Thatcher Woods { by metra or el }

thatcher woods bat box animalia project susan ask

A bat house on a tree in the Thatcher Woods Forest Preserve in River Forest IL. animalia project susan ask

A short train ride can lead you to an interesting restoration project in the center of the Chicago Region.  The Metra or the el can take you to a linear forest preserve that follows the Des Plaines River.

Thatcher Woods is a diverse woodland, encompassing floodplain forest, upland oak forest and oak savanna in the near west suburb of, aptly-named, River Forest.  Thatcher Woods is the northern portion of the preserve; GAR and Thomas Jefferson Woods are the southern portion.  GAR stands for Grand Army of the Republic, but the acronym is more commonly used.

The trails can be busy, with bikes, families, joggers and naturalists.  If you’re not yet comfortable walking alone in more isolated places, you might find comfort in the company and the proximity to nearby houses.

The Des Plaines River runs along the western edge of the three woodland preserves.

About the park:

Thatcher Woods, is part of the Cook County Forest Preserve District.  The address (of the museum) is: 738 Thatcher Ave, River Forest, IL  60305

This is another location where volunteers make a tremendous difference.  Read more about their work, and how to get involved here.

Hal Tyrell trailside museum at thatcher woods forest preserve river forest IL animalia project susan ask

Hal Tyrell Trailside Museum at Thatcher Woods Forest Preserve in River Forest IL. animalia project photo by susan ask

Thatcher Woods is also home to the Hal Tyrell Trailside Museum.  The small museum has exhibits about the natural history and especially the wildlife of the area.  They offer some interesting programs and activities for kids and families.  And they offer more advance workshops for adults– for example, propagating native plant seeds for your garden.  (Although it was once home to a wildlife rehabilitation center, they no longer accept injured or orphaned animals.  Click here for some local wildlife rehabilitation centers.)

Getting to Thatcher Woods

El:  The terminus of the Green Line is in nearby Oak Park.  Exit at the Harlem stop (the westernmost stop).  Go north less than a block to Lake St, then turn left to head west on Lake St. for about 1.2 miles.  Turn right (north) onto Thatcher Ave to go to Thatcher Woods or the Trailside Museum.  Or— turn left (south) onto Thatcher Ave to go to GAR Woods or Thomas Jefferson Woods, located on the west side of the street (on your left).  Fare:  $2.25-2.50 each way.

Metra:  Take the Union Pacific West line to the River Forest station.  Walk north from the station on Thatcher Ave to reach Thatcher Woods.  Walk south from the station on Thatcher Ave to reach GAR or Thomas Jefferson Woods, on the west side of the street (on your left).  Train line:  Union Pacific West (20 minutes to/from Ogilvie Station) Fare: $3 – 6.75, depending on where you start.  A weekend pass is $7 for unlimited rides on Saturday and Sunday. 

While you’re in the area

turkey tail fungus Trametes versicolor thatcher woods animalia project susan ask

Turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) on a log at Thatcher Woods. animalia project photo by susan ask

Connect to other natural areas.  Continue North through Thatcher Woods to connect to more Cook County Forest Preserve property.  Jerome Huppert Woods and Sunset Bridge Meadow are just north of North Avenue.

Oak Park is the home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home/studio, as well as many homes and the Unity Temple designed by him.  More information from the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.


author:  Susan Ask