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Chicago Trails

Chicago, IL: Morton Arboretum East Side Loops

Link Morton Arboretum's gently rolling east side loops for a 3.4-mile tour cruising ornamental rhododendrons, an autumn rainbow of beech, and 500 acres of oak and sugar maple woodlands--a veritable smorgasbord for tree lovers.

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This 3.4-mile loop in the Morton Arboretum starts at the Big Rock Visitor Station and makes a single counter clockwise loop that links the park’s four shorter loop trails. Beginning on Loop 3, the route cruises a damp ravine–look for moisture-loving trees, such as red oaks, basswood, and green ash. Before turning joining Loop 2 and cruising the Appalachia collection. Loop 1 dips south through a tidy collection of azaleas, rhododendrons and a collection of Korean native plants–look for the eastern redbud tree’s prolific pink flowers near the stone platform at mile 1.1–before tuning west and rejoining Loop 2 to wrap around the Bur Reed Marsh. The south side of Loop 3 cuts through a savanna and woodland containing 43 oak species from around the world. The last 1.1 miles of this route follow Loop 4 through the natural woodlands known as the East Woods. You may see controlled burns and volunteers removing invasive plants alongside the trail as part of the arboretum’s active restoration efforts in the 500 acre native space.
Use caution where the wide, chipped-wood trails cross the arboretum road, though traffic is light, you’ll cross the road several times following this route. Also, be prepared for the per-person entrance fee (except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Arbor Day when it’s free) and consider the arboretum as a winter destination as well. The trails are open to skiers and snowshoers when snow covers the trails.
-Mapped by Ted Villaire


Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5.4



Location: 41.818832, -88.047255

This hike begins at the Big Rock Visitor Station. Consider spending a few minutes on the short paved trail here, its interpretive panels and signage will introduce you to some of the plants and animals you might encounter on your hike. Note: there are porta-poti style restrooms here, but no water, so bring enough for your hike.


Location: 41.8186, -88.047094

Begin by following Main Trail Loop 3 west (to the right) from the far side of the park road, across the street from the visitors center. You’ll skirt the north side of the parking lot and follow the wide, chipped-wood path a few hundred yards before crossing the park road twice.


Location: 41.819752, -88.052148

Stay straight ahead on Main Trail Loop 2 at this 3-way junction with the connector trail that runs left. After entering a flat, dense woodland, cross a wooden footbridge spanning a small ravine.


Location: 41.817752, -88.061138

After crossing the park road again at mile 0.75, stay right to continue following this route west on Main Trail Loop 1. As you cruise the arboretum’s Appalachia Collection, look for the northern catalpa tree (it has long, thin, bean-like fruit and large white flowers that bloom in the spring).


Location: 41.816841, -88.065859

Bypass the Geographical Trail on the right and follow the loop trail as it turns south. Up ahead you’ll pass through the arboretum’s collection of azaleas, rhododendrons, and a dazzling rainbow of other ornamental shrubs.


Location: 41.815704, -88.066358

Turn left at this stone platform marking a major trail junction. This is the westernmost point on this mapped route, but it’s also the nearest point to the Arboretum’s main visitor center. It’s a little more than a half-mile out-and-back on the west-bound trail from this point to the visitor center and facilities. In early spring, look for masses of pink flowers sprouting from the eastern redbud tree near this junction.


Location: 41.815885, -88.059658

Stay straight on the Main Trail Loop 2 and use caution crossing the park road up ahead. The upcoming trail cruises the Buckeye Collection which features 24 varieties of tree and shrub forms of buckeye and horse-chestnut.


Location: 41.816329, -88.054508

Near mile 1.8, stop at Burr Reed Marsh. The short boardwalk and viewing platform offers a perfect spot to survey water birds in the marsh’s open water during migratory months. The variety of plants and berries at the arboretum makes it one of the better birding spots in the area. After the marsh, stay right at the junction.


Location: 41.814538, -88.050946

Continue straight on Main Trail Loop 3 at this junction just before the Oak collection. The trail climbs gently as it heads south then west for the next 0.75 miles.


Location: 41.813099, -88.047813

Stay right at the trail junction at parking lot 8. This route continues west on Trail Loop 4.


Location: 41.812699, -88.040196

At the loop’s southeast corner, turn left and follow the sign for parking lot 13 (the Big Rock Visitor Station). You’ll cross the park road twice within the next 0.25 miles.


Location: 41.817881, -88.042449

Stay right at this 3-way junction to return to the Big Rock Visitor Station.


Location: 41.819763, -88.052502

Expect the trail to be well maintained year-round. Occasional features like this wooden footbridge interrupt the wood-chip covered trail.

Burr Reed Marsh

Location: 41.816185, -88.05366

Burr Reed Marsh

Location: 41.816153, -88.05468

Skirts this marshy wetland near mile 1.8.

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