Swallow Cliff

Best known for its 100-foot bluff and demanding stair workout, Swallow Cliff also astounds with natural riches.

Swallow Cliff Woods is best known for its dramatic “front lawn,” which leads up a steep, 100-foot-tall bluff. The bluff creates one of the best sledding hills in the county and also one of its toughest and most scenic stair workouts. On top of the bluff, trails pass through this quiet 800-acre preserve. Hikers enjoy wandering the hilly, forested terrain complete with stream crossings, grand old oaks and flocks of migratory birds around the numerous wetlands.



Enjoying Swallow Cliff


Constructed in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, 125 limestone stairs lead to the top of a former toboggan run at Swallow Cliff North. In 2016, an additional 168 steps were added, completing a circuit for visitors. Although the runs were closed in 2004, the stairs remain a popular exercise destination for fitness buffs and casual walkers. (Some stair climbers build pebble piles at the top of the stairs to keep track of their trips up and down.)


During the winter, the bluff still serves as an active sledding hill. Visitors provide their own sleds. (Learn more about sledding in the forest preserves.) The stairs are cleared and salted.


Hikers and trail runners can access the brown and yellow trails via a short connector trail from the top of the stairway. The full yellow loop is roughly eight miles, extending west to Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve and east to Palos Park Preserve. Hikers can cut the loop in half by using the white connector trail to cut back to Swallow Cliff North. These trails are part of the Sag Valley unpaved trail system, which is open to hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.


Swallow Cliff Woods South has small and large open-air shelters with picnic tables for family gatherings and special events. Groups of 25 or more must purchase a permit; otherwise, they are available on a first-come, first-served basis.


Trail users can access the yellow trail at the Swallow Cliff South entrance as well. For a 4.75-mile loop, head west on the yellow trail.



Nature at Swallow Cliff


Swallow Cliff is a 100-foot-high bluff formed 12,000 years ago when glacial meltwater carved out the Sag Valley, leaving behind steep walls and a varied landscape of morainal hills and pothole lakes. As it did across the region, fire shaped the natural communities here. More frequent fires in some areas maintained prairie openings, while woodlands developed in more protected areas. Wet marshes and sedge meadows are scattered throughout the landscape.


There are a variety of migrating and breeding songbirds active in the preserve, including woodpeckers, great crested flycatchers and summer tanagers. Other birds seen in the area include red-eyed vireos and eastern wood-pewees.



Swallow Cliff Pavilion & Cafe


Just north of the 100-foot bluff and popular fitness stairs, the Swallow Cliff Pavilion is perfect for any occasion. Built in 2016, this LEED Silver-certified facility provides an intimate setting for birthday parties, showers, classes and meetings.

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  • Location

  • Palos Park, Illinois

    SW Cook County

    800 acres

    8 miles of trail


    Best for

    HikingBikingCross Country SkiingSledding

    Top Three Tips

    1. Although there are trail markers, the Sag Valley trail system is extensive. Study the Sage Valley Trail map before embarking on your hike or trail run. Even better, take a map with you.
    2. Plan to visit Swallow Cliff at many different times of the year. The high-quality plant and animal communities will reward regular visitors with new discoveries every few weeks.
    3. The piles of pebbles lining the ledge at the top of the toboggan stairs are used for counting laps. People add to their own piles as they go.


    Coming from the north, take I-55 to Exit 279A southbound on La Grange Road. Follow La Grange Road south for approximately 8 miles and turn right/west on Route 83. The entrance to Swallow Cliff North is on the left/south off Route 83. To access Swallow Cliff South, continue south on La Grange Road for a half-mile. The marked entrance is on the west side of the road.

    Volunteer in the Forest Preserves

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