Explore Cook County Forest Preserves. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County, with more than 69,000-acres, is the largest forest preserve district in the United States. It receives an estimated 40 million visits each year. The locations are too numerous but you can search by facilities and activity on the CCFP website. This post is an overview of what is offered. The website is very well done and is easy to navigate. While most CCFP locations are only accessible by car parking and almost all activities and events are free.
- 6 Nature Centers: Open year round
- 3 aquatic centers: Day swimming or membership includes a fee.
- 5 camping sites: low cost and close to home so you can still sleep under the stars but not spend a ton of money on gas.
- 10 golf courses and 4 driving ranges: Sign up to receive texts with last minute deals.
- 11 boat ramps: Boat, canoe and kayak rentals are available at Busse Resevoir, Maple Lake, Tampier Lake and Skokie Lagoons. Lessons, tours, bait and food available at some locations.
- 4 snowmobile areas: Snowmobilers must register with CCFP $50 resident/$100 non-resident.
- 283 picnic groves: Have a party. Apply for permits early as they sellout. Registration opened 1/3/17.
- 9 model airplane and drone flying fields: Check out the rules and regulations. Certification and/or insurance required.
- 4 model boat areas
- many designated sledding hills: Sledding hills are open when the ground is frozen and covered with a minimum of three inches of snow.
- 100 miles of paved bicycle trails and over 200 miles of multi-use trails: Paved and unpaved trails offer hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and equestrian.
- Bicycling: Bike Rentals (available at Dan Ryan Woods and on the North Branch Trail at Caldwell Woods, Bunker Hill, Harms Woods, Tower Road/Skokie Lagoons and the Chicago Botanic Garden).
- Birding: Printable birding checklist. Some CCFP locations offer birding events.
- Dogs: Access to Off-Leash Dog Areas require registration for a fee.
- Equestrian activities: Every horse using the Forest Preserve trails is required to wear a horse tag. Each rider must also possess a rider’s license. Glen Grove Equestrian Center in Morton Grove, a vendor-operated equestrian center, offers boarding facilities, indoor and outdoor riding areas, retail concessions, riding lessons and pony rides. The facility is open year-round. Visit their website for more information.
- Fishing: Over 40 lakes for recreational sport fishing. The Fishing Guide lists all fishing and boating regulations, locations, maps and other fishing and boating information.
- Zip line: The seven-acre course, built and operated by Go Ape, offers guests a unique two to three hour trek through the forest canopy. Bemis Woods-South 1100 Ogden Avenue Western Springs, IL. 2016 prices: Adults (16+) $58, Children (10-15) $37, Junior Course (All Ages) $27.
Other things to see and do
Winter only activities:
Cross-Country skiing: Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont offers a complete Nordic Ski Program, including lessons for all ability levels, nature ski tours and ski rentals. Groomed and tracked cross-country ski trails provide both novice and advanced skiers an excellent cross-country ski experience.
Snowshoeing: is permitted in all parts of the Forest Preserves, and Crabtree Nature Center, River Trail Nature Center and Trailside Museum of Natural History lend snowshoeing equipment free of charge. Limited number of snowshoes available.
Ice Fishing: Ice Fishing is permitted during the winter season at 22 designated lakes and sloughs throughout the County.
Sledding and Coasting: The Forest Preserve District offers 10 hills for sledding. Sledding hills are open when the ground is frozen and covered with a minimum of three inches of snow.
Snowmobiling: Snowmobile at 4 designated locations in Cook County. Snowmobiles must be registered in order to operate on any CCFP property $50 resident/$100 non-resident.
Ice Skating: Ice skating is permitted on six Forest Preserve District lakes on a “skate at your own risk” basis.