For 19 years, Deer Grove Forest Preserve was only three miles from my house. Operated by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Deer Grove's two adjacent units (Deer Grove and Deer Grove East) form a forest two miles long by one mile wide, split by two-lane Quentin Road. This large area (by urban standards) allows eight mile hikes in hilly terrain without retracing any steps. Bushwacking, orienteering, and route-finding are also possible.
Almost 10 miles are open to mountain bikes in the form of 2 large perimeter loops, allowing for long rides through somewhat challenging terrain and magnificent scenery comprised of mature oak and maple trees and meandering streams. The preserve also provides picnic areas, pavilions, tobaggan slides, a sledding/tubing hill, ice skating, a remote-controlled model airplane flying field, a 3+ mile paved bike trail with a connection to the Palatine Bike Trail, and the multi-use trail for cross country skiing/horseback riding/hiking/mountain biking. Not exactly mountains or a national forest, but still a marvelous suburban opportunity. In 2005, however, they widened the perimeter trail and put down crushed stone, making it easier to follow and walk, but far less challenging for bikers and providing far less of a "wilderness" feel to your time there.
Fall is a particularly beautiful season, as witnessed by these first two photos. During my teaching career, I couldn't take Fall vacations to observe the foliage change colors in New England or the Rockies or Smokies, but hikes and bike rides in Deer Grove gave a little taste of what I was missing. Whenever I hike, I carry a trash bag and pick up refuse discarded by the jerks of the world, and I encourage you to do the same whenever you trek in your favorite wilderness areas.
Winter also creates beautiful scenes, so I continue
my walks all winter. Even on the windiest days, the trees negate the wind
chill factor and it remains exceptionally tranquil in the forest. Cross
country/bushwacking hikes are also quite challenging without snowshoes or
skiis, and these open the entire forest to exploration without low-growing
foliage to impede one's progress. An added benefit of winter is that the
streams are frozen, allowing easy access to areas not usually as readily
available for hiking. I also enjoy hiking the frozen stream beds as it bequeaths
a different view of the terrain. Cross country skiing and snow-shoeing are
also popular here.
Spring is a magical time as the forest comes alive with greenery, reinvesting one's soul with the glory of rejuvenated life and the hope of the future. The shubbery again blankets the understory and the views shorten as the foliage obscures the inner forest. And when the bike trail is finally dry, hiking boots are put away and the mountain bike brought out again to fine-tune the aerobic conditioning for the summer's backpacking adventures.
See The Deer Grove Natural Areas Volunteers website for info and maps of the area
Official site of Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Unofficial Forest Prserve District website by CLONK (ChicagoLand Online Nature Knowledge)
Mountain bike trail: photos, info, and comments