Rules & Frequently Asked Questions

Forest Preserves of Cook County rules and regulations are intended to keep people safe and protect natural and cultural resources. If you have a question about rules and regulations and cannot find an answer here, please contact us.

On this page:


General Rules

If you encounter someone violating Forest Preserves rules or regulations—especially if the activity is a threat to public safety or is harming plants or wildlife—we encourage you to contact the Forest Preserves Police Department at 708-771-1000. Always call 9-1-1 in an emergency. Learn more about our Trail Watch Volunteer program.


Hours

Dogs

Litter

  • Littering is strictly prohibited—help keep our preserves clean.
  • Smoking materials must be extinguished properly and may not be littered.

Vehicles

  • Motorized vehicles (including ATVs, motorized scooters and e-bikes capable of exceeding 15 mph) are prohibited on grass or trails. People with mobility limitations are allowed to use personal mobility devices as outlined in our Mobility Device Usage Policy (PDF).
  • Vehicles must be parked in marked spaces.
  • Vehicles may not be parked in preserves overnight.

Alcohol

  • Alcohol is not permitted within 50 feet of parking lots and roadways, and where otherwise posted.
  • Glass containers are not allowed.
  • Some locations prohibit alcohol without a picnic or event permit. Learn more about Alcohol Free Sites.

Plants and Wildlife

  • Collection of plants and animals is strictly prohibited. This includes harvesting firewood; collecting mushrooms, wildflowers or other wild plants and their seeds; and otherwise removing or damaging any plants or trees.
  • Hunting is not allowed on any Forest Preserves of Cook County property. Visitors may not kill, injure or otherwise disturb any animals or their nests.
  • Feeding of wildlife is strictly prohibited. Learn why feeding wildlife causes more harm than good.

Firearms

Archaeology, Salvage and Physical Property

  • Any and all historic or prehistoric ruins found in the Forest Preserves are the property of the State of Illinois and may not be removed without consent.
  • Metal detecting is prohibited.
  • Patrons may not alter, deface, damage or otherwise change any monuments, either natural or manmade, within Forest Preserves of Cook County property.

Waterbodies

  • Entering any natural body of water in the Forest Preserves of Cook County is prohibited—unless in an approved boat or watercraft.
  • Stand up paddle boards (SUP) are not approved for use on Forest Preserves waterbodies.
  • Swimming is encouraged at our three aquatic centers.

Commercial Activity

  • Vendors must obtain a permit to enter Forest Preserves of Cook County property.
  • Patrons may not post advertisements on Forest Preserves of Cook County property.

Trail Rules & Etiquette

  • Trail users are asked to be polite and courteous to fellow patrons.
  • Off-trail riding is prohibited.
  • Trail users must ride or walk on the right side of the trail.
  • Trail users must give an audible warning before passing others. Announce yourself and slow down to pass.
  • Patrons must obey all signs.
  • Speeding is not allowed.
  • Dogs must be leashed and in control on right side of trail.
  • Helmets are recommended for all riders, and required for riders 14 and under.
  • Bicyclists and horses must ride single-file.
  • Stop only on shoulder of the trail.
  • Ride at a responsible, controlled speed. No racing is allowed.
  • Trail use involves risk, please review our Trail Risk Statement.

Paved Trails

  • Trail users must stay in their own lane.
  • Bicycles must be walked down overpasses.
  • Equestrian use of paved trails is prohibited.

Unpaved Trails

  • Bicyclists and equestrians must stay on designated trails.
  • Bicyclists must yield to hikers and equestrians.
  • Hikers must yield to equestrians.
  • Trail users must ask permission to pass equestrians.
  • Trail usage is prohibited in muddy conditions.
  • Horses must be licensed.

Nature Center Trails

  • Nature Center trails are intended for walking. Bikes, pets, horses and cross-country skiing are not allowed.
  • Nature Center trails are open only during posted Nature Center hours.

Equestrians

  • Walk horses between stable and trail.
  • Slow to a walk or slow trot when meeting other riders, hikers or bicyclists.
  • Do not race horses—always keep horses under control.
  • Stallions are not permitted on trails.
  • Be humane and kind to your horse.
  • The only permitted gaits are walk, trot or slow canter. No galloping, please.
  • Horses may not be hitched to trees.

Nature Center Rules

  • Pets are not permitted on Nature Center grounds, including the parking lots.
  • Nature Centers are unable to accept injured, orphaned or abandoned wildlife.
  • For your safety and for the protection of natural areas, please stay on marked trails. Trails are for hiking only.
  • Bicycles are only allowed in Nature Center parking lots, or at provided bike racks.
  • For the benefit of other visitors and wildlife, please maintain respectful noise levels at all times.
  • Picnicking is not permitted on Nature Center grounds. An adjacent picnic grove can be opened for pre-registered groups on weekdays.
  • Food or drink is not permitted in Nature Center buildings.
  • With the exception of water or sports bottles, food and drink are not permitted on Nature Center trails. Please dispose of litter in proper receptacles.
  • Collecting of any kind is prohibited, as is the use of metal detectors. The fine for picking wildflowers is $500.
  • For the protection of animals and visitors alike, please do not feed the wildlife.
  • Be mindful of closing times for trails, the Nature Center building and parking lot.
  • Please report safety hazards or suspicious activities to the Nature Center staff.
  • Cross-country skiing is not permitted on Nature Center trails.

Activity-Specific Rules


Municipal Code

The Municipal Code website displays all current ordinances and allows visitors to view changes to the Municipal Code over time.


Frequently Asked Questions


What are your hours?

Forest preserves are open every day from sunrise to sunset. Check with Nature Centers, Campgrounds and other facilities for specific hours. Check for closures before you go.


Do you have bathrooms?

Bathroom availability and type varies by location. Indoor facilities like Nature Centers and Campgrounds have year-round, accessible indoor bathrooms. Some forest preserves have comfort stations (indoor bathrooms open April through October). Others have portable bathrooms that may be open year-round or seasonally. Some forest preserves do not have bathrooms at all.

Check the specific location you wish to visit for information about bathrooms (including accessibility information).


Why isn’t the gate open at this location?

Forest preserves are open everyday from sunrise to sunset and our policy is to open every gate, every day of the year. However, each gate must be opened manually by a Forest Preserves employee every morning—over 300 gates a day. On some days, gates may not be opened by sunrise because of traffic or other issues beyond our control.

Some locations may close temporarily because of weather conditions (snow, ice, flooding), land management (research, restoration, prescribed burns), construction projects or temporary public safety issues.

During winter, parking lots are closed more often because of snow and ice. Parking lots are plowed (with priority given to Nature Centers, Campgrounds and locations with winter activities) and gates are opened as soon as it is safe to allow vehicle access.


Current Closures

Current closures for individual locations are listed on individual location pages and trail pages on this website and on our web map. For a full list of closures, visit our closures page.


How much does it cost to visit?

There is no fee to enter forest preserves or Nature Centers. Most of our events and programs are free, or charge a small fee.

Other facilities charge fees for usage, including: aquatic centers campgrounds, golf courses and picnic groves. For a full list of activities that require a fee or permit, visit our Permits Page.


Can I forage for mushrooms, wildflowers or edible plants?

No. The collection of mushrooms, plants, animals or any natural or cultural item is prohibited. With over 5 million residents in Cook County and an estimated 62 million visits to the Forest Preserves each year, allowing foraging or collecting—even through a permitting system—would not be ecologically or financially feasible. Please help us preserve these natural areas for the plants and animals that depend on them, and for future generations to enjoy.

Anyone caught foraging or collecting in the Forest Preserves is subject to a fine of $75 to $500 per offense.


I found a sick, injured or abandoned animal, what should I do?

It depends, but most often the best answer is: Nothing. Learn more about your options on our Wildlife in Distress page.


How can I help the turtle I found?

Turtles are especially visible in spring. Males are more active, seeking mates and moving between ponds. Females are looking for nesting sites to lay eggs. This means you may encounter turtles along roadsides, in yards or crossing paths and streets.

As with all wildlife the best thing to do is to leave them alone—they may appear lost, but they usually know exactly what they are doing. Turtles have an uncanny senses of direction. If moved, they will try and try again to return to their original course. Turtles moved off a pathway will turn around and cross it again if put on the wrong side.

At times, turtles lay eggs in unusual locations like wood chip piles, in a freshly tilled garden bed, or even in a lawn. Even though it is tempting to help out and move them to a new location, those eggs rarely survive. It is best to leave them in place whenever possible. In a worst case scenario, those eggs can become needed food for other animals in the area.

As a rule, the Forest Preserves does not take in injured turtles or eggs and does not deploy staff to relocate turtles or nests. If you believe you have found an injured turtle, learn more about your options on our Wildlife in Distress page.


Can I release my pet or a nuisance animal in the Forest Preserves? Will a Nature Center take my pet?

Both state and county law prohibit residents from abandoning pets or releasing nuisance animals outside. The Forest Preserves does not accept pets or wildlife at any of our locations. Learn more about the problems abandoned pets can cause in the Forest Preserves.


Why are trees being cut down?

Trees may be cut down for a variety of reasons:

  • Ecological restoration – The Forest Preserves, contractors or partners may remove trees as part of an ecological restoration project. Additionally, volunteers may remove trees at Ecological Stewardship Sites. Most often these are invasive trees, or native trees that have reached unnatural densities due to years of fire suppression. Learn more about restoration and view a list of current restoration projects.
  • Utility & highway department tree trimming and removal – Utilities and highway departments regularly monitor and trim or remove trees along roadsides or utility lines for safety reasons.
  • Dead tree removal – Dead trees are essential to the health of our local ecosystems. But there are some dead trees that need to be removed because they may create an unsafe situation. Our Resource Management staff regularly removes dead trees from near buildings, roads, parking lots and trails. They have been especially active removing trees affected by the emerald ash borer. If you see a dead tree that you think poses a safety risk, please fill out our contact form (and select “Fisheries, Wildlife, Trees and Trails”) to let us know where to find it.

I have a question about coyotes.

And we have an answer! The Forest Preserves is part of the Urban Coyote Research Project—a partnership between the Forest Preserves, Cook County Animal & Rabies Control, Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and The Ohio State University started in 2000.

Learn more on our Coyotes in Cook County page or the Urban Coyote Research Project website.


Why don’t you clean up the dead trees in the forest?

While dead trees may not be the most attractive part of a forest, they are essential to its health. Learn more about the important role dead trees play in the Forest Preserves.

There are some dead trees that need to be removed because they may create an unsafe situation. Our Resource Management staff regularly removes dead trees from near buildings, roads, parking lots and trails. They have been especially active removing trees affected by the emerald ash borer. If you see a dead tree that you think poses a safety risk, please fill out our contact form (and select “Fisheries, Wildlife, Trees and Trails”) to let us know where to find it.


Can I collect firewood?

No. The collection of firewood, or any natural or cultural item, is prohibited. Dead trees and resulting fallen wood provide habitat for many plants and animals that call the Forest Preserves home.

Anyone caught collecting in the Forest Preserves is subject to a fine of $75 to $500 per offense.


Can I use a metal detector?

No. Metal detecting is prohibited. Even practiced responsibly, metal detecting disrupts soils and negatively impacts plants and animals.

Anyone caught metal detecting in the Forest Preserves is subject to a fine of $75 to $500 per offense.


Can I practice archery?

No. Launching any projectile in the Forest Preserves is prohibited. This includes model rockets and all firearms—even Airsoft guns, BB guns or pellet guns.

The Forest Preserves hosts archery events throughout the year. There are currently no plans to construct a permanent archery range on Forest Preserves’ property.


Can I feed deer, ducks or other wildlife?

No. It’s important to know that feeding wildlife causes more harm than good—learn why feeding wildlife is harmful.

Anyone caught feeding wildlife in the Forest Preserves is subject to a fine of $75 per offense.


Can I fly my drone?

Yes, but only at the approved locations listed on the Model Airplanes & Drones Page.


Can I swim in lakes and ponds?

No. Because of public health and safety concerns, entering or swimming in any waterbody in the Forest Preserves is prohibited. You are welcome to explore designated waterbodies in an approved boat.

Anyone caught entering or swimming in a waterbody in the Forest Preserves is subject to a fine of $75 to $500 per offense.


Can I use a stand up paddle board (SUP)?

No. Stand up paddle boards (SUP) are prohibited due to public health and safety concerns. The Forest Preserves conducted an SUP feasibility study and the results indicated that the water quality in Forest Preserves waterbodies—which are all man-made—was not high enough for activities that involve a high likelihood of entering the water.

Anyone caught entering or swimming in a waterbody in the Forest Preserves is subject to a fine of $75 to $500 per offense.


Should I be concerned about ticks and mosquitoes?

Ticks and mosquitoes are a natural part of the Forest Preserves and taking basic precautions can help minimize any potential harm they may cause. Learn how to protect yourself on these pages: