Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

The waterfall at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

The waterfall at Waterfall Glen Forest PreserveBordering the southeastern edge of DuPage County, is one of the county’s largest forest preserves, Waterfall Glen.  Surrounded by the cities of Woodridge, Darien, Burr Ridge, and Lemont, the preserve completely encapsulates the Argonne National Laboratory property.

On a recent Saturday morning, I made my first visit to Waterfall Glen, hiking the entirety of the main 10-mile trail.  I began (and concluded) my hike from the west entrance near 101st Street.  Here’s an overview and review of my visit to the preserve…

The Main Loop Trail at Waterfall Glen

All of the nearly 10-miles of main trail are meticulously maintained, consisting of leveled, crushed-limestone.  I cannot recall any significant trail defects (holes, ruts, large rocks) that would cause someone to trip or stumble.  It’s about as good a trail as you are going to get without it being paved.

10 miles of well-maintained trails at Waterfall GlenThe trail is clearly at the top of the list for many local bicyclists and runners.  I found the trail to be a bit busy at some points (more so near trail-heads and parking areas), but not unbearably so.  Most traffic was in passing and did not linger, such as the occasional bicyclist or runner who passed quickly by, then soon out-of-sight.

The loop-shaped trail meanders along through hilly terrain that is uncharacteristic of the vast majority of DuPage County’s other preserves (there is an 160-foot difference in elevation between the trail’s highest and lowest points).  Though the hills pose little-to-no difficulty for seasoned bikers and hikers, they can become a slight challenge the further along you go.

If you are going to hike the entire trail, give yourself plenty of time (at least 3-5 hours depending on how swift-footed you are) to make stops along the way.  You’ll find many interesting things to see.

Waterfall Glen Features & Sights

Prior to setting out on my hike, knowing that the preserve surrounded the Argonne National Laboratory, I was a little concerned that I would be seeing too many signs of civilization.  I was pleasantly surprised; on only two brief occasions during my entire hike did I catch a glimpse of the lab.  This may not be the case in the winter when there is far less vegetation.  However, on this hike, aside from a few road-crossings, I truly did feel as if I were away-from-it-all.

Waterfall Glen has plenty of sights to keep your interest and draw you futher down the trail.  You never get bored hiking through monotonous, unchanging terrain at this preserve.  Along the way, you’ll pass through pine woods, marshland, open fields, streams, and more.  The terrain is ever-changing.

The Bluffs

The bluffs overlooking the Des Plains river and Lemont (between mile markets 4 and 5) are impressive in that they actually exist in DuPage County, but other than that, the view is nothing special.

You’ll even see the occassional ruins of civilization that nature has since reclaimed.  I recall seeing the stone foundation of what must have been an old wall and cabin that has since been overgrown with vegetation.  On a small side-trail leading to the waterfall, I passed a freestanding stone chimney near the stream.  St. Patrick’s Cemetery, dating back to the 1850’s, is also within Waterfall Glen’s boundaries.

The Waterfall

The waterfall at the preserve is not directly accessible via the main trail.  However, you can get to it by way of a crushed-limestone connector trail, or you can hike a smaller (unmapped) rustic trail along the stream.  If you are comfortable walking on a narrow dirt path with plenty of small obstacles, it’s worth it.  There were great views of the Old Lincoln Park Nursery at Waterfall Glenstream the entire way to the waterfall.  Start looking for a loose-gravel, downhill path just beyond the mile 6 marker; this path will lead you to the rustic trail.

The waterfall is nothing spectacular.  It’s worth a look, but don’t expect to be blown-away, but the area downstream of the falls is fun to explore.  You can take a break here, kick-off your shoes and wade in the cool water.  There are plenty of large boulders to walk on (some are not as stable as you might expect, so test them before you plant all your weight on them).  The water is clear and relatively shallow (assuming there hasn’t been a recent significant rainfall) and alive with minnows, crayfish, and the occasional timid water-snake.

The stretch of trail between mile market 7 and 9 have some very peaceful woods and marsh areas.  There was a small ravine just off the trail in this area where countless frogs were basking in the sun.

A Great Forest Preserve to Visit

Waterfall Glen is not my favorite of DuPage County Forest Preserves in terms of beauty, but it would certainly make my list of the top-five.  As for hiking & biking, it is a great preserve (maybe the best) for those.  I do plan to return again in the near future, but will definitely be bringing my bicycle this time; with all the hills and turns, it looks like such a fun place to ride a bike.  You should check it out!

If you’d like to know more about the Waterfall Glen history, please visit here.

View a photo-tour of the preserve here.

Waterfall Glen Hiking Tips

  • If you are unfamiliar with the trails, be sure to grab a map at one of the trail-heads.
  • There are a few wells along the trail route where you can hand-pump water, but you may have to go miles before you reach one.  Be sure to bring plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated.
  • If you plan to hike the entire main loop trail during the summer, go early.  You will be far more comfortable hiking in the cooler morning temperatures than during the hot, humid afternoon.
  • Waterfall Glen Hiking TipsThough much of the trail has tree cover and is shaded, there are significant portions of trail when you are not shaded.  Be sure to wear sunscreen.
  • Wear comfortable shoes or hiking boots, your feet will thank you for doing so.
  • Allow for enough time to rest and observe the beauty of your surroundings along the way.
  • Bring a camera.  There are a lot of great photos to be taken at this preserve.
  • Bring a basic first aid kit with you.  Though I didn’t need it, I was able to help two help a couple folks along the way who had minor injuries.  You never know when you’ll need it.
  • Bring a fully-charged cellular phone with you; there is a good signal throughout the preserve.
  • Bring a disposable rain poncho.
  • Keep an eye out for some of the many side-trails that branch off from the main trail.  Take note of them; you may want to hike them on your next visit.