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Explore For an Hour, a Day, or Even a Night: Central Cook County

a person looks at an exhibit inside Trailside Museum
An exhibit area inside Trailside Museum.

From boating and biking to birdwatching and fishing, there are numerous ways to experience the great outdoors in the Forest Preserves of Cook County. With nearly 70,000 acres of wild and wonderful, Cook County residents and visitors can find ways to explore the Forest Preserves for an hour, a day, or even a night.

An Hour

  • Plan a visit to Trailside Museum of Natural History. Trailside Museum offers a wide variety of public nature programs and special events, as well as guided hikes every month. Additionally, museum visitors can view displays of live native animals, colorful wildflower gardens, information about local wildlife and their habitats, and more.
  • Visit Chicago Portage National Historic Site. The Chicago Portage National Historic Site marks the historic place where early residents first witnessed the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi waterways, and is one of only two National Historic Sites in Illinois.

A Day

  • Explore Bemis Woods. In addition to an exhilarating experience 40 feet up in the forest canopy at the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course, Bemis Woods visitors can also hike eight miles of trails or spread out a blanket to enjoy a picnic in this 480-acre forest preserve.
  • Learn about wildlife at Brookfield Zoo. This 200-acre zoo is managed by Chicago Zoological Society and sits on Forest Preserves land. Brookfield Zoo is located in Cook County’s west suburbs, and hosts more than 2,000 animal from all over the world providing visitors the opportunity to experience the native wildlife of Asia, South America, Africa and beyond.

A Night

  • Located just outside the Central Zone in Willow Springs is the Forest Preserves’ Camp Bullfrog Lake. Campers can select from a variety of accommodations, including tent sites, RV/tent sites with electricity, large or small cabins, or up to 30 people can camp at the group camp site. In addition to exploring the surrounding Palos Preserves, Camp Bullfrog Lake campers can also enjoy free seasonal activities and water-based recreation such as canoe rentals and fishing.