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Explore for an Hour, a Day, or Even a Night: South Cook County

people entering the Sand Ridge Nature Center building in South Holland

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

  • Explore the natural and cultural history exhibits at Sand Ridge Nature Center, 15891 Paxton Ave. in South Holland. Visitors can also watch bird feeders, stroll through a colorful butterfly garden, or walk along a variety of trails.
  • For a quick cool off during hot summer days, the public can head to Green Lake Family Aquatic Center, located at 1100 River Oaks Dr. in Calumet City. The aquatic center is all ages, and features a lazy river, large slides, children’s slides and numerous play features.
  • Explore the historic limestone aqueducts at Dan Ryan Woods. In the south section of Dan Ryan Woods, the aqueducts wind through the site’s oak woodlands. Primarily built as drainage structures and erosion control features, they were constructed from limestone flagstone, and add a unique aesthetic feature to the site.

A Day

  • Paddle along the Little Calumet River. There are two trailered boat launches: the Beaubien Woods Boat Launch, near E 132nd Street & Doty Avenue in Chicago, and the Little Calumet Boat Launch, near Jackson Street & Ashland Avenue in Calumet. There is also a carry-in launch ramp located in Kickapoo Woods, near S Halsted St & W 145th St in Chicago.
  • Hike or bike the Thorn Creek Trail Sytem, which has nearly 20 miles of paved trails that connect more than 10 forest preserves. The system is part of the Grand Illinois Trail, and makes connections to the Old Plank Road Trail and the Pennsy Greenway.

A Night

  • Spend the night at Camp Shabbona Woods, 15810 S Torrence Ave. in South Holland. Camp Shabbona Woods features small three-season cabins, mulch tent pads, a group site and a clearing for activities. Sand Ridge Nature Center is just a short stroll away through an oak woodland.