Bluff Spring Fen

a wetland at Bluff Spring Fen
Photo by Lisa Musgrave.

A lush valley of emerald green, Bluff Spring Fen is a rare gem, a mix of prairie, woodlands, ponds, streams and wetlands—including the rare ecosystem that gives the site its name. Thanks to active restoration, this Illinois Nature Preserve is home to a rich diversity of plants, amphibians, insects and birds.

On this page:

Location & Things to Do

Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve

Things to Do & Amenities

  1. Service dogs are allowed at most public locations. View accessibility policies.
Illinois Nature Preserve: This land is designated as one of the highest quality natural areas in the state by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. This status includes increased levels of legal protection and management. Learn more on the Illinois Nature Preserves Page.


Apr - Oct: 7am - 7:30pmNov - Mar: 7am - 4pmHours set by Bluff City Cemetery/City of Elgin

Closures & Alerts

Please note: Enter Bluff Spring Fen through the Bluff City Cemetery (945 Bluff City Boulevard, Elgin, IL 60120).

prairie and woodland with storm clouds in the background at Bluff Spring Fen. Photo by Kris DaPra.
Photo by Kris DaPra.

Nature Notes

Surrounded by industrial neighbors in the westernmost part of Cook County—and once a dumping site and gravel quarry itself—160-acre Bluff Spring Fen is named for its rare fen, a type of wetland fed by mineral-rich springs. The spring water stays a constant 50 degrees, so streams flow year-round, supporting an unusual assortment of plants and animals adapted to these steady, alkaline conditions. The fen itself is surrounded by a patchwork of wetlands, prairies, savannas and woodlands, including several kames, gravelly hills left by the glaciers. With the only entrance to this hide-away through the winding roads of Bluff City Cemetery, tranquility is as plentiful as the birds. This Illinois Nature Preserve is part of a larger 225-acre area of green space managed by the City of Elgin, the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County.

Bluff Spring Fen volunteers and bio-blitz participants have counted 450 plant species, 57 butterfly species, more than 20 dragonfly species and almost 100 migratory and nesting bird species in the preserve.

The eastern portion of the preserve is a large, open area dominated by the fen, which boasts the richest diversity in plant species at the site. The kames add slight elevation to the otherwise low areas.

The western portion of the preserve contains more rolling hills, kames and oak savannas. Spring flowers blanket the savanna each year until the large trees fill out with leaves. The preserve is known for high plant diversity, and visitors can see plants such as wood betony and Seneca snakeroot.

Birders can easily spot both rare birds and fan favorites, such as migrating warblers, red-headed woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, wood ducks, and blue-gray gnatcatchers.

Reptiles and amphibians, such as snapping and painted turtles, live in the wetlands, while small mammals find homes in the savanna. The preserve contains thousands of different insects, including the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, elfin skimmer dragonfly and six-spotted tiger beetle.

The preserve is under active management, so at least twice a month, teams of volunteers remove invasive species, collect seeds and plant. Over the past 30 years, these dedicated volunteers have transformed this once desolate dumping ground into a world-class natural area.

three people examining restoration progress at Bluff Spring Fen

Restoring Bluff Spring Fen

Bluff Spring Fen has had more than its fair share of ups and downs. Gravel and sand mining and other industrial operations have long surrounded the site. Parts of the fen—a rare type of wetland that must be supplied with cool water from underground springs—were mined beginning in the 1930s. People illegally dumped abandoned vehicles and landscape debris. The site was rutted by countless off-road vehicles and inundated by invasive species.

In 1980, Bluff Spring Fen was adopted by volunteers, who hauled away the junk, cleared the invasives and helped bring back the native flora and fauna.

Since then, Bluff Spring Fen has seen several major restoration projects and countless volunteer hours. Learn more here:

volunteers collecting seeds at Bluff Spring Fen.

Volunteer Opportunities

Bluff Spring Fen is a 100-acre Illinois Nature Preserve. The Fen is a mosaic of upland, wetland, and wooded remnant plant communities and is home to over a dozen threatened and endangered species. Over the past 30 years, dedicated volunteers have transformed this once desolate dumping ground into a world-renowed natural area. The Friends of Bluff Spring Fen continue to restore diversity to the site at twice monthly workdays.