Don't be afraid to hit the Lake County forest preserves during winter months

Don't be afraid to hit the Lake County forest preserves during winter months

  • The Lake County Forest Preserves protects nearly 31,000 acres of natural lands. Sandhill cranes can be spotted in several of the preserves before they migrate south for winter.

    The Lake County Forest Preserves protects nearly 31,000 acres of natural lands. Sandhill cranes can be spotted in several of the preserves before they migrate south for winter. Courtesy of Jeff Goldberg

  • Forest preserve visitors often see nature as a sanctuary or an escape, especially this year.

    Forest preserve visitors often see nature as a sanctuary or an escape, especially this year. Courtesy of Jeff Goldberg

 
 
Posted12/10/2020 6:00 AM

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series looking at options to explore your forest preserves.

This year, more than ever, forest preserve visitors are discovering the importance of fresh air and the restorative power of nature. The preserves are experiencing record high usage levels as more people head outdoors for recreation and relaxation.

 
There are many treasures in the Lake County Forest Preserves for visitors to explore.
There are many treasures in the Lake County Forest Preserves for visitors to explore. - Courtesy of Pete Capp

The Lake County Forest Preserves protects nearly 31,000 acres of natural lands and is the second-largest forest preserve district in the state. Within the preserves are 207.3 miles of trails that connect to other regional trails, such as the North Shore Bike Path, the McClory Trail, and the Casey Trail and Greenway, making for a total of 763 miles of free public trails in Lake County.

Studies show people tend to visit preserves located close to their home. Why not explore somewhere new (LCFPD.org/expand)?

The bridge between Half Day and Wright Woods forest preserves is a popular place to spot migrating songbirds.
The bridge between Half Day and Wright Woods forest preserves is a popular place to spot migrating songbirds. - Courtesy of Jeff Goldberg
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We reached out to some of our history, trail and GIS experts to help put together some alternate trail routes and beautiful preserves for you to explore during any season of the year. After all, "Lake County is filled with little pockets of preserved nature," Lake County writer Karen Huffman recently wrote in her blog. Rain or shine, the preserves are always there for you.

Depending on how far you wish to travel, you can choose a shorter route or a longer excursion. There are options for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. Before heading out, check the interactive trail map for current status (open/closed) of preserve trails, community trail connections and trail underpasses: LCFPD.org/maps.

The preserves will remain open 6:30 a.m. to sunset daily as long as visitors adhere to the 6-foot social distancing rule and other public safety and health guidelines. When on the trails, groups of two or more must break into single file and move to the right shoulder when approaching or passing others. If a parking lot is full, use the map to find another preserve nearby.

Southwest region

Fox River

• 28500 W. Roberts Road, Port Barrington

• Length: 1.5 miles

• Surface: Gravel

• Start in the overflow parking lot east of Fox River marina (there is a great view from here of century-old oaks), head west on the red trail and follow the yellow trail loop. If a longer trip is desired, complete additional yellow loops (1.1 miles each).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• History: Acquired in 1990, the Lake County Forest Preserves transformed this former RV campground into one of the county's most beautiful landscapes and recreation destinations.

• Natural scene: This preserve features a large rookery used by herons and egrets, and a fen that supports two state-listed plant species. A pair of bald eagles also nest on the site.

Cuba Marsh

Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve in Deer Park features a 3.1-mile gravel trail perfect in any season.
Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve in Deer Park features a 3.1-mile gravel trail perfect in any season. - Courtesy of John Kavc

• 24205 W. Cuba Road, Deer Park

• Length: 3.1 miles round trip

• Surface: Gravel

• Start in the parking lot and follow the trail to Citizens Park in Barrington and back.

• History: In the 1950s and '60s, many farmers sold their land to investors who planned to develop homes here. Local residents banded together to form "Citizens for Conservation" and helped preserve the property.

• Natural scene: The wetland provides flood relief to nearby homes and cleanses the water that flows into Flint Creek and, eventually, the Fox River.

Grassy Lake

• 23900 W. Kelsey Road, Lake Barrington

• Length: 7.7 miles round trip

• Surface: Gravel

• Start in Kelsey Road parking lot and follow red trail south and east to yellow trail. Take a right and follow yellow trail east to the turnaround and then back to red trail. Then go north on yellow trail to the turnaround and back. Take red trail back to the parking lot.

• History: Native peoples lived in this area and used the abundant local resources for more than 10,000 years. The Fox River and adjacent wetlands, woodlands and prairie provided much of what they needed to thrive.

• Natural scene: Geological landforms such as kettles and kames tell of Lake County's glacial shaping. The panoramic view from the vista on top of the kame here is breathtaking.

Southeast region

Des Plaines River Trail/Wilmot Woods

• 15645 W. Oak Spring Road, Libertyville

• Length: 4 miles round trip

• Surface: Gravel

• From the parking lot at Wilmot Woods canoe launch on Oak Spring Road go south to the DPRT. Follow DPRT west and then north to the Buckley Road underpass. Then return to Oak Spring Road.

• History: Acquiring the land and building a continuous 31.4-mile trail along the Des Plaines River's edge took 57 years and 133 separate land purchases to achieve.

• Natural scene: The greenway protects land along about 75 percent of the river in Lake County, providing wildlife habitat, natural flood protection and outdoor recreation opportunities.

• River trail: The river itself offers an entirely different set of views. Six launch sites are featured along the river to drop in a canoe or kayak.

Half Day and Wright Woods

• 24255 N. Hwy. 21, Vernon Hills

• Length: 6.4 miles

• Surface: Gravel and paved sections

• Start in Half Day and go east of river, connecting to DPRT and then the Wright Woods yellow trail. Continue on Everett Road trail and go east to Riverwoods Road. Follow trail south to Half Day Road (Route 22) and pick up Buffalo Grove-Lincolnshire trail and head west to DPRT. Then return north to parking lot via the DPRT.

• History: In the early 1960s, acres at Half Day were some of the first we acquired.

• Natural scene: The bridge between Half Day and Wright Woods is a popular place to spot migrating songbirds.

Old school and Middlefork Savanna

• 28285 St. Mary's Road, Mettawa

• Length: 12.4 miles

• Surface: Gravel and paved sections

• From Old School shelter D/E parking lot go south on yellow trail to DPRT then northwest on DPRT to North Shore Path. Head east on North Shore Path to Middlefork Trail, then south on that to Elawa Farm and Middlefork Savanna parking lot. Return back to Old School via Middlefork Trail, North Shore Path and Old School blue loop.

• History: Old School was the first forest preserve in Illinois to blend native prairie restoration with recreation facilities.

• Natural scene: The landscape at Old School resembles what Lake County looked like when it was first settled.

• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.

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