Skokie Lagoons

Also known as the William N. Erickson Preserves

Peaceful pools and winding channels make the Skokie Lagoons a prime destination for boating and fishing.

The Skokie Lagoons are a prime destination for water exploration in northern Cook County. This network of pools, channels and islands winds between Winnetka, Northfield and Glencoe. With public boat access (boasting some of Cook County’s best fishing), biking and hiking trails and picnic areas, this well-loved, wooded preserve offers peaceful retreats and activities around every bend.

The Skokie Lagoons Forest Preserve covers 894 acres. Originally one of the region’s largest and richest marshes, much of the area was drained by settlers for agriculture. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps dug out the current lagoon system, in part to address flooding and increase recreational use. The massive effort was the largest CCC project in the nation.


Enjoying the Lagoons

Boaters can wind their way through the Skokie Lagoons’ waterscape in canoes, kayaks, sailboats and rowboats. Launch your own craft at the public boat launch on the south side of Tower Road, just east of I-94. Or rent a boat from Chicago River Canoe and Kayak just east on Tower Road. The launches provide direct access to Lagoons 3, 4 and 5. While most boaters stick to these main lagoons, canoeists and kayakers can access the other lagoons by portaging around low dams and dikes.

Fishing by boat and from the shoreline is allowed with a state license. The Lagoons provide some of the best fishing in Cook County, with excellent walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, and catfish as well as very good crappie, bluegill and bullhead populations.

Segments of the North Branch Trail wind around the Lagoons. The 4.4-mile “black” paved loop trail circles the northern section of the lagoons between Dundee Road and Tower Road. In addition, about 1.5 miles of the 13-mile “red” paved trail follows the southern lagoons from Tower south to Willow Road. About 1.5 miles of the “yellow” unpaved trail also picks up near the Tower Road boat launch, crosses the Willow Road Dam, and continues south for more than 6 miles. Paved trails are open for hiking, biking, in-line skating and cross-country skiing. Gravel trails are open for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.

The Erickson Woods Picnic Grove is on the north side of Willow Road, just east of I-94. Another picnic grove is located along Forestway Drive, about a mile north of Tower. There is no parking for this grove except along the shoulder of the road.

North of Dundee Road, the network of lagoons continues as part of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Nature at the Lagoons

Known to American Indians as the “great marsh,” the area that is now the Skokie Lagoons was well known as wildlife habitat. When sections were drained for farmland and the remainder later dug and dredged into the present lagoons, much of the original habitat was destroyed. Yet volunteers have been working to remove invasive plants such as buckthorn, garlic mustard and Canada thistle from remnant areas. As restoration continues, more distinct and healthy woodland, savanna and prairie habitats will emerge.

Northern pike, largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, bullhead, channel catfish, carp, walleye and crappie share the lagoon waters with around a dozen species of migrating ducks. Coyote, mink, gray and red fox have been spotted in the preserve, as have warbling vireos, cormorants, common loons, black-crowned night-herons, green herons and prothonotary warblers.

  • Location

  • Winnetka, Illinois

    N Cook County

    894 acres

    7.5 miles of trail

    5.9 paved 1.5 unpaved

    Best for

    HikingBikingCross Country SkiingFishingBoat Ramp

    Top Three Tips

    1. Shoreline and boat fishing are allowed in the lagoons. (Learn more on our Fishing page.) A boat launch is available at the westernmost Tower Road entrance. Canoe and kayak rentals are available from the eastern enterance.

    2. Paved and unpaved trails around the lagoons provide more than seven miles for lovers of both exercise and nature to work out or enjoy the natural environment. Several of these trails continue south, adding almost 20 miles for those seeking longer adventures.

    3. Picnic shelter areas in Skokie Lagoons can accommodate large groups. Groups of 25 or more must obtain a permit.


    The Skokie Lagoons are just east of I-94. When traveling north, take the exit for Willow Road and head east. Turn left/north onto Forestway Drive.

    For the boat launch and trail access, turn left/west from Forestway onto Tower Road. Two entrances will appear along the southern side of Tower Road. The eastern entrance accesses the paved “red” trail and boat rental facility. The western entrance has a boat launch and access to both the paved “red” and gravel “yellow” trails.

    Parking is also available on the north side of Willow Road at the William Erickson Picnic Grove.

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