Two forest preserves, Chippewa Woods and Dam No. 4 Woods, create a woodland oasis just outside O’Hare Airport. These are two of several Cook County Forest Preserves along the Des Plaines River. Despite the strange name, Dam No. 4 Woods are a lovely place for a walk.
The preserves are mostly forested, with floodplain forest along the river and, true to type, these forests are prone to flooding and act as a buffer for springtime river flooding. The trails are mostly in the upland forests. Unpaved trails run the length of the preserve and lead down to the river; some trails are marked, some aren’t.
The forest provides important stop-over habitat for migrating birds– and springtime along the Des Plaines river is a great chance to see a huge diversity of songbirds; more than 280 bird species migrate through Chicago. Year-round, beaver, deer and gray squirrels are active in the preserve. You’re likely to see evidence of their presence, even if you don’t see the animals.
In winter, this is a good place for cross-country skiing because of the easy terrain and long stretches of trails. Skiing trails aren’t groomed; they’re made by skiers cutting through fresh snow, but they are shared by walkers, dogs and deer so the trails aren’t always smooth.
Because of the proximity to the airport and several highways, expect to hear the sounds of motorized transportation as a constant presence. You’ll also see and hear planes overhead frequently.
About the preserve
These preserves, located in Park Ridge, are part of the Cook County Forest Preserve system; this is one many preserves that make up the Des Plaines River Trail in Cook and Lake Counties. The Des Plaines River Trail allows you to travel many miles along the River; underpasses and bridges allow you to avoid traffic along the way.
The preserve includes two picnic areas (John E. Traeger Family Picnic Area and the Blandings Grove Family Picnic Area) and Axehead lake.
Get involved with protecting the Forest Preserves as a volunteer.
Getting to Dam No. 4 Woods East
El: The preserve is easy to reach from the CTA Blue Line. Exit at the Cumberland stop, and leave the station through the doors on the north side. Walk northeast (angle to the left) through the parking lot, towards the intersection of Higgins and Dee (East River) roads. Cross to the northwest corner of the intersection and you’ll be at the trailhead to the preserve. Fare: $2.25-2.50 each way.
Map: Here is a map from the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
While you’re in the area:
This preserve connects to others in the Cook County Forest Preserve system. Continue exploring to the north and south along the trails; Catherine Chevalier Woods is located south and Iroquois Woods is to the north.
Other than the preserves, you’ll be near O’Hare, so if watching planes is your thing, you’ll be happy to get a close up view. The short walk from the el to the trail cuts through a typical suburban corporate parking lot. Come prepared with food and water, so you don’t have to rely on the pop machine at the station.
author: Susan Ask