Bluff Spring Fen

Bluff Spring Fen is known for its rare namesake wetland, glacial hills and a diverse community of plants and animals.


Surrounded by industrial neighbors in the westernmost part of Cook County—and once a dumping site and gravel quarry itself—160-acre Bluff Spring Fen is named for its rare fen, a type of wetland fed by mineral-rich springs. The spring water stays a constant 50 degrees, so streams flow year-round, supporting an unusual assortment of plants and animals adapted to these steady, alkaline conditions. The fen itself is surrounded by a patchwork of wetlands, prairies, savannas and woodlands, including several kames, gravelly hills left by the glaciers. With the only entrance to this hide-away through the winding roads of Bluff City Cemetery, tranquility is as plentiful as the birds. This Illinois Nature Preserve is part of a larger 225-acre area of green space managed by the City of Elgin, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County.


Enjoying Bluff Spring Fen


Visitors come to Bluff Spring Fen to witness the unusual land formations and the plant and animal life supported by the spring. Take a winding footpath up and around a gravel kame graced with rugged old bur oaks, delicate wildflowers, the melody of birds and subtlety of butterflies.


Maps, restoration updates and helpful information about the landscape are available at the entrance sign and bulletin board. Binoculars and field guides can add to the journey over rolling hills and boardwalk bridges. Because the spring water flows year-round, parts of the preserve are always wet, increasing the chance of seeing animals in any season.


To maximize the success of wildlife such as ground-nesting birds, as well as sensitive plant species, neither dogs, horses nor bicycles are welcome in the preserve.


Nature at Bluff Spring Fen


Bluff Spring Fen volunteers and bio-blitz participants have counted 450 plant species, 57 butterfly species, more than 20 dragonfly species and almost 100 migratory and nesting bird species in the preserve.


The eastern portion of the preserve is a large, open area dominated by the fen, which boasts the richest diversity in plant species at the site. The kames add slight elevation to the otherwise low areas.


The western portion of the preserve contains more rolling hills, kames and oak savannas. Spring flowers blanket the savanna each year until the large trees fill out with leaves. The preserve is known for high plant diversity, and visitors can see plants such as wood betony and Seneca snakeroot.


Birders can easily spot both rare birds and fan favorites, such as migrating warblers, red-headed woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, wood ducks, and blue-gray gnatcatchers.


Reptiles and amphibians, such as snapping and painted turtles, live in the wetlands, while small mammals find homes in the savanna. The preserve contains thousands of different insects, including the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, elfin skimmer dragonfly and six-spotted tiger beetle.


The preserve is under active management, so at least twice a month, teams of volunteers remove invasive species, collect seeds and plant. Over the past 30 years, these dedicated volunteers have transformed this once desolate dumping ground into a world-class natural area.

  • Location

  • Elgin, Illinois

    NW Cook County

    160 acres

    Best for

    Ecological Management SiteBird WatchingHiking

    Top Three Tips

    1. Enter through the Bluff City Cemetery main entrance. The preserve closes when the cemetery does, so be mindful of their hours.
    2. No cycling, dogs or horseback riding. No picnic tables or shelters are provided.
    3. Bathrooms are available in the cemetery administration building, but during weekdays only.


    From I-90, take Route 25 south past Elgin. After the intersection with Route 20, turn east onto Bluff City Boulevard. The well-marked main entrance to the cemetery is on the south side of the road. Once in the cemetery, continue on the curving entrance road (Lawndale Ave, becomes Dell Ave) until your reach the parking lot on the southern edge of the cemetery. The preserve is bordered by a split-rail fence and has a well-marked sign and bulletin board at the entrance.

Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County