If you’re looking for an easy day get away from the city and into natural serenity, look no further than Deer Grove Forest Preserve located in Palatine, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Deer Grove offers a myriad of different activities to connect you with to nature. At 1,800 acres you’ll have no trouble finding a spot to enjoy the peace and quiet without the busy bustling of the city.
Deer Grove is split into two sections, Deer Grove East and Deer Grove West. Deer Grove is one of the oldest preserves in the Cook County forest preserve system, and now thanks to several years of restoration work, it looks most like historic Illinois. It boasts an expansive wetland, prairie, and savanna ecosystem, perfect habitat for many native plants and animals. Openlands has been working closely with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the Army Corp of Engineers and other partners to ensure that this preserve is available to humans and animals alike for generations to come. You can learn more about the restoration project here.
Deer Grove West is more heavily wooded and supports over 300 unique species of native woodland plants along with a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. In 2015 a $3.15 million restoration plan was announced and will be implemented in the upcoming years. This project will include tree and brush removal work enabling oak regeneration and improved growth of other native plant species.
If traveling by car, exit at Route 53 from I-90/I-290 and travel north to Dundee Road, then head west until you reach Deer Grove. Likewise, from I-94, you can exit at Dundee Road and travel west.
You can also bring your bike on the Metra and take the UP-NW to Palatine, and take a short ride north to Deer Grove.
What can you do at Deer Grove Forest Preserve?
- Biking, Hiking, Horseback Riding, and Running: The Deer Grove Trail System is a total of 16.1 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Peddle or jog though the vast open prairie and savanna and take in the sea of colorful native flowers as you go along. You can see a map of the trail system here. The Deer Grove Trail System also links with the Palatine Trail enabling bicycling past the boundaries of the preserve.
- Camping: Yes that’s right, now you can camp right in Cook County! This is perfect if you’re looking for a weekend getaway from the city without going far at all. If you’re not a frequent camper, don’t fret, you can rent gear so that you don’t have to go out and buy camping equipment for just one weekend. The preserves also offer free programs for campers to keep the whole family entertained. Reserve your campsite here. Camping is only available in Deer Grove East.
- Birding: Plenty of wetlands, woodlands, and restored prairie make Deer Grove a beautiful habitat for birds. Wake up bright and early and catch them at their most active time near sunrise. Their songs and calls bring the preserve to life as the sun begins to rise. See if you can find the Sandhill crane with its baby this season!
- Picnicking: Picnic shelters are available throughout the preserve at most parking areas, as shown on the map. Take a nice shaded lunch break after your activities.
- Winter activities: There are still opportunities to get outside in the wintertime when you’re vitamin D deprived and suffering from nature withdrawals. The trails at Deer Grove double as cross country ski trails and you can also find a sledding hill near the main parking lot off Quentin Road.
- Model Airplanes: Deer Grove East has a field dedicated to flying model airplanes. The field is located off of Dundee Road as shown on the map.
- Explore! Learn about the different prairie plants and grassland birds. If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagramer, bring your camera or phone and show the world the mosaic of purples, yellow, and blues!
Make a day (or weekend!) of it.
- Crabtree Nature Center: So you’ve decided to camp and the kids are getting cranky, take them to Crabtree Nature Center just 15 minutes away from Deer Grove! It features a huge outdoor play area for kids. Inside the center you can learn about the animals that live there and even see some live turtles and snakes!
- Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve: Just around the corner from Deer Grove Forest Preserve lies Cuba Marsh, home to spectacular wetlands and woodlands worth exploring. Learn more.
- Busse Woods: A short drive to the southeast of Deer Grove is another phenomenal unit of the Cook County Forest Preserves — Busse Woods. It is a great place to enjoy fishing, paddling, birding, and more, as well as the extensive eight mile trail system. Busse Woods is also the start of the Salt Creek Water Trail.
- Farmers’ Market: Stick with the “au naturel” theme and head over to the Palatine Farmers’ Market every Saturday, May-October from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Palatine Street Fest: If you visit Deer Grove the weekend of August 26-27, you’ll catch the Street Fest for some live music and family fun!
- Dining: Treat yourself and try a new restaurant while you’re in Palatine.