Illinois Nature Preserves and Water Reserves

Illinois Nature Preserves and Water Reserves

Illinois is the 25th US state in size, with less than 20% of its territory covered by forests. Still, there are over 360 detached nature preserves and almost 170 water and land reserves. Together, they are totaling around 100,000 acres, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The preserves are available in 83 counties, while the land and water protected areas in 67 countries. Cook County has the highest density in this respect, being home to 27 Illinois Nature Preserves and 5 Water & Land Reserves. The purpose of all that is for over 900 plant and animal endangered species to be saved and protected.

The Illinois Law takes care of unique landscapes and ecosystems as well. Across the preserves can be seen the state’s symbolic tallgrass prairies, sandstone bluffs, swamps and bogs, and endless oak savannas. These lands can be public or private and are often open for visiting under certain rules and regulations. These are the last remnants of what the state looked like before the colonization of North America. These days, humanity faces a lot of difficult challenges, like climate changes, resource reduction, and food supply, which causes areas like these to be constantly disappearing. We’ll introduce some of the Illinois Nature Preserves and Land and Water Reserves in the next few paragraphs.

Top Illinois Preserve Districts

As we already mentioned, Cook County hosts the largest number of nature preserves in Illinois. They are totaling over 10,000 acres and include wetlands, tallgrass prairies, mixed forests, and bogs. You should know that parking and dogs are not allowed everywhere, so you need to do short research before heading to any of them. On the other hand, some preserves like the Burnham Prairie and Baker’s Lake are suitable for bird spotting and hiking. Fishing is prohibited everywhere! Here are some of the Cook County National Preserves offering amenities and car parking nearby:

  • Baker’s Lake – near Barrington
  • Black Partridge Woods – near Lemont
  • Bluff Spring Fen – near Elgin
  • Deer Grove – near Palatine
  • Harms Woods – near Skokie
  • Jurgensen Woods – near Thornton
  • Somme Prairie Grove – near Northbrook
  • Spring Lake – near Barrington Hills
  • Wampum Lake – near Thornton
  • Wolf Road Prairie – near Westchester.

Other Illinois Preserve Districts worth your attention are those within Byron County, Crawford County, Platt County, and Rock Island County. Most preserves are with limited access, so you can practice various activities in certain areas only. For example, boating and kayaking are possible for only a few months during the year and within particular limits. Keep in mind that visiting any of the Illinois Nature Preserves requires permission obtained in advance.

Each forest, prairie, or river park provides a magnificent variety of plants and wildlife. We love the River Otter and Blue Spotted Salamander, although they are quite difficult to spot. However, if you are patient and have binoculars, you might get lucky. Plenty of birds are nesting around, so keep your eyes open for Black Crowned Night Heron, Pileated Woodpecker, Blackburnian Warbler, or Northern Cardinal, which is the Illinois State Bird. If you prefer flora, forests and naturally preserved areas have plenty to offer, including mighty White Oaks, Elms, Black Willows, and Maples. Look around for some unique specimens, like Eastern White Fringed Orchid, too.

Land & Water Reserves in Illinois

Although shorter, the Illinois Land and Water Reserve list is no less impressive! There are many locations to visit across the state, but we have selected to present those within Cook County:

  • Bartel Grassland – located near Tinley Park, the reserve is open for visitors during the whole year. There is parking available and some basic amenities, like portable bathrooms. Bartel Grassland Land & Water Reserve is ranked with the highest score by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission for quality of nature. It’s a perfect hotspot for watching birds!
  • Bobolink Meadow – it’s also located in the Tinley Park area, and you can visit both places (Bartel Grassland) in one day. Look for parking next to Killdeer Wetlands and Bobolink Family Picnic Area.
  • Bergman Slough – near Palos Park. This Water & Land Reserve is accessible only on foot as boating is prohibited and car parking is not available. Fishing is also not allowed, but there are regular volunteer opportunities organized by the county.
  • Jens Jensen Grasslands & Woods Land & Water Reserve – part of the large Deer Grove Preserve near Palatine. There is trail access, and the place is suitable for hiking, bird spotting, bicycling, and cross-country skiing, but no fishing and parking are available.
  • Orland Grassland – located near Orland Park, the Reserve offers hiking trails of approximately 13 miles. Most of the surface is unpaved, but the area is suitable for all activities, including dog walk on leash only.

Save and Protect – INPC

The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission’s mission is to safeguard nature’s treasures. The authority acts in 4 steps – identification, protection, stewardship, and defense. INPC helps private landowners and public-land administrators to preserve high-quality natural areas and habitats. There are thousands of endangered and threatened animal and plant species that can not survive unless we protect them. The Commission organizes frequent volunteer activities aiming to educate people on how to enjoy and guard the fragile ecosystems at the same time.

Final Words

Illinois is an amazing place to be for many reasons, and Nature Preserves and Land & Water Reserves are one of them. If you enjoy spending your free time hiking, walking or bicycling, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate the beautiful forest trails, prairies, and wetlands. Almost every county across the state provides easy access to many protected areas. Browse the Illinois National Parks, too, as you will find excellent accommodation nearby. They are more suitable for camping than the nature preserves, and some allow hunting and fishing. Refrain from such initiatives in the protected territories and appreciate the nature around us so that it can last longer!