unpaved trail: 1.5

Available activities: Biking, hiking, fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, picnics

Fun fact: Skokie Lagoons was known to the American Indians as the “great marsh.” 

Things to do

Rent a kayak or canoe

A single kayak goes for just $15 an hour, while canoes and tandem kayaks are just $20 an hour. Join the River Rambler Club and you’ll get your sixth trip free. Prefer spontaneous adventures? Though it’s best to call ahead to make sure, the Lagoons typically have boats available for small groups. If you’re unsure about your skills on the water (raises hand), try a guided tour in the form of a sunset dinner (romantical) or nature trip (educational). 

Catch a fish

With a state license, fish by boat and from the shoreline and enjoy a variety of gamefish including walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass and catfish. Word on the street is this is a great place to fish with kids, because you’ll likely catch something. Also, portable bathrooms are right nearby, and parking is plentiful.  

Take a hike

A few different loops offer walkers, runners and hikers a change in scenery. One 4.4-mile paved trail circles the northern section of the lagoons between Dundee and Tower roads. Another 13-mile trail follows the southern lagoons from Tower Road to Willow Road. Paved roads are great for hiking, biking, in-line skating and cross-country skiing. Take advantage of the gravel trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. 

Spot some wildlife

Over the years, local volunteers have worked to remove invasive plants from the area, which at one point was drained for farmland. The lagoons continue to thrive as a healthy woodland for prairie wildlife, including coyote, mink, gray and red foxes, and several species of migrating ducks. And if that’s not impressive, wanna know what else reportedly hangs out at Skokie Lagoons? Prothonotary warblers. So there. 

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