The Preserve’s topography offers glimpses into the dynamic geological nature of the Chicago lakefront region. The steep ravines, each named for a former notable area resident, were formed by erratic lake levels and glacial meltwater after the last Ice Age about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. The high gravel and clay bluffs are also remnants of a bygone glacial era. Many original remnants of oak woodland and shoreline plant communities can still be found within the Preserve’s boundaries. The site is also home to seven plant species on the state endangered and threatened lists and it provides crucial stopover habitat to birds migrating along the Lake Michigan flyway.
As a portal to the Lakefront Preserve, the trail system allows visitors to celebrate the unique ravine, bluff, and lakeshore geology of the Preserve and region. With access to nature, art installations and interpretive opportunities, the trails foster a sense of wonder for the Preserve and nature by providing both tangible and unique experiences to engage visitors’ interest in and among nature. In this way, the trail system allows visitors to connect to their surroundings by engaging their senses and allowing multiple opportunities to:
- Stop, look, listen, notice, and feel.
- Realize that the earth is a vast, magnificent, living system with many interconnected parts, of which we humans are one.
- Understand our relationship with nature requires balance; it is our choice whether to act in ways that tip that balance or preserve it
In this sense the trail system promotes the story and core mission of Openlands by exposing people to the idea that we are not just in nature, but of nature, in the hopes that open space not only helps maintain our balance with nature, but reminds us that we are part of something grand and precious.
The trail system was designed using concepts of universal accessibility. To this end, visitors with disabilities can also experience the connection to nature and the sense of wonder that the preserve offers. ADA access to the beach is provided via the Bartlett Ravine Trail that has a 2/3 mile continuous slope well under 5%. These pathways create an accessible walking path with overlooks and bridges on the tableland, as well as access to the interpretive signage and inspirational artworks.
Three trail systems have been developed at the Preserve, either through new construction by Openlands or atop original Army road infrastructure. Please review the latest notices and alerts prior to your visit.
- Bartlett Ravine Trail (0.7 miles): The entrance to the ravine trail is located immediately east of the intersection of Lyster and Westover Roads in the Town of Fort Sheridan, Highwood. Beginning at the west gate entrance to Bartlett Ravine, the ravine trail is approximately 0.7 miles in length and slopes gently down to the lakefront. The trail is paved and ADA-accessible. A stretch of paved frontage road at the lakefront provides ground-level lake views for visitors who are unable to or prefer not to move out into the sand. Visitors enter the ravine trail from the Patten Road parking lot via the ravine staircase, which places them about halfway down the ravine trail’s full length.
- Hamill Family Upland Trail (1.1 miles): There are two trailheads for the upland trail. The Patten Road trailhead is located on Patten Road just south of the Patten Road bridge. The Preserve’s main parking lot is located on the west side of Patten Road, and the upland trail begins on the east side of Patten Road. The ravine staircase descends down into Bartlett Ravine at the bridge, placing visitors about halfway down the ravine trail once they reach the bottom of the stairs.The Walker Avenue trailhead is located at the intersection of Oak Street and Walker Avenue in Highland Park. A small parking area owned by the City of Highland Park is located immediately adjacent to the trailhead. The City sidewalk system connects directly to the upland trail here.
- Beach Trail (1.1 miles): The undeveloped beach trail is about one mile in length and extends from the Preserve’s northern boundary to its southern boundary. The Preserve’s beach is contiguous to the Lake County Forest Preserve’s Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve beach to the north, creating nearly two miles of protected public-access lakefront between the two properties. The shifting sand deposition patterns on the beach make for irregular terrain as one walks from one end to the other. At times, beach visitors may encounter high water, blocking further accent.