The Buzz

You don't even have to leave your car to take in the sights at some preserves

(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Sometimes a well-positioned parking lot is all you need to take in the great outdoors. Luckily, the preserves are full of spots where people can take in the sights and sounds of nature with nothing more than a short walk from your car — or maybe no walk at all. 

We know not everyone is up for or may be able to take a long hike through the woods or even a quick stroll around a pond. Some preserve visitors can't be on their feet for too long or may have difficulty navigating uneven terrain, but that doesn't mean the preserves and all they have to offer can't be enjoyed. The preserves are for you, and we want everyone to be able to connect with nature at their own pace.

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With that in mind, we've compiled a list of preserves where you can easily sit and soak up all the goodness nature has to offer. At some sites, the perfect spot may be a parking area; at others, it may be a bench or picnic table just a short walk from the car. The common thread is that these locations are all easily accessible for most people.

Hickory Creek — LaPorte Road Access

The back parking lot at Hickory Creek — LaPorte Road Access offers expansive views of prairie and forest habitats, and you don't even need to leave your car to take in the sights. If you care to, a bench in the parking lot will let you take in some fresh air and scenic views. In the fall, in particular, the views can be spectacular as the leaves change color.

Because of its mix of forest and prairie, Hickory Creek Preserve is a good place to watch the seasons change. From the comfort of your car, you can see winter give way to spring as green creeps in all around. Then, as the year progresses, watch the color of summer in the prairie and fall in the forest take over. Finally, as leaves fall from the trees, winter will return once more to start the cycle anew.

Hidden Oaks Preserve

Hidden Lakes Trout Farm at Hidden Oaks Preserve is another place where you can take in the sights without ever leaving your car. The parking lot offers nice views of two of the four lakes, and at any given time you may see ducks, geese and other wildlife in their natural environment. The preserve is also a hotspot for fishing and recreation, so it's often bustling with activity.

The DuPage River Trail runs through the preserve and around some of the lakes, so anyone up for a short walk can get a little closer to the sights. Benches along the trail offer a good spot to take a breather and relax. 

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Kankakee Sands Preserve

In the southern portion of the county is one of the area's most unique habitats, the sand dunes and savanna of Kankakee Sands Preserve. The savanna includes many large oak trees, and the sandy soil is the perfect habitat for Will County's only two lizard species, the six-lined racerunner and the slender glass lizard. 

The preserve includes a 2.35-mile limestone trail looping through the natural area, but you can also take in views from the picnic shelter just a short walk from the parking lot via an accessible sidewalk.

Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve

Lockport Prairie is a preserve without a parking lot, but that doesn't mean it's off-limits. Access to the preserve is via a stretch of Division Street spanning from Route 53 to the Des Plaines River, and visitors are welcome to pull to the shoulder to see what the preserve has to offer. Wildlife of all types live at the preserve. Birds big and small are a big draw, but mammals like coyotes and deer and all manner of reptiles and amphibians also call the preserve home. 

We've often seen people snapping photos of the wildlife and the scenery right from their cars, so there's certainly no need to leave your vehicle unless you would like to. The road and the shoulder can be used to traverse the preserve, and there's one bench along the road for anyone who wants to sit for a bit to take it all in.

McKinley Woods — Kerry Sheridan Grove

The Kerry Sheridan Grove Access at McKinley Woods offers a chance to sit back and relax, both indoors and outdoors. In the summer, you can watch boaters and wildlife float on by from the kayak launch. There's a bench next to the kayak launch, but you don't even have to leave your car to watch all the happenings. In the spring and fall, you may even be able to see the flocks of American white pelicans that use the waters at the confluence of the Des Plaines and DuPage rivers as a pitstop on their migration. 

If it's too hot or too cold or you'd just prefer an indoor spot to relax, head to the preserve's Four Rivers Environmental Education Center. There are couches and chairs where you can take a load off and page through birding guides and other nature publications. You can also peruse interactive nature exhibits, and just outside is the All-Persons Trail, which features five interactive, multisensory display panels along the way.

Monee Reservoir

Monee Reservoir can be a busy place on nice days, which means there's lots to see and every visit can be a unique experience. Several benches line the shore, many located just a short walk from the parking lot via accessible sidewalks. From the benches, you can watch anglers casting for their next catch and boaters making their way across the water. You might also spy some wildlife in and around the reservoir.

The Monee Reservoir Visitor Center is open Tuesdays to Sundays from March to October. (Hours vary by month.) Parts of the shoreline are accessible for fishing, and the preserve offers accessible boating, canoeing and kayaking opportunities. 

Rock Run Preserve

Rock Run Preserve can have quite a bit of both human and wildlife activity, which makes it a good place to sit and take it all in. With the Rock Run Greenway Trail running adjacent to the parking areas at both access points — Black Road and Paul V. Nichols – you'll be able to see plenty of runners, walkers, in-line skaters, bicyclists and more without ever leaving the parking lot. Both access areas also offer picnic shelters just a short walk from the parking if you want to enjoy a picnic while taking in the sights. 

Benches dot the trail that runs through the preserve, including some just a short walk from the parking lot at Black Road Access. From some benches you'll have a nice view of one of the ponds at the preserve, adding to the sights. The ponds can be a popular recreation spot themselves, particularly for people who fish. They're also a good place to check out even more wildlife.

Rock Run Rookery

With its two quarry lakes, Rock Run Rookery is a good location for both recreation and wildlife viewing, but you don't need to leave your car to enjoy this preserve. Many of the parking spots in the main lot at the preserve look out over the larger of the two lakes, and from there you can see much of what you might see if you were to walk along the trail. 

Birds are one of the main wildlife attractions at Rock Run Rookery, with great blue herons, great egrets, bald eagles and all sorts of waterfowl calling the preserve home. Even from the parking lot you may see these birds soaring across the water or resting on the islands that dot the lake. If you want to feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair, benches are located a short distance from the parking area. If you're up for a short walk, a paved path travels 0.41 miles to a scenic lookout overlooking the lake and Rock Run creek.

Whalon Lake

By this point you may have noticed that the presence of water makes for a good place to sit back and enjoy nature, or even just some people-watching. This is as true at Whalon Lake as it is at many of our other preserves. The main draw at Whalon Lake is the lake, a good spot for fishing and paddling, but it's also a popular place for runners and cyclists taking advantage of the DuPage River Trail. The paved trail runs through the preserve, and a 1.61-mile segment loops around the lake.

Anyone up for a short walk can see what the lake has to offer, but you don't have to go much farther than the parking lot to take it all in. There are a few benches just off the parking lot, and a larger collection of benches offers views of the lake just a short distance from the parking lot. The preserve also has a wetland area near the dog park, and a bench there offers a different viewpoint and perspective. And, of course, the dog park itself might provide some entertainment as you watch dogs romp and play. (You must have a permit to bring your dog to the dog park.)

Virtual offerings

If leaving home to enjoy the preserves isn't an option for you, we still offer many ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Check out our monthly television program, "The Buzz," to learn about local wildlife and what's going on in the preserves. You can also check out our YouTube channel for plenty of video offerings about the flora and fauna of Will County.

In addition, the Forest Preserve District regularly offers Zoom programs on a variety of topics. Check out upcoming virtual program offerings on our event calendar or view some of our previous Zoom programs.

Accessibility is important to the Forest Preserve District. The Forest Preserve's major visitor centers and parking lots are all accessible, and most trailheads and developed preserves are accessible as well. All picnic shelters that can be reserved by the public include wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, accessible walkways, latrines and parking. Additionally, many miles of trails are paved and many of the District's popular boating and fishing locations are accessible. For public programs, the District offers auxiliary aids and services to people who register no later than 48 hours before the program. Anyone with accessibility issues at a preserve or who would like to request accommodations can fill out our online form.

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