Spring Lake offers the opportunity to stretch one’s legs—whether human or equestrian—and do some real trekking over hills and valleys.
Tucked amidst the semi-rural rolling hills in the northwest corner of Cook County, almost 4,000 acres of wilderness are waiting to be explored. Spring Lake Forest Preserve offers the opportunity to stretch out one’s legs—whether human or equestrian—and do some real trekking over hills and across valleys. Whether you’re fishing the lakes or wandering the trails, almost anywhere within the sprawling Spring Lake Forest Preserve feels like a secret spot.
Enjoying Spring Lake
Exploring the trails in Spring Lake requires slightly more advanced navigation skills than at many other forest preserves. None of the trails are marked, so a compass, navigation app or GPS is recommended. While not for the novice explorer, this remoteness adds a layer of adventure to afternoon hikes.
Hikers and horseback riders can follow the twisting network of footpaths and horse trails through meadows and woods. Great flat expanses flow into hills that feel, in comparison, like mountains. Although there are currently no formal parking areas in the northern section of the preserve, visitors can park at the Penny Road Pond parking lot and cross Dundee Road to access this more remote section. As horseback riders from the surrounding equestrian centers frequently enjoy these trails, keep an eye out for manure and uneven surfaces.
The southern section of the preserve, between Dundee and Higgins Roads, is more accessible, with small, serene lakes, picnic tables, and a port-o-john at the Penny Road Pond parking area. Local dog walkers and families frequent this area of the preserve.
With adequate snow cover, many of these trails make for exhilarating cross-country skiing. The parking lot at Beverly Lake is a popular trailhead.
In the far northern tip of the preserve, Spring Lake Nature Preserve (a small part of the entire Spring Lake Forest Preserve) features two glacial lakes and a matrix of peaty wetlands and remnant prairie. Fishing in these lakes is not allowed, and hikers are asked to stay on the trails to avoid damaging sensitive areas in this wildlife viewing area.
Nature at Spring Lake
Because of its large size and variety of landforms (everything from wetlands to woodlands), Spring Lake sustains large and diverse animal populations. Bring binoculars to see sandhill cranes, belted kingfishers, blue-winged warblers and orchard orioles. Observant hikers may also see butterflies (including the Baltimore checkerspot), dragonflies, frogs, tiger salamanders, red fox, coyotes, beaver, muskrat, hawks, owls and white-tailed deer.
Spring Lake is recognized as an Important Bird Area by Audubon, its open expanses providing vital breeding habitat to grassland birds, including meadowlarks, Henslow’s sparrows and bobolinks. Bobolinks that nest here in June have migrated from the grasslands of Argentina. A hilltop north of Penny Road Pond offers vistas of one restoration area that attracts these species each year. Spring Lake is just one in a global network of Important Bird Areas.
Nearby marshes and fens flower with wild iris and Joe Pye weed. A restored savanna near Beverly Lake paints a picture of how the rolling countryside would have looked before settlers.
At the far northwest end of the county, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission has dedicated Spring Lake Nature Preserve as a preserve worthy of special protection. This is a place of glacial pools, remnant prairie, sedge meadow and fen. Here a gravel-bottomed creek meanders through a glacial valley featuring two glacial lakes. Buffered from intense urban development, the waters and landscape can ‘breathe’ naturally, relatively free of ditching and pollution. A rich diversity of butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, birds, otter, beaver, rare shrews, owls, cranes, fish, mussels, insects and other living things call Spring Lake Nature Preserve home.