One of the few forest preserves within the city of Chicago, 257-acre Dan Ryan Woods is a popular and well-loved family destination on the South Side. Playfields, picnic groves, a sledding hill and a paved trail provide ample activities for all visitors to enjoy. While best known as a gathering spot for families and friends, Dan Ryan Woods also supports a large array of native plants, animals and migratory birds.
Enjoying Dan Ryan Woods
The Dan Ryan Woods Central and West entrances, along Western Avenue between 83rd Street and 87th Street, access some of the most popular attractions at this preserve: a sledding hill and playfields. The sledding hill is easy to find, with signs in the parking area making it easy to see if the hill is open. This is a child-safe hill with a well-marked “up” path and a wide area so many sledders can participate at once. The area has lights and is open until 10 p.m. when snow is on the ground. North of the sledding hill, several playfields are popular spots for pick-up games and practices.
The Major Taylor Trail, named for an African-American bicycle racer and civil rights advocate, starts at the eastern edge of the farthest north parking lot at Dan Ryan Woods North. This paved multi-use trail runs along the edge of the preserve for about 1.5 miles to 91St Street. The trail continues southeast for another 5.5 miles (routed on city streets from 95th to 105th), eventually connecting to Whistler Woods south of the Little Calumet River.
Picnic areas are available throughout the preserve, including shelters for larger groups that can be rented for large gatherings up to 350 people. Large expanses of open fields make it easy for small groups to lay down a picnic blanket as well.
Dan Ryan Woods South, off of Western Avenue, south of 87th Street, is more removed from the hustle and bustle of the northern part of the preserve. Visitors to this part of the preserve can access unpaved trails into both open and wooded areas, as well as a unique system of historic limestone aqueducts.
Nature at Dan Ryan Woods
Dan Ryan Woods is the last remaining undeveloped portion of Blue Island, one of the highest points in Chicago and once an island in ancient Lake Chicago. South of 87th Street, the east side slopes into the low, flat glacial lake plain. The site preserves remnants of woodland and savanna plant communities, flush with wild ginger, May apple, trout lily, trillium and more.
For more than 10 years, volunteer groups such as Friends of Dan Ryan Woods, Friends of the Forest Preserves and Mighty Acorns have turned more attention from the playfields to the wilder parts of the preserve. The volunteers are removing invasive species, promoting native trees and wildflowers and restoring eroding slopes. In one area, the Chicago Migratory Bird Alliance, Audubon–Chicago Region, the City of Chicago and the US Fish and Wildlife Service created a “Migratory Bird Makeover” area near a parking lot along 87th Street, planting native shrubs, grasses and wildflowers to provide food and cover areas for migratory birds, as well as aesthetic beauty and erosion control. Projects like this will increase bird species numbers at Dan Ryan Woods, but already visitors may find black-throated green warblers, Nashville warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and yellow-bellied flycatchers.