Located on the banks of the Des Plaines River in southern Lake County, the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area is 565-acre preserve managed by the Lake County Forest Preserves. Ryerson Woods supports some of Illinois’ most pristine woodlands and several state threatened and endangered species. Two rare ecosystems — flatwoods and a floodplain forest — can be found here. Much of Ryerson Woods has been protected as an Illinois Nature Preserve.
Ryerson Woods is a great example of the oak woodlands that once covered northern Illinois. Healthy oak trees native to the Chicago region provide food and shelter for a wide array of other plant and animal species. Nine species of oaks once dominated this area, and they’re documented to support more than 400 species of birds and butterflies alone. Some warblers time their spring migration to coincide with the oaks’ awakening here. But today, it’s not easy to find young oaks in yards, parks, or forest preserves. Oak ecosystem protection, therefore, is a high priority for Openlands, the Forest Preserves of Lake County, and the Chicago Region Trees Initiative who are all working to support the health of these woodlands.
Ryerson Woods makes a great day-trip for outdoor enthusiasts. The trails are well maintained and the area is pretty flat, so it won’t be your most strenuous hike, but there’s plenty to enjoy. And part of the beauty of Ryerson comes from its year-round accessibility: the trails are open to cross-country skiing in the winter (when there’s at least 4″ of snow) and it’s treasure to see in late October as the leaves turn. If you’re looking for somewhere new to explore or even if you’ve been before, make sure it’s on your list of places to get outside in our region.