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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
Turn-by-Turn From Visitor Center Parking Lot Trailhead
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hike past the T-junction and small cabin on your left at mile 1.4, continuing straight for 1.2 miles.
- At the three-way intersection at mile 2.5, head straight to continue north and end your hike back at the Visitor Center.