Guide to Lake County Forest Preserves

By: Jonathan Jones 04/08/2016

Don't worry. If you've seen The Revenant, there are no bears around in Lake County.

No matter the season, we enjoy the fruits of what Mother Nature gave us in Lake County: The tall trees, the winding trails, the serene rivers and lDSC_0744akes, the critters (including the beavers!) and the picturesque plant life.

Lake County offers more than 30,700 acres of land and experts managing the areas provide innovative educational, recreational and cultural opportunities for every one from 3 years old to 300 years old (That's probably how old Alexander Hamilton is).

Visitors to these natural areas enjoy and explore more than 154 miles of trails, fishing ponds, lakes, public access to the Fox River and beautiful Lake Michigan's shoreline, award-winning nature and history education programs, events and three public golf courses.

There are even places around Lake County you can rent out to "jump the broom", or I guess "get married" would be a better term. Continue here to see Lake County Forest Preserve wedding venues.

Some of the areas include Independence Grove, Ryerson Conservation Area and much more.

So let's look past the idea that it is snowing in April in some places in Illinois and take a look ahead at what the great outdoors will bring us. Here is this spring and summer guide to Lake County Forest Preserves.

Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway - Click to EnlargeDes Plaines River Trail and Greenway

Let's start with the trail that goes through as many as 12 different Lake County Forest Preserves. The Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway protects land along more than 85 percent of the river in Lake County, providing wildlife habitat, natural flood protection and outdoor recreation opportunities. The trail spans nearly the entire length of Lake County for 31 miles.


Independence Grove Forest Preserve

This scenic 1,135-acre preserve offers a wide range of Independence Grove Forest Preserve - Click to Enlargeoutdoor recreation and education opportunities centered around a 115-acre lake reclaimed from a gravel quarry. Visitors can enjoy swimming, fishing and boating, a Marina with boat and bike rentals, a native garden and nearly seven miles of trails. The spacious Visitors Center features exhibits and a café. It can be rented for weddings and other private functions.

Lakewood Forest Preserve  - Click to EnlargeLakewood Forest Preserve

Lakewood is Lake County's largest forest preserve. This preserve features dedicated equestrian trails and additional trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Other amenities are picnic shelters, a variety of fishing ponds, and a lighted Winter Sports Area.

Ryerson Conservation Area & Welcome Center

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Ryerson Woods is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This area is one of the best examples of a northern flatwoods forest, a rare northern Illinois landscape. The 552-acre preserve supports some of Illinois' most pristine woodlands and several state threatened and endangered species, and offers 6.5 miles of scenic trails for hiking or cross country skiing that wind through a stately forest to the quiet Des Plaines River, for hiking or cross country skiing. Dogs and horses are not permitted in this preserve. A model of green architecture, the welcome center houses an extensive natural science library and a children's nature library. Many nature programs and special events are held throughout the year for families, adults, children, teachers and community groups.

Fort Sheridan Forest PreserveFort Sheridan Forest Preserve - Click to Enlarge

Rolling terrain, bluffs, ravines and mature trees set on the Lake Michigan shoreline make Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve a scenic destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Trails wind through the preserve to Lake Michigan's sandy shores, providing the first official public access to this section of shoreline since the Fort's military operations began in 1887. Enjoy hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, fishing, bird watching, picnicking and relaxing. Trails connect visitors to educational exhibits along the Fort's historic parade ground and to other walk-through exhibits and viewing stations along the route. Ft. Sheridan's history is closely tied to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan was put in charge of settling the unrest after the fire. Members of the Commercial Club which represented Chicago businessmen petitioned to establish an artillery school and military installation north of Chicago for their safety.

Old School Forest Preserve  - Click to EnlargeOld School Forest Preserve

Looking for winter fun, Old School Forest Preserve is the place to be. Bring out the sled, cross-country skis and ice skates and enjoy the outdoors. Sled hill is open until sunset. Minimum of 4" base of snow is required for sledding and skiing.

Almond Marsh Forest Preserve

Almond Marsh Forest Preserve - Click to EnlargeThe highlight of this site is the significant marsh and sedge meadow complex. Approximately 110 acres here enjoy added protection as a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve. The entire site is part of the larger Liberty Prairie Reserve, a collaboration of public agencies and private landowners to create a significant landscape of continguous open space in Libertyville Township. Almond Marsh provides a great spot for migrating waterfowl to rest and forage. Many different bird species have been documented using the preserve, including the state endangered black-crowned night heron and king rail. Great blue herons have been an iconic species at this marsh for decades, but the natural deterioration of tall trees recently has caused a decline in nesting sites for this species. With help from the Lake County Audubon Society and Integrated Lakes Management, Inc., the marsh now contains 12 man-made nesting platforms to provide continued nesting locations for great blue herons. Since the project began in 2009, these man-made platforms have been adopted by heron families, and Almond Marsh continues to be a great place for this species to nest and raise young. Our wildlife biologists hope that this pilot project may help with breeding efforts of other platform-nesting species, such as ospreys, at other locations in future years.

Captain Daniel Wright Woods - Click to EnlargeCaptain Daniel Wright Woods

This peaceful oasis among the bustling suburbs offers 4 miles of scenic trails: a short loop for hikers, bicyclists and skiers that circles a pond, and a 3-mile loop for hikers, bicyclists, skiers and horses. A wheelchair accessible fishing pier provides easy access to a 3-acre man-made pond.

GreenbeltKid in Nature

Nestled within the native landscape of the Greenbelt Forest Preserve between North Chicago and Waukegan, the Cultural Center's location offers panoramic views and convenient access from Green Bay Road. The spacious building, outdoor amphitheater and stage can be rented for meetings, conferences, classes, weddings, showers, receptions or family reunions. The facility also offers a full kitchen, state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment, stage, dance floor and an artist gallery. The Center also offers entertainment including summer concerts, children's storytelling and outdoor adventures, artist receptions and much more.

For information on Lake County Forest Preserves, Continue here. Marathon training or searching for races? Are you a biker? Hiking tickle your fancy? Click here! Check below for the Lake County Forest Preserves map.


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