Have You Discovered the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve?


Just north of the City of Chicago sits a mile of lakefront beach and a series of unique ecosystems, which are home to a rich array of plants and wildlife. After 10 years of restoration work, the site has become a natural treasure, earning distinctions as a registered Illinois Nature Preserve and an International Dark-sky Preserve. This is the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.

During the fall, this preserve is a beauty to behold. The changing leaves paint the bluffs and ravines in deep reds and vibrant yellows, accompanied by the more muted yellows, whites, and purples of goldenrods and asters. Birds hop around the trails and land in the trees, taking a break from their long fall migration. Small mammals like squirrels and chipmunks are also particularly active, gathering up nuts and seeds as they prepare for winter.

In spring and summer you can walk the beach, bring your binoculars to glimpse some rare birds, or take time to explore the rare ravines. The steep ravines were formed by erratic lake levels and glacial meltwater after the last Ice Age about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago! Even in winter the Lakeshore Preserve offers some unique perspectives to appreciate nature.

Then, of course, there is the lake. Visible from all points along the various trails, Lake Michigan provides a gorgeous backdrop for all of this land-based activity. You can walk along the shore, or you can walk the trails on top of the bluffs, almost 70 feet in the air.

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You can visit the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve all year, and access is quick for residents in the Chicago region.

  • If you are traveling on the Metra Union Pacific North line, the Lakeshore Preserve is approximately a mile-long walk from either the Highwood or Fort Sheridan stations. The west access point of Bartlett Ravine and the Bartlett Ravine stairs are accessible from the Fort Sheridan stop, and the southern access of the Hamill Family Upland Trail is accessible from the Highwood stop.
  • If traveling by car, you can use the Half Day Rd exit on I-94 and travel east to Sheridan Rd. Additional directions are available here.

What can you do at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve?

  • Biking, Hiking, and Running: A series of trails traverse the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, making it a great place for daily recreation or just a quiet stroll. We have put together some additional information on the trails at the Lakeshore Preserve and be sure to take a look at the public art!
  • Birding and Wildlife Viewing: The Lakeshore Preserve is home to many wildlife species as well as some very unique microclimates. You can also see the results of Openlands’ continued restoration work here, including the planting of native grasses and the creation of riffles and pools in the streams. These measures help to reduce erosion and provide healthier habitat for native animals.
  • Picnicking: The Lakeshore Preserve is an excellent place to spend a day and there are few better views for a picnic than those of Lake Michigan.
  • Winter activities: Visitors have access to the trails system all year long.
  • Discover! Learn about the different ravine ecosystems and glacial processes that formed the landscape, enjoy the views of Lake Michigan or use art to engage with nature in a new way. If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagramer, bring your camera or phone and show the world what you discover! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.

The combination of natural activity, restoration work, and stunning views makes the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve a unique nature experience for Chicagoans. For more information, please contact lakeshorepreserve@openlands.org.

2020 Construction update: Beginning October 19, 2020 the preserve will be temporarily closed for at least three weeks for a shoreline protection project. The lakefront, beach, staircases, and ravine trail will remain closed throughout construction. Two blufftop trails will remain open to pedestrians, with access from the main entrance on Patten Road and the south entrance on Walker Avenue. Those two trails remain open from 6:30am to sunset daily.

Check out more of our recommendations for getting outside in the Chicago region.

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