Wedged in the southeast corner of I-90 and I-290, the 3,558-acre Ned Brown Preserve—more popularly known as Busse Woods (pronounced BUSS-ee)—has so much land and water to explore and so many family-friendly activities to enjoy that a quick stop can easily turn into a full-day excursion. From fishing and picnics to model-airplane flying and elk spotting, there is something for everyone. The 460-acre lake, extensive bike path and large picnic groves draw big crowds. With some 2.5 million visitors each year—roughly as many as Yellowstone National Park—Busse is one of the best-used natural areas in Illinois.
Enjoying Ned Brown
Higgins Road bisects Ned Brown into northern and southern sections, providing access to many of the preserve’s parking areas, groves and trailheads.
Four hundred and fifty-seven-acre Busse Reservoir, south of Higgins, is one of the largest fishing and boating waters in Cook County and can be fished year-round. The chain of several connected pools, better known as Busse Lake, was created in 1978 when natural waterways were dammed and the area was dug out. Six fishing walls are available at portions of the over 20 miles of shoreline. Four of these fishing walls, which provide “deep” fishing access right on the shoreline, have wheelchair ramps to the parking areas. These waters are designated Fish Preserves: only two poles with no more than two-hooks per pole per person are allowed. Busse Lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, northern pike, brown bullhead, channel catfish and walleye. The wide variety of shallows, drop-offs, brushy areas and open water create active fishing spots from both the shoreline and boats. A valid Illinois sport fishing license is required except for those who are under 16 years of age, disabled or blind. Read our fishing guidelines here. North of Higgins Road, the reservoir reaches into the wildlife refuge, where no fishing is allowed.
Busse Lake is open to canoes, kayaks, rowboats and sailboats. A boat ramp on the west side of the Main Lake allows boaters to load their own crafts, although gas-powered outboard motors are not allowed. In the summer, visitors can rent canoes and rowboats by the hour at the Busse Lake Boating Center, adjacent to the public boat ramp. Pull away from shore and explore Busse Lake’s islands, coves and inlets, where lanky herons and egrets silently watch from the trees and cattails.
The Busse Forest Paved Trail is an eight-mile paved loop trail, perfect for biking and rollerblading. It traverses the majority of the preserve, winding through sunny meadows and along the lakeshore, plunging repeatedly into the shade of mixed maple and oak woods. In winter, visitors can cross-country ski. The Busse Forest trail attaches to the Salt Creek Greenway in the southeast.
Broad mowed areas surround most parking lots, with more than 30 groves for picnicking and other group activities. Ned Brown Meadow in the northwest corner is an excellent spot for kite-flying and model airplanes. In winter, it also offers designated snowmobile areas for permitted vehicles.
On the east side of the preserve, near the intersection of Arlington Heights and Higgins Roads, a small herd of elk inhabit a 17-acre enclosed pasture. The Forest Preserve District started the herd in 1925. Visitors can see and hear these magnificent native animals up close but should refrain from feeding them.
There are also many volunteer opportunities through the Friends of Busse Woods, a volunteer group that partners with the Forest Preserve District to maintain the preserve’s natural areas. Volunteers can help by removing invasive plants or listening for birds or frogs as part of monitoring programs organized by the Bird Conservation Network and the Chicago Wilderness Calling Frog Survey.
In the fall, the District partners with the American Indian Center of Chicago to host the largest Traditional Powwow in Illinois. This native dance and drumming competition brings performers from all over the country. Audience members can participate in community dances, shop for native art work, jewelry and clothing and eat traditional Native American food.
Nature at Ned Brown
A diversity of birds live in or visit Ned Brown Preserve. Egrets, herons and terns can be spotted in trees and spits around the reservoir and Salt Creek, while grassland birds such as savannah and Henslow’s sparrows and bobolinks use the open meadows during the summer.
Within Ned Brown, the 489-acre Busse Forest Nature Preserve’s unusual combination of flatwoods, upland forests, and marshes have earned it National Natural Landmark status.
Busse Forest Nature Preserve is one of the richest and most diverse natural areas in the Cook County forest preserves. Flatwoods, slightly depressed areas with poorly draining soils, are a unique feature of this region. They support red maple, swamp white oak and black ash, as well as sensitive fern, hop sedge and blue flag iris. Busse’s upland forest is an ancient remnant, full of tall red oaks and hickories, maple, ash, basswood, elm and very large ironwoods. Many of the trees here date back to before European settlement. The trees shelter wildflowers such as bloodroot, great white trillium and woodland phlox. In spring and fall, birders can spot attractive migrants such as black-throated blue warblers. The dense aquatic vegetation of Busse’s marshes supports shorebirds, mink and muskrat.