When was the last time you wandered through an ancient grove of oak trees and stumbled upon a hidden pond tucked away quietly in the woods? At Oak Openings Nature Preserve, you can do just that, while exploring a conservation community in the heart of Lake County, Illinois.
Oak Openings Nature Preserve is 73 acres of protected open space in Grayslake providing year-round recreation opportunities, local trail connections, chances to explore a variety of native landscapes, and a central location to start a day enjoying the Liberty Prairie Reserve — the larger conservation community and network of protected lands surrounding Oak Openings.
Liberty Prairie Reserve encompasses nearly 6,000 acres in Lake County, over half of which have been permanently protected as conserved open space through a network of natural landscapes and farmland. It is community of advocates and stewards, passionate about conserving land and wildlife, that has come together to live with a sensitivity towards nature, create a sense of place with the land, and enhance habitat for wildlife on the scale needed to thrive.
There are several ways to discover and enjoy the mosaic of sites comprising the Liberty Prairie Reserve, and we encourage you to explore the entire area for yourself during your trip to Oak Openings.
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Getting There and Site Info
Located in Grayslake, Illinois, Oak Openings Nature Preserve is on the east side of Route 45, half a mile south of Route 120 and just north of Casey Road. Parking is accessible only when traveling north on Route 45. The preserve is also accessible by train, with a stop along both the Milwaukee District North and North Central lines (Prairie Crossing stations).
The Casey Trail passes through Oak Openings and connects to a 12+ mile local trail system. Signage provides additional site and trail information, and dog waste bags are available at the trailhead. There is a portable restroom located in the parking area.
Hike to a Quiet, Hidden Pond
Hidden among the oak groves of the preserve is the quiet Ryan Pond, with a simple shore line perfect for a picnic. As you venture along the Casey Trail, you will notice a shallow creek carving through the trees to the north of the trail — this is Bulls Brook. This creek empties into Ryan Pond, a site protected in Illinois as a Land and Water Reserve. About half a mile along the Casey trail, you’ll come to a dirt path leading away from the gravel path (shown above). This is the Almond Marsh foot path.
Ryan Pond is a registered Illinois Land and Water Reserve. We’ve been told it was dug so sediment in Bulls Brook from the surrounding agricultural lands could settle out before the creek entered the high quality Almond Marsh wetlands, which are also protected as an Illinois Nature Preserve.
Wander these dirt trails wherever they take you for a phenomenal adventure through an oak woodland. A short walk will bring you to the pond, and a longer adventure will bring you to benches sitting in the shade of massive trees and entire wetlands within Almond Marsh. This trail winds through a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve, so it is one of the best examples of Illinois wildlife and landscapes.
Please be advised that this is a dirt path with graded sections, small foot bridges, and tree roots crossing the trail. It may not be accessible for all visitors. The trail passes through a dedicated nature preserve, which is home to delicate wildlife, so please do smell and enjoy the flowers, but please do not take any home with you. Additionally, since this trail passes near a wetland, you should be aware of the potential to encounter wildlife and insects. Learn more here about living with wildlife.
Make a day of it!
- Independence Grove Forest Preserve: Independence Grove is the more popular Forest Preserve in Lake County. Located on the eastern boundary of the Reserve, Independence Grove Forest Preserve offers over six miles of trails for hiking, biking, and other outdoor recreation. You can also rent bikes and a variety of boats on-site and explore the 115-acre lake, enjoy a picnic, or take in the picturesque setting for a day outdoors!
- Des Plaines River Water Trail: Launching from Independence Grove, you can explore the Des Plaines River by canoeing or kayaking along the Des Plaines River Water Trail. Lake and Cook County Forest Preserve Districts have protected long stretches of the river by developing a Des Plaines River greenway and bike path along its banks.
- Prairie Crossing Farm: Located across the street from Oak Openings is the Prairie Crossing community and Prairie Crossing Farm. Educational programs and tours are offered through the Liberty Prairie Foundation at the Farm Business Development Center. Learn about the 100 acre certified organic farm or ask about volunteering! You can also check out the calendar for upcoming events.
- Rollins Savanna: One of Lake County’s largest forest preserves, Rollins Savanna offers the perfect setting for grassland birds and other wildlife. A 5.5-mile gravel trail with bridges and boardwalks winds through wetlands, groves of large oaks, and open prairies teeming with wildflowers and native grasses. The trail is open for hiking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing.
- Downtown Libertyville and Grayslake: Enjoy the many shops and restaurants the villages of Libertyville and Grayslake have to offer. Stopping over in the local towns is a great way to show how conservation and eco-tourism can benefit local economies.