Tucked between rail yards and neighborhoods at the far southeast side of Chicago, Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve’s 192 acres of woodland, prairie and wetland reflect the ecological richness that survives in similar pockets across the industrialized Calumet region. The lake and surrounding lands are popular among anglers, nature lovers and birders.
Just east of the parking lot, Powderhorn Lake is the most immediately noticeable feature of the preserve. Anglers can enjoy an afternoon of fishing from the 7,000 feet of shoreline or paddling across the 48-acre lake. A footpath for shoreline casting leads along the western shore, dotted with tall grasses and shrubs. A boat ramp is available for launching permitted watercraft (electric motorboats, canoes, kayaks, approved inflatables and rowboats). Anglers fish for largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegill, sunfish, bullhead, perch, crappie and channel catfish. When conditions permit, many also enjoy ice fishing. While fishing is allowed on the entire lake, it is not permitted on the body of water just to the north.
Sections of the rich wetland, prairie and savanna surrounding Powderhorn Lake are ecological management sites. Friends of the Forest Preserves and Calumet Stewardship Initiative organize regular volunteer restoration activities here, among the best ways to learn about the site’s ecology. A kiosk near the parking lot lists upcoming events and ecological information.
Nature at Powderhorn
Before the industrial age, Powderhorn Lake was part of a continuous stretch of tallgrass prairie, sedge meadow, savanna and wetland in the Calumet region. In 2007, 130 of the preserve’s 192 acres were designated as the Powderhorn Prairie and Marsh Nature Preserve—the only state-dedicated nature preserve within Chicago city limits—to protect the dune-and-swale landscape that makes it so unique. Powderhorn is home to about 250 plant species, 2,500 insects and 40 to 100 bird species, depending on the season. Black oak, white oak, pin oak and sassafras as well as woody plants such as hazelnut, elderberry and buttonbush accompany lower-growing plants such as prickly pear cactus, nodding wild onion, Indian hemp, partridge pea, purple love grass, cinnamon willow-herb, rough blazingstar, Turk’s cap lily, slender false foxglove and many more.