A really nice birding hike with views of the largest wetland complex in the Lake Michigan watershed. Flocks of coots, mallards, and wood ducks now glide over the wetland’s surface. Kingfishers, tree swallows, and rusty blackbirds rest during migration. Green herons stalk the shoreline while beaver play in the channels.
The Great Marsh abounds in the diverse animal activity of a healthy wetland ecosystem. During the migration periods, the wetland will be frequented by flocks of ducks and geese. The wading birds like herons and egrets, and the song birds such as warblers and red-winged black birds are abundant.
The Dune Ridge Trail offers great views of the extensive wetlands and forests south of this tall, forested dune. The different habitats you’ll see along the trail help make Indiana Dunes National Park one of the top five most biologically diverse of all the national parks.
The Cowles Bog Trail highlights an area of such outstanding plant diversity that it was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1965. This location, where Dr. Henry Cowles conducted much of his early work in plant ecology and succession in the early 1900s, remains an important focus for scientific study today.
Explore several distinct habitats along this 4.7-mile trail including ponds, marshes, swamps, black oak savannas and beaches. Steep sand dunes near Lake Michigan can make this a strenuous journey. Many visitors pack a lunch to enjoy at the shoreline while resting for the return trip (don’t forget to “pack out” your trash). Make sure to bring plenty of water, sun protection, and extra clothing layers as the weather at the lake can be very different than at the parking lot.
The Little Calumet River, Mnoké Prairie, Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm and Bailly Cemetery trail system reveals the rich natural diversity that has drawn people to this area for over 10,000 years. Hike through a forest dominated by maple, beech, basswood and oak trees.
Follow a stretch of the Little Calumet River, once a critical transportation route for early regional travelers and explore the recently restored Mnoké Prairie for a glimmer of the vast stretches of pre-settlement grasslands. Explore the historic Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm. There are picnic shelters reservable on www.recreation.gov.
Lifeguards are present from the Friday of Memorial Day through the Monday of Labor Day. Lifeguards are not present at other times of the year. Swim at your own risk. Rip currents and large waves can make swimming hazardous. Parking lot holds 600 cars and the best location for summer and holiday weekends. The bath house, picnic tables, restrooms, some picnic shelters, and walkway to the beach are wheelchair accessible. The beach itself is not wheelchair accessible.
There is a $6.00 per car parking fee from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. There are picnic shelters; some are reservable on www.recreation.gov.
Once used for the disposal of slag, a waste product of the steel making process, Indian Ridge Marsh is taking on a new life. This natural area – located in the Southeast Side’s South Deering neighborhood – covers 154 acres between Lake Calumet to the west and the Calumet River to the south. Large portions of the marsh were once filled with dredge material from disposal activities of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2015. Since then, the site is being restored to its historic wetland habitat thanks to the Chicago Park District and its partners. On the north end of the marsh, mulched trails cut through wet prairie, an important habitat once common throughout the Calumet region. Native flowers and grasses offer food and habitat to a myriad of birds and insects. Visitors can walk the trails and connect with nature or relax and take in picturesque marsh and wildlife views. In the center of IRM is a nature play space and picnic tables – it’s a great place to relax, play and enjoy the sights and sounds of the marsh and savanna.
Named for environmental activist Marian R. Byrnes, this 135-acre park is one of Chicago’s largest natural areas. Located in the Southeast Side’s Jeffery Manor neighborhood (where it’s known as “the prairie”), the site encompasses a variety of ecosystems, making it a great place to observe species like frogs, snakes, birds, and deer. After undergoing immense ecological restoration, the park now provides community members with a safe space to relax and connect with nature. Its new asphalt multipurpose trail runs the length of the park, giving visitors access to multiple habitats and unique views.
Located in the South Chicago neighborhood, Steelworkers Park weaves its rich industrial history into present day recreation. Once the site of a thriving steel mill along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, the park is now one of the city’s unique natural areas, perfect for birding, stargazing, and other outdoor fun.
Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at rock climbing up a portion of the repurposed historic ore wall left behind by the steel industry. Or keep your feet on the ground with a relaxing walk or bike ride along meandering nature paths lined with native grasses and plants.
The Burnham Wildlife Corridor (BWC) is a 100-acre ribbon of urban wilderness running through Burnham Park. The corridor is composed of 3 main natural areas including the Burnham Centennial Prairie, Burnham Nature Sanctuary, and McCormick Bird Sanctuary. The corridor spans both sides of Lake Shore Drive, and is the largest stretch of natural area along Chicago’s lakefront. Its native prairie, savanna, and woodland ecosystems provide healthy, diverse habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, and offer opportunities for visitors to meaningfully connect to this revitalized public green space in ways that inspire nature exploration, enjoyment, and stewardship.
The Burnham Wildlife Corridor is home to five unique “gathering spaces,” which have been designed and created — and will be activated — by teams of local artists and community-based organizations from the Chinatown, Bronzeville, and Pilsen neighborhoods. The BWC Gathering Spaces are artistic installations and seating areas, reflective of nature and culture, that serve as assembly grounds and resting points for people exploring this part of the lakefront. They are located on both the east and west sides of Lake Shore Drive.
Park 566, also known as “USX,” is a former steel mill that operated for more than 100 years as part of US Steel’s South Works facility. Having been demolished in the late 1900s, the 68.2 acre space is now undergoing a major restoration process that includes controlled burns, mowing, and installing native plants suitable for prairie and savanna habitats. The resulting natural area will provide wildlife habitat and a place for people to explore and enjoy nature along Chicago’s southern lakefront.