Bemis Woods, in Western Springs, is the westernmost forest preserve in a chain of sites that border Salt Creek from Western Springs to Brookfield. Nestled between the Forest Preserve District’s Meadowlark Golf Course to the northwest and the Salt Creek Woods Nature Preserve to the east, the 480 acres of Bemis Woods offer a wide range of recreational activities.
Enjoying Bemis Woods
For those not familiar with forest preserves and looking for a quiet place to enjoy the outdoors, Bemis Woods is ideal. It’s easy to find an open space to enjoy a picnic, and the well-marked, one-mile, unpaved Salt Creek loop trail in the shade of oaks offers a leisurely hike for visitors of all ages.
Salt Creek divides Bemis Woods into two sections, North and South. Visitors wishing to enjoy the scenery of Salt Creek should enter Bemis Woods North where they can either launch their own canoe or kayak from the canoe landing or wheel a bike or in-line skates down the paved Salt Creek trail. This trail snakes more than six miles through various preserves east to Brookfield Zoo, or west about one mile to the edge of Bemis Woods. Paddlers along Salt Creek can travel about one mile upstream (heading west from Bemis Woods North) or about eight and a half miles downstream (east) toward the Brookfield Zoo landing. Five canoe launches line this stretch of Salt Creek—paddlers must provide their own canoe.
Those wishing to enjoy the woods by foot can enter from either the North or South section to hike the wide, unpaved trails that wind through Bemis and the adjacent Salt Creek Woods Nature Preserve. In the winter, these five miles of trail provide varied cross-country skiing terrain, combining long stretches of even going with gentle slopes and some steep ascents. No matter which trails one takes, serene views of woodland, wetland and prairie are around every turn.
When not hiking, biking or paddling, visitors can gather with friends and family to take advantage of Bemis’ seven picnic groves—four in the North section and three in the South. All of the groves offer easy access and plenty of parking, plus five are equipped with shelters and several picnic tables which make them ideal for large summer get-togethers. (Permits required for groups over 25.) Some picnic groves offer shade trees for hot summer afternoons, while others are next to large open fields that are great for games and kite-flying
Visitors may want to bring insect repellant, especially after wet weather.
Nature at Bemis Woods
Both Bemis Woods North and South are considered excellent birding locations because of the creek habitat. A large variety of migrant songbirds, as well as cuckoos, indigo buntings and veeries, use this 400-acre wooded area along Salt Creek. A variety of woodpeckers have been spotted in the area, including red-headed, red-bellied, downy, hairy and pileated varieties. Best bird viewing is usually during migration from early April to early June and mid-August to late October. Ducks and deer are also visible along the creek shores behind the wild blackberry.