Near the historic homes of Oak Park and River Forest lie 245 acres of woodland along the Des Plaines River known collectively as Thatcher Woods. From North Avenue south to Madison Street, the greater Thatcher Woods complex is made up of Thatcher Woods, Thatcher Woods Glen, GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Woods and Thomas Jefferson Woods. Oak savannas cover the uplands, with floodplain forests sweeping the low river valley. Visitors can learn about it all at the charming, historic Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum of Natural History.
An unmarked trail system follows the bends of the east side of the Des Plaines River. The footpaths, which can be muddy, provide access for hikers to the floodplain and bluffs. (Bicycles and horses are not permitted on these paths.) They go about two miles before ending at Madison Street. Elevations in the upland regions can reach 625 feet, dropping, sometimes abruptly, into the river floodplain.
Visitors can explore native wildlife up close at the Trailside Museum of Natural History, just south of Chicago Avenue. This nature center is open year-round and is free. The museum is next to a large pond near Thatcher Woods Glen.
Thatcher Woods can serve as a lovely bit of nature intertwined with sight-seeing excursions. Combine a visit here with a trip to Trailside Museum and the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District in Oak Park.
The Metra Union Pacific West line River Forest station is next to the preserve, just south of Lake Street. From the Metra station, head north on Thatcher Avenue and turn left/west onto Lake Street. Walk about a half mile west to the river, where a footpath heads north into Thatcher Woods.
The CTA Green line is also within walking distance of the preserves. Walk almost two miles west on Central Avenue from the Harlem stop.