Great diversity of natural landscapes ring federal research lab
Rugged terrain, 600-plus native plant species, small waterfalls, trails suited for hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians
2,474 acres, 11.7 miles of multipurpose trails
Behind the Scenes
DuPage County is protecting sensitive butterfly and moth populations by keeping Btk, a spray for the invasive gypsy moth, out of Waterfall Glen
From I-55 take Cass Ave exit south to Northgate Rd. Follow Northgate west for 250 feet to main trailhead. Parking also available at Outdoor Education Camp off Bluff Rd.
Into the Wild
DuPage County, Illinois
Photo by Dave Jagodzinski
Ringing a federal research lab, this large preserve offers rugged terrain, unusually rich native species populations, and a real chance to stretch the legs
Waterfall Glen is that rare natural area whose best features might most easily be sampled by bicycle. The 9.5-mile main trail, which also accommodates hikers, equestrians, and cross-country skiers, circles the 2,474-acre forest preserve. A half-day ride will provide ample opportunity to enjoy a rich and relatively rugged landscape, while still leaving time for more in-depth exploration on foot.
Located in southeastern DuPage County, Waterfall Glen’s varied topography sets it apart. Distinguished by ravines and steep bedrock outcroppings, especially in the south, the preserve harbors more than 600 native plant types, representing 75 percent of native species recorded in DuPage County. Such diversity attracts scores of butterflies, including showy remnant-dependent species such as the pipevine swallowtail and silvery checkerspot. The preserve’s size and quality may also account for the red-shouldered hawks and barred owls that live here, as well as the verified presence of bobcat.
Claudia Adams/Root Resources
Waterfall Glen forms a green belt around the grounds of Argonne National Laboratory. From the main trailhead, located near the Cass Avenue exit from I-55, visitors can pick up maps and literature before heading east along the crushed-limestone pathway. The trail soon passes woodlands, open fields filled with wildflowers, and fragrant — albeit artificially planted — pine groves.
Ninety-first Street Marsh, a mile or so farther, is a gathering place for wildlife. Egrets visit frequently, wood ducks nest nearby, and black-crowned night-herons perch in the trees. Turtles may be basking on logs in the water, accompanied by the twang of green frogs and the trill of red-winged blackbirds.
Visitors soon will reach the Outdoor Education Camp, also accessible by car. From here, scramble down a steep ravine path shaded by sycamores and cottonwoods to a picturesque waterfall constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps on Sawmill Creek.
A remnant dry prairie and 500 acres of oak- and hickory-studded savanna dominate the preserve’s southwest sector. The midsummer wildflowers present a colorful display — goldenrod and ironweed, asters and coneflowers, woodland sunflower, and pasture roses. Harriers cruise across the grasslands, and meadowlarks and bluebirds thrive here.
Smaller paths off the main trail reveal many of Waterfall Glen’s more rugged features. In the west, a trail leads to kettle ponds carved out by ancient glaciers. In the southwest, another leads to 70-foot bluffs overlooking the Des Plaines River. In the southeast, find historic Signal Hill and a recent woodland restoration. Visitors can also find a dolomite prairie and ravines with northern plant species such as rattlesnake fern. Waterfall Glen even has the county’s only naturally occurring waterfall (though the preserve earned its name not for this, nor for the CCC waterfall, but for a former county commissioner, Seymour “Bud” Waterfall).
After one spin around the preserve, chances are visitors will want to come back to explore further and see what changes the seasons bring. Hands-on volunteer stewardship work is one great way to learn more. For information, call (630) 933-7248.
— Ron Trigg
DuPage County, IL
Map by Lynda Wallis