Birding & Bison
Escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and head out into the lush, tranquil greenery of prairie lands, nature preserves and state parks along the I&M Canal.
Start your tour in Lyons
CHICAGO PORTAGE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Stand upon the same ground traversed by Native Americans, famed explorers, and early settlers. See the vital crossroads where French fur traders would “portage” their goods across a narrow marshy area separating the waters of the Great Lakes from those of the Mississippi River. Highlights include a must-see monument to Jacques Marquette, Louis Jolliet and their Native American guides as well as several interpretive panels.
Available monthly tours last about 90 minutes and involve walking half a mile along the gravel path through the woods. Due to the rustic natural setting of the portage and Mud Lake area, long pants and sturdy walking shoes are recommended attire.
Chicago Portage National Historic Site, 4800 S. Harlem Ave, Lyons, IL 60534. Check the website for hours and other visitor information.
Continue on to Hodgkins
SANTE FE PRAIRIE NATURE PRESERVE
Imagine what Illinois, the “Prairie State,” must have looked like hundreds of years ago when covered by these colorful native grasslands. Here, life-size steel silhouettes, a viewing deck, and several interpretive panels tell the story of this 10.5-acre extant “wet” prairie remnant, an ecological treasure where the state’s acclaimed prairie restoration movement began. Stop at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway caboose, open on weekends and serving as the geologically unique site’s visitor center.
Santa Fe Prairie Nature Preserve, 7100 River Rd, Hodgkins, IL 60525. Visit the Nature Preserve’s Facebook page (link to the left) for more information.
Make your way to Darien
WATERFALL GLEN FOREST PRESERVE
Located in Darien, just outside the historic canal town of Lemont, is Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, encompassing nearly 2,500 acres of ecologically diverse habitats that are home to over 740 native plant species. Lose yourself amid peaceful prairies, savannas and oak-maple woodlands. Preserve the moment with a photo from one of the scenic overlooks. Hike, bike or cross-country ski to some of Waterfall Glen’s most scenic areas via four mapped trails containing almost 11 miles of limestone- and turf-covered routes.
As you explore, notice the ridges and scattered potholes that make up the topography of Waterfall Glen–and most of DuPage County. These are the result of one geological event, the Wisconsin Glacier. In fact, the entire Des Plaines River Valley was formed by glacial meltwaters and drainage from a postglacial lake that covered most of the Chicagoland area.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Northgate Road & Cass Avenue, Darien, IL 60561. Check the Forest Preserve website for hours and other visitor information.
WHERE TO EAT
Old Vilnius Café, 2601 75th St.
Tai San Chef, 2813 83rd St.
Blueberry Hill Breakfast Café, 7340 Ill. Rte. 83
Zazzo’s Pizzeria, 7360 Ill. Rte. 83,
Darien Chop Suey, 7516 S. Cass Ave.
Chuck’s Southern Comforts Café, 8025 S. Cass Ave.
Chiba Japanese Restaurant, 801 Plainfield Rd.
Jam N Jelly Café, 7511 Lemont Rd.
Home Run Inn, 7521 Lemont Rd.
Head over to Lemont
I&M CANAL TRAILS IN LEMONT
Enjoy 3 miles of hiking and biking trails looped around spectacular quarry lakes along the Lemont section of the I&M Canal. Four pedestrian bridges provide access to this nearly 100-acre pristine natural area.
During construction of the I&M Canal, fine-grade limestone was discovered here and led to a mining boom that lasted 50 years. After the quarry industry declined, underground springs filled the depressions left behind, creating freshwater lakes, which you can now fish.
Heritage Quarries Recreation Area, Main Street and Talcott Avenue, Lemont, IL 60439. A large parking area is situated at the main entrance to the Heritage Quarries, on the south side of the I&M Canal. Four smaller parking areas are distributed throughout the park and can be accessed from the north side of the canal. There is no cost for parking at these Village of Lemont lots.
Conclude your tour in Wilmington
MIDEWIN NATIONAL TALLGRASS PRAIRIE
Begin your visit to Midewin at the Welcome Center located between Wilmington and Elwood along Ill. Rte. 53. Here you will see exhibits designed to lay the groundwork for your exploration, whether on your own or participating in one of the guided field trips or other programs.
Only an hour from Chicago, this reconstructed grassland was formerly the site of the Joliet Arsenal. Now researchers, biologists, ecologists and local partners are working to restore this incredible, 30-mile area to its natural state.
About 13,000 acres of Midewin are currently open to the public, including over 34 miles of trails. About 22 miles of those trails are shared by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians. Watch a thriving herd of more than two dozen American bison roam across the vast pasture lands and rolling landscape. Bring your binoculars for optimum viewing. Before you leave, be sure to check out the variety of gifts and outstanding literature in the Midewin Interpretive Association’s bookstore.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Welcome Center, 30239 S. Ill. Rte. 53, Wilmington, IL 60481. Visit the Midewin website for hours and additional information.
WHERE TO EAT
Big Fish Bar & Grille, 27425 S. Will Rd.
Nelly’s, 140 Bridge St.
Wilmington House Family Restaurant, 210 Bridge St