The Great Outdoors
The Chicago Southland is the place to be for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether your thing is bicycling, hiking, fishing, horseback riding or simply exploring the landscape, you’ll find miles of trails and acres of space to connect with nature.
With an extensive trail system for walking, inline skating and bicycling, the Burnham Greenway covers 5.3 miles from Calumet City to Avenue O in Chicago. At its end it connects to the 7.9 mile Pennsy Greenway, which extends through Lansing and into Northwest Indiana. The rail-trail continues through downtown Lansing and just past the state line.
The Cal-Sag Trail runs through the Palos Park/Palos Heights area and around the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens where you can kayak and canoe on the lake. The trail is available for walking, bicycling, inline skating, fishing and cross country skiing. It connects five regional multi-use trails and upon completion will create a 100-milie loop called the Southland Century Trail. See TrailLink.com for more trail info.
Old Plank Road Trail extends for 21.7 miles through Cook and Will Counties, from Chicago Heights to Joliet. It follows an old American Indian track around Lake Michigan that was acquired for a plank road that became a railroad. The Thorn Creek Trail has 17 paved miles through woodlands abundant with wildlife from Thornton to Chicago Heights.
Take in some trails on horseback with A Ranch 394 in Chicago Heights (ARanch394.net), which offers one-hour trail rides as well as pony rides. Forest View Farms in Tinley Park (FVFarms.com) is a family-friendly horse farm and petting zoo that has been introducing families to horses since the 1950s with trail rides, lessons and an indoor arena for year-round riding.
Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center in Olympia Fields (IronsOaks.com) has a number of group programs available in environmental education and team building on this 38-acre nature preserve. Participants learn through hands-on exploration with the Irons Oaks Teams course designed to enhance personal confidence and self-esteem, build trust and encourage teamwork and effective communication in customized group activities. The grounds are also open to the public daily. The Chicago Southland is also home to 11 nature centers including Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland and Plum Creek Nature Center in Beecher.
Cycling enthusiasts have a playground just for them on Chicago’s southeast side! The 278-acre Park No. 564, a.k.a. Big Marsh is Chicago’s first eco-recreation park. The world-class venue was created for bicycle recreation that benefits all ages and abilities. The former industrial site has been transformed to include small and large pump tracks, jump lines, a flow trail, tot track for young riders, cyclocross course (that includes Belgian stairs) and more. With two additional phases in the works, there will be more to come, so hop on your bike and hit the trails and stay tuned. Visit BigMarsh.org for updates.
No matter the season, you’ll find recreation activities that allow you to take full advantage of the surroundings and weather conditions. For a complete listing of outdoor activities, see VisitChicagoSouthland.com/Attractions.