Skokie Lagoons

A lagoon with a boat at Skokie Lagoons. Photo by chmoss.
"Skokie Lagoons" by chmoss is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Cropped from original.

The 894-acre Skokie Lagoons are a prime destination for water exploration, featuring public boat access, canoe and kayak rentals, fishing, biking and hiking trails and picnic areas.

On this page:


Locations & Things to Do

Skokie Lagoons includes multiple locations:


Erickson Woods

Entrance

Willow Rd, east of I-94/Edens Expy
Cook County, IL 60093
(near Winnetka)

Picnic Groves

  • Grove #1
    (with shelter)
    • Capacity: 200 people
Event Permits PageGrove PDF Map of Erickson Woods

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


Tower Road

Entrance

Tower Rd, west of Forestway Dr
Cook County, IL 60093
(near Winnetka)

Phone

847-414-5883

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


Tower Road Boat Launch

Entrance

Tower Rd, west of Forestway Dr
Cook County, IL 60093
(near Winnetka)

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


Forest Way Grove

Entrance

Forest Way Dr, south of Dundee Rd
Cook County, IL 60022
(near Glencoe)

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts


Trails

North Branch Trail System

The North Branch Trail System offers paved and unpaved trails along approximately 20 miles of the North Branch of the Chicago River, making it a premier biking route in the northern suburbs.

Location: Chicago, Glenview, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Skokie & Winnetka

Surface

Paved & Unpaved

Estimated Total Length

36.7 miles

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts

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

Boat Launch

Skokie Lagoons features a trailered boat launch for canoes, kayaks, rowboats, sailboats and boats with electric trolling motors.


Tower Road Boat Launch
(part of Skokie Lagoons)
Tower Rd, west of Forestway Dr
(near Winnetka)

canoes and kayaks at the shore of Skokie Lagoons

Canoe & Kayak Rentals at Tower Road

Canoe and kayak rentals are available through Chicago River Canoe & Kayak. Please call 847-414-5883 or visit chicagoriverpaddle.com to confirm availability.


Tower Road
(part of Skokie Lagoons)
Tower Rd, west of Forestway Dr
Cook County, IL 60093 (view web map of Tower Road)
(near Winnetka)
847-414-5883

Skokie Lagoons Boathouse Project

The Forest Preserves is planning a new boathouse facility at the Skokie Lagoons to replace the existing temporary facility—a repurposed shipping container with no power or water. View plans, progress and sign up for updates.


Fishing at Skokie Lagoons

Skokie Lagoons is a system of seven lagoons connected by channels on the Skokie River. The total acreage for the entire lagoon system is 242 acres.  The maximum depth of 14.9 feet is located in Lagoon #2; however, pockets of 10 feet or more can be found in most of the other lagoons. Features a trailered boat launch for canoes, kayaks, rowboats, sailboats and boats with electric trolling motors. Canoe and kayak rental available.


An Ojibwa camp in Minnesota in 1870.
An Ojibwa camp in Minnesota in 1870. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

History

What is now the Skokie Lagoons was once a huge marsh, nestled between ridges created by the shorelines of ancient Lake Chicago. Its name is derived from the Potawatomi “che-wabskoki” for large swamp or marsh. Changing land usage and human interaction have transformed this area into the series of lagoons, channels and islands recognizable to visitors today.

traditional grass dancers at the annual American Indian Center Chicago Powwow
The Annual Chicago Powwow celebrates Tribal diversity of Native Americans from Cook County and around the country.

Native Americans in the Chicago Region

Skokie Lagoons is part of the traditional homelands of the Council of Three Fires – the Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. Small tribal groups set up camps along waterways with fertile soils to raise corn, squash and beans, and when possible, near sugar maples to collect sap to use as a sweetener. Fishing, tool-making and collecting medicinal plants were daily activities. In winter, local tribes would follow animal migration routes and establish smaller camps for hunting and acquiring furs for use and trade. This annual cycle was a way of life for generations.

But after European contact and the establishment of the United States of America, settlers and the federal government pushed Native people out of the area—culminating in a series of treaties between 1816 and 1833 that transferred what is now Cook County from Native groups to the U.S. federal government. By the 1860s, private individuals owned most of the property in Cook County.

Native Americans still live in the Chicago region. However, no federally recognized Tribal lands remain in the State of Illinois.

Winnetka in the 1880s: Max Meyer’s store on Green Bay Road and Elm Street
Winnetka in the 1880s: Max Meyer’s store on Green Bay Road and Elm Street. Photo courtesy of the Winnetka Historical Society.

Settlers Change the Land

Settlers used the land in the Skokie Valley to graze livestock and harvest peat to burn for warmth during the winter. The marsh’s ecosystem suffered irreversible damage as drainage projects and agriculture increased.

The advent of the region’s railroad in 1855 made commuting between the Skokie Valley and Chicago easier, and the area’s population boomed as people dispersed from the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

overhead photo of men working on digging out the Skokie Lagoons in July 1933
Looking north from Willow Road Bridge the month the lagoon project began, July 1933.

Civilian Conservation Corps Project

The Forest Preserves of Cook County acquired land in the Skokie Valley in 1920 with plans to create lagoons for recreation and flood and mosquito control. Those plans came to life after Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps to put unemployed men to work during the Great Depression.

Between 1933 and 1941, thousands of men, including three segregated African American companies, lived and worked at Camp Skokie Valley. Men worked seven-hour days, five days a week to create a new landscape featuring seven lagoons. During free time, Camp Skokie Valley had academic and vocational classes, a chapel, organized sports and even a barbershop.

In the first year, all construction was done by hand, with heavy equipment arriving soon after. In total, four million cubic tons of soil were excavated during what became the largest public works program in the country during the Great Depression.


plants around a lagoon at Skokie Lagoons

Nature Notes

The Skokie Lagoons provide critical habitat for wildlife despite this area’s transition from the “great marsh” Native Americans knew to the manmade lagoons dug out in the 1930s. Migrating ducks, herons, cormorants and mammals like coyote mink, and gray and red fox all depend on the lagoons for food and habitat. A great variety of fishes including bluegill, sunfish and largemouth bass swim in the waters here.

Restoring Skokie Lagoons

Four million cubic tons of soil were excavated to create Skokie Lagoons between 1933 and 1941. Fast forward to the 1990s, when the Forest Preserves removed one million cubic tons of sediment, in addition to approximately 40 tons of carp and invasive species, to improve the health and functionality of the lagoons.

Staff and volunteers continue to do restoration work on the wetlands, uplands and prairies surrounding the lagoons. That includes removing a thick curtain of buckthorn and other invasive species, cultivating native plants and dispersing native seeds to increase biodiversity.


volunteers at Skokie Lagoons

Volunteer Opportunities

Join stewardship volunteers from BackYard Nature Center in restoring habitat at Skokie Lagoons.