Chicago, IL: Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area

Scout for waterbirds in the marshes and peer through dense tallgrass on this easygoing 5.25-mile hike through Goose Lake Prairie.
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Scout for waterbirds in the marshes and peer through dense tallgrass on this easygoing 5.25-mile hike through Goose Lake Prairie.

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area bears a close resemblance to Illinois’s landscape 150 years ago, when a sea of prairie grass covered the Prairie State. While exploring the state’s largest stand of tallgrass prairie, you’ll find cattail marshes, small ponds visited by waterbirds, and dozens of species of flowers and prairie plants. In July, the prairie explodes with wildflowers of all shades; in September, goldenrod and compass plants form a yellow carpet over the landscape. Near the park’s ponds, watch for great blue herons, kingfishers, and snapping turtles.Mapped by Ted Villaire

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 8.4

Waypoints

GLP001

Location: 41.3604698, -88.3176498

Head south from the visitor center parking lot. On this stretch of trail, you'll likely see red-winged blackbirds perched on the tallgrasses and swallows swooping overhead.

GLP002

Location: 41.3583908, -88.3177567

Continue straight @ T-junction with trail that branches to picnic area.

GLP003

Location: 41.3493538, -88.3157425

Prairie View Trail loops start here. Continue straight @ T-junction.

GLP004

Location: 41.3474655, -88.3089905

Take the spur trail right up the small hill, a remnant of a former coal strip mine. From the top, you'll see sparkling ponds and reedy marshes scattered among the huge expanse of grassland. Retrace your steps back to the visitor center.

GLP005

Location: 41.3606339, -88.316864

Start the second part of the hike--the Tall Grass Nature Trail, Marsh Loop, and photo-blind trail--behind the visitor center. From the mapboard, follow the mowed trail right.

GLP006

Location: 41.3581238, -88.3147583

Big bluestem grass, one of the most common of tallgrass prairie plants, lines the trail. This type of grass reaches 10 feet in height late in the summer and takes on hues of steely gray, wine red, and muted lavender. Indian grass, prairie cordgrass, and sedge grasses grow in the wet spots.

GLP007

Location: 41.3587074, -88.3112106

Continue straight @ T-junction.

GLP008

Location: 41.3594513, -88.3108902

Turn right @ T-junction onto Marsh Loop.

GLP009

Location: 41.359417, -88.3073959

Continue straight ahead @ T-junction near the pond.

GLP010

Location: 41.361042, -88.3062363

Continue straight @ T-junction.

GLP011

Location: 41.3670273, -88.3094482

A photo blind on the northern end of the route allows you to discreetly observe the waterbirds in one of the many marshes in the park.

GLP012

Location: 41.3625793, -88.3108368

Turn right @ T-junction.

GLP013

Location: 41.3627625, -88.3163757

Turn left @ T-junction and check out the Cragg Cabin, a replica of one of the first homes in the area. Originally built in 1830 south of the park, the cabin was a stopover for travelers and for cowboys as they herded cattle through the prairie from St. Louis to the stockyards of Chicago.

GLP014

Location: 41.3609352, -88.3141937

From the cabin, follow the trail right to return to the visitor center.

Prairie View Trail

Location: 41.3476982, -88.3089371

After taking the spur trail up a small hill--a remnant of a former coal strip mine--on the Prairie View Trail, you'll see sparkling ponds and reedy marshes scattered among the huge expanse of grassland. © Ted Villaire

Observation Platform

Location: 41.3606987, -88.3165207

The observation platform attached to the back of the visitor center building: In July, the prairie explodes with wildflowers of all shades; in September, goldenrod and compass plants form a yellow carpet over the landscape. © Ted Villaire

Cragg Cabin

Location: 41.3610382, -88.3140106

Cragg Cabin is a replica of one of the first homes in the area. Originally built in 1830 south of the park, the cabin was a stopover for travelers and for cowboys as they herded cattle through the prairie from St. Louis to the stockyards of Chicago. © Ted Villaire

Prairie Views

Location: 41.3610954, -88.3062973

Along the Marsh Loop and heading toward the photo blind, look for tall yellow-flowered compass plants, small crab apple trees, and an attractive prairie grass called Canada wild rye, which has a large, bushy, nodding seed head. © Ted Villaire

Snapping Turtle

Location: 41.3594246, -88.3073349

The Marsh Loop area is a good place to watch for great blue herons, kingfishers, and ornery snapping turtles. © Ted Villaire