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Hike the Preserves this Winter

This winter, hit the trails in the Forest Preserves of Cook County to enjoy a peaceful hike through serene landscapes. Looking for recommended hikes? Check out the list below for a featured hike in each of the Forest Preserves’ five zones.

 

To explore more hiking opportunities, check out the Forest Preserves’ interactive web map at map.fpdcc.com.

 

Northwest Zone: Deer Grove West

1935 W Dundee Rd, Palatine

 

Running about 1.5 miles in Deer Grove from Grove #5 to Deer Grove West’s parking lot, the Orange Trail will take hikers through the heart of the preserve. Here it is easiest to feel remote from roads and traffic and enjoy the peaceful quiet of falling snow. This trail allows hikers to get a taste of the diverse topography of the site while passing from upland oak woodland down into a forested valley full of maples where a tributary of Salt Creek flows. The wooded wetlands throughout this area are home to many animals, but are particularly enjoyed by wood ducks. Deer Grove map

 

North Zone: Harms Woods-North

352 Harms Rd, Skokie

 

Harms Woods, an oak woodland, straddles the North Branch of the Chicago River. On the east side, the paved bike trail winds along the river bluff, passing several picnic areas between Glenview Road and south to Golf Road. Across the river to the west, a gravel bridle trail will lead hikers south through the woods. The river is visible from many points along the trail and remains open through the winter.

 

Hundreds of species of native plants, shrubs, herbs and trees populate the landscape and are still evident in winter, speaking to the richness of the site. A stroll along the bridle trail is a lovely peaceful outing on a winter’s day. With luck, there may even be enough snow for skiing. Harms Woods map

 

Central Zone: Bemis Woods South

1100 Ogden Ave, Western Springs

 

The unpaved hiking trails at Bemis Woods South meander about 3 miles through the preserve in and out of various natural communities and rolling topography. Starting on the north end, the Black and Orange trails follow the south bank of Salt Creek.

 

Winter is an especially good time to look for the tracks of wildlife in the snow that may be traversing back and forth between the woodlands and the creek. Near the bridge going over Salt Creek the Orange Trail connects to the Green Trail, which meanders southwest through oak woodlands that have been diligently cared for by years of volunteer restoration efforts and maintained by prescribed fire. This trail continues through open fields and back into woodlands before connecting again with the orange trail at the south west end of the preserve. Bemis Woods South map

 

 

Southwest Zone: Sagawau Environmental Learning Center Trails

12545 W 111th St, Lemont

 

The trails near the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center wind up and down ancient deposits of dolomitic limestone created by a coral reef some 400 million years ago. The reef is overlaid with glacial deposits from the last great ice sheet, which covered northeastern Illinois about 14,000 years ago. As the ice melted away an outwash channel carved down some 90 feet, creating the Sag Valley.

 

These geologic events created a diverse ecosystem of dolomite prairie, marshes, graminoid fens, savannas and oak woodlands, giving the trails at Sagawau some of the most diverse ecosystems in the Forest Preserves. Mammals such as white-tailed deer and coyote can be seen, and more than 130 species of birds can be found amongst the various habitats. Sagawau Environmental Learning Center map (PDF)

 

South Zone: Sand Ridge Nature Center Trails

15891 Paxton, South Holland

 

Sand Ridge Nature Center is named for an ancient beach ridge remnant formed over 6,000 years ago by the receding waters of “Lake Chicago,” the post ice-age ancestor of Lake Michigan. Hikers can follow the 2-mile Lost Beach Trail to see the old beach ridge, now covered in towering oak trees. Snow will accentuate the topography of this unusual region of Cook County, revealing clues to its ancient past. If there is more than 6 inches of snow, hikers can try out snowshoes.

 

After winter wandering, visitors can warm up inside the nature center building while viewing exhibits with live animals representing the Calumet region and chatting with knowledgeable nature education staff. Sand Ridge Nature Center map (PDF)

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