In Lake County and, really, Illinois at large, there is no shortage of open space. Sure, we have buildings and downtown areas, but we also enjoy the parks and other recreational areas that surround us. Here are some of our favorites, including what makes them unique and why you should make it a point to visit. Check out these five awesome parks in Lake County, Illinois:
Illinois Beach State Park
If you’re looking for water breezes, green space, and plenty to do, look no further than Illinois Beach State Park. Located along six miles of Lake Michigan’s shore, this park takes up over 4,000 acres. If you want to stick to the water area and your friends would rather do something completely different, feel free to separate from the crowd — there is truly something for everyone.
At the water, you’ll find dune areas and wetlands and plenty of areas to walk along the shore, letting your toes sink into the sand, then washing it all away in the water. Whether you visit early in the morning when the sun is just rising or come in the middle of the afternoon when most others are there too, you’ll feel the calmness of the park. Recreational activities at Illinois Beach State Park include hiking, bicycling, jogging, and boating. You can also camp here or set up a lovely picnic.
The far end of the park to the south is a nature preserve which joined the National Natural Landmark registry in 1980.
Independence Grove Forest Preserve
Independence Grove is formed around a 115-acre lake, so you know that visiting this spot will provide calmness to a hectic day. This is the spot you go when you want to be near the water and take in your surroundings through hiking, biking, and picnicking, which you can do along the 6.25 miles of paths. While dogs are not allowed in the main preserve areas, there is the Independence Grove Dog Park that your furry friends will love to romp around in.
In the middle of summer, the cafe will be your new favorite spot as you’ll feel a surge of happiness when they hand over your ice cream cone. Take it along on your walk on the shore as you let the water lap at your feet. Then, get ready for some fun. Independence Grove has plenty of recreational sports available to take advantage of, like fishing boats, stand up paddleboards, kayaks, paddle boats, canoes, and bikes.
Independence Grove even has an area for the kids. Their play environment offers plenty of sensory parts perfect for children of all abilities.
Independence Grove areas don’t end there. Take in the gardens, fountains, sand volleyball court, and fishing pier, or carve out some time for birdwatching.
Volo Bog State Natural Area
Volo Bog State Natural Area lies less than an hour from Chicago’s downtown, but you’d think you entered a whole new world. No skyscrapers, but instead, an unobstructed view of the sky and all the beautiful surroundings. A bog is a wetland that attracts and accumulates dead plant material, but this material makes for the perfect spot for some wildlife that thrive here. Volo Bog is the only open-water bog in the state of Illinois, so visitors may get a glimpse of an unfamiliar species of animal or plant.
Since 1970, the original Volo Bog has extended an additional 1,100 acres to include many more areas of wildlife, woodlands, prairies, additional bogs, and trails. All the Volo Bog area is on the official Nature Preserve list.
Not only are there picnic areas here, with tables and an available grill, but there is also the Volo Bog Visitor’s Center that is housed in a restored dairy barn. Bring the kids because this center has a program classroom, library, and exhibits, including a hands-on discovery area.
The programs don’t end with the visitor’s center, either — Volo Bog hosts bird walks, themed nature hikes such as ones focused on botany, insects, and animal tracking, and astronomy nights. Kids can check out the youth programs available to them, while anyone can sign up for volunteer opportunities designed to educate the public and perform tasks like bird monitoring, gardening, and habitat restoration.
Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area
The Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area is a unique nature preserve with a rich history. What started as the location for Lake County’s first European settler became land owned by the Ryerson family who then donated parcels of their land to the Lake County Forest Preserves. The result is this beautiful conservation area where rare species take up residence.
Available activities abound at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area, from over 6.5 miles of scenic trails, including wooded paths and those that go right along the Des Plaines River, to a farm area where families can pet farm animals and visit butterflies in the rain gardens. For something different, have the younger kids claim an explorer backpack on their visit. These packs are filled with nature-themed activities they can complete on their exploratory travels through the area.
A visit to this conservation area provides more than a quick walk around — you’ll leave having learned something new and feeling appreciative of nature.
Rosewood Beach is an award-winning beach located right in Highland Park. Here, enjoy swimming in the pristine water, walking along the boardwalk, and learning in one of the ecological and nature programs. The combination of breezy air, lapping water, and soft sand will transport you outside the city and into another state of mind. This is a perfect spot to visit on any weekend to decompress from the prior week and prepare for the week ahead.
If you want to be one with nature, these awesome parks in Lake County get the job done, and you won’t be disappointed with a visit to any of them. If you have any favorite areas in Lake County that we should add to the list, contact us so we can publish an update.