Escape from Chicago’s Bustle at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area, IL

Escape the city at this wild respite just a stone’s throw from downtown Chicago


Choose your own adventure in these sugar maple and white oak-dense flatwoods along the Des Plaines River in Ryerson Conservation Area, where 6.5 miles of winding dirt trails and wooden footbridges weave through the 565-acre Illinois Nature Preserve. Straight from the trailhead, the sounds of nature  engulf you—you’d never guess you’re just 35-minutes northwest of the heart of Chicago. The 3.2-mile outer loop trail, which hugs the river for most of the hike, is a great spot for glimpsing over 150 species of local birds, and even passes a historic log cabin that once served as a weekend escape from city life.

Duration: 1 day

Difficulty: 1/5

Overall: 2/5

Turn-by-Turn From Visitor Center Parking Lot Trailhead

  1. Head west on Outer Loop Trail. Turn right at mile .6 and continue straight, reaching the log cabin at the edge of Des Plaines River at mile 1.
  2. Follow the trail around the backside of the cabin, resting a moment to watch the shallow rapids tumbling by before turning right at the T-junction to stay on the outer loop. 
  3. Continue straight for  .5 mile, crossing a few short footbridges between miles 1.1 and 1.3 as you wind deeper into the oak forest. Nine different species of oaks can be found here, supporting a unique ecosystem that once covered most of this region of Illinois.
  4. Hike past the T-junction and small cabin on your left at mile 1.4, continuing straight for 1.2 miles.
  5. At the three-way intersection at mile 2.5, head straight to continue north and end your hike back at the Visitor Center.

Permit None Contact Ryerson Conservation Area GPX

Photo: “Des Plaines River” by plunkettb is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo: “Pileated Woodpecker – Ryerson Conservation Area” by plunkettb is licensed under CC BY 2.0