Dan Ryan Woods

Dan Ryan Woods with the Sears Tower in the background
On clear days, visitors to Dan Ryan Woods can see the Chicago skyline.

The 257-acre Dan Ryan Woods is a well-loved family destination on Chicago’s South Side, with sledding and snowboarding hills, historic aqueducts, fitness stairs, picnic groves and a mile-long paved loop that connects to the Major Taylor Trail. The site supports a large array of native plants, animals and migratory birds.

On this page:


Locations & Things to Do

Dan Ryan Woods includes multiple locations:


Dan Ryan Woods Major Taylor Trail Corridor Improvements

The Forest Preserves is completing a corridor master plan for the Major Taylor Trail along Dan Ryan Woods. View plans, progress and sign up for updates.


Dan Ryan Woods Visitor Center

Things to Do & Amenities

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to SunsetVisitor Center (Memorial Day to Labor Day): Tue & Thu: 8:30am - 4:30pm; Sat: 9am - 2pm

Closures & Alerts


Dan Ryan Woods-Central

Things to Do & Amenities

  1. Portable bathroom open November 1 to April 30 depending on weather conditions.

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


Dan Ryan Woods-North

Things to Do & Amenities

  1. Indoor bathroom open April 1 to October 31 depending on weather conditions.

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


Dan Ryan Woods-South

Things to Do & Amenities

  1. Portable bathroom open May 1 to October 31 depending on weather conditions.

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


Dan Ryan Woods-East

Things to Do & Amenities

  1. Portable bathroom open May 1 to October 31 depending on weather conditions.

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


Dan Ryan Woods-91st Street

Things to Do & Amenities

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


a person walking at Dan Ryan Woods

Trails

Dan Ryan Trails

This mile-long paved loop connects to the Major Taylor Trail.

Location: Chicago

Surface

Paved

Estimated Total Length

1.0 miles

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts

*Please be a courteous trail user: Follow posted signs and our trail rules and etiquette.

Major Taylor Trail

The Major Taylor Trail runs from Dan Ryan Woods south to Whistler Woods and includes paved segments, off-street paved segments managed by the Chicago Park District, and on-street segments.

Location: Chicago & Riverdale

Surface

Paved

Estimated Total Length

8.1 miles

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts

*Please be a courteous trail user: Follow posted signs and our trail rules and etiquette.

Dan Ryan Woods Visitor Center building
Dan Ryan Woods Visitor Center.

Visitor Center

Visitors can apply for permits at the Visitor Center from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Dan Ryan Woods Visitor Center
S Western Ave & W 87th St

Memorial Day to Labor Day Hours:
Tue & Thu: 8:30am – 4:30pm
Sat: 9am – 2pm


inside the Dan Ryan Pavilion

Indoor Event Rentals

Versatility is the key word for the Dan Ryan Woods Pavilion. The wide open design can be arranged to suit a variety of affairs, functions and occasions. This pavilion can accommodate approximately 120 guests and is perfect for your next banquet, meeting, seminar, luncheon or reception. Additionally, the Dan Ryan Woods Pavilion has a smartly designed kitchen for light food preparation.


Entrance to Dan Ryan Woods. Photo from 1900-1925.
“Structures, Beverly Hills Entrance to Dan Ryan Preserve.” ca. 1900-1925. FPDCC_00_02_0002_012, Forest Preserve District of Cook County Records, University of Illinois at Chicago Library.

History

Dan Ryan Woods sits on some of the highest land in Chicago—once the tip of an island in ancient Lake Chicago. Standing at Dan Ryan Woods 14,000 years ago, you would have been surrounded by water.

Looking Down on the Marsh

Ancient Lake Chicago became smaller as glaciers retreated. Mastodons roamed, followed by nomadic bands of Paleo Indians. Vast grasslands grew in the warming climate. Land from here to present day Lake Michigan was swampy, marshy and striped with high sandy ridges—remnants of ancient Lake Chicago’s beaches.

The low wetlands provided rich habitats for plants and animals, and produced abundant food and raw materials for Native Americans. The higher ridges served as transportation routes and were topped with oak and hickory trees.

Farm to Forest

Like much of the land protected and restored by the Forest Preserves, current day Dan Ryan Woods once hosted a working farm. Purchased in 1872 by John B. Sherman, manager of the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company, the land became home to pigs and herds of cattle that grazed freely on the ridges. In 1902 the Chicago Livestock World newspaper described the farm as the “largest within the city limits of Chicago…”

Part of the Plan

In 1909 architects Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett, under the direction of the Commercial Club of Chicago, published the now famous Plan of Chicago. This ambitious urban planning effort included Sherman’s farm in a proposed “outer park system.” In 1917, the newly formed Forest Preserves purchased 112 acres of the former farm, creating Beverly Hills preserve. It was re-named to honor former Forest Preserves board member Dan Ryan, Sr. in 1924.

Civilian Conservation Corps in Dan Ryan Woods

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed construction projects across the country, including many of the Forest Preserves’ earliest picnic shelters, bridges and flood control structures.

historic photo of two people posing with the Civilian Conservation Corps built limestone aqueducts at Dan Ryan Woods
The Civilian Conservation Corps built limestone aqueducts in Dan Ryan Woods in the 1930s.

Limestone Aqueducts & Stairs

The limestone aqueducts at Dan Ryan Woods were constructed by the CCC to prevent water from washing away soil on the steep ridges. Visitors can still walk alongside the aqueducts as they wind their way through the woods south of 87th St.

The CCC built limestone stairways in the 1930s for visitors to more easily access the ridges surrounding the aqueducts—and to admire the land below.

Time, and substantial restoration work, have turned a trip up these stairs into an awe inspiring climb through a mature woodland. Oak and hickory trees arch high overhead, while redbud and ironwood trees stand tall under the canopy. Native grasses and wildflowers carpet the woodland floor.

historic photo of ski jumper at Dan Ryan Woods in the 1920s
Dan Ryan Woods featured a ski jump in the 1920s and 1930s.

Winter Sports Pavilion

The steep slopes of Dan Ryan Woods create a natural location for sledding and skiing. By the mid-1920s, brave skiers trained and competed on a 30-foot high wooden ski jump. The CCC erected a warming pavilion in the 1930s to support the winter sports boom—visitors can now rent this space for meetings and parties.


oak and hickory woodland at Dan Ryan Woods
Oak and hickory woodland at Dan Ryan Woods.

Nature Notes

South of 87th Street, mowed grass gives way to oak woodland and savanna. The west edge of the preserve rests on a moraine—an accumulation of rocks and soil deposited by the movement of glaciers. Oak and hickory trees define these higher elevations, providing habitat for great horned owls in the woodland interior and birds such as the eastern phoebe at the edges. Plants like red trillium, thicket parsley and wild geranium bloom on the woodland floor.

Once covered by ancient Lake Chicago, the east side of Dan Ryan Woods sits lower and features wet woods dominated by swamp white oaks, red oaks and American basswood. Pale-leaved sunflower, fringed loosestrife and many sedges and manna grasses cover the ground below.


volunteers at Dan Ryan Woods

Volunteer Opportunities

Dan Ryan Woods is the last remaining undeveloped portion of Blue Island, one of the highest points in Chicago and once an island in ancient Lake Chicago. The site preserves remnants of woodland and savanna plant communities. Volunteer groups have turned more attention from the playfields to the wilder parts of the preserve. The volunteers are removing invasive species, promoting native trees and wildflowers and restoring eroding slopes.