Hike and Play! Lake County Forest Preserves with Playgrounds


Hiking is such a fun thing to do with kids all year long! Winter brings walks with snow-covered trees while spring ushers in trails through blooming wonderlands of beauty. Our summer hikes often result in the spotting of different birds, animals, and beautiful flowers. In contrast, by far my favorite, the fall hikes show us wooded areas awash with the most colorful nature palette one could ever imagine.

Lake County Forest Preserves with Playgrounds

My kids love hiking as well and are always up for the next adventure. Although, since they are still so young, our hikes are often the short and sweet kind. Afterward, we are always looking for something else to do to fill our morning or afternoon. We decided to explore some areas where there is more to do than just hike to spend some more time outside as a family. We found some pretty amazing spots around Lake County that boast beautiful hiking trails and a fun playground to let the kids play on afterward. We have had many fun mornings walking and playing, and we think that you and your kids will enjoy these too!

Find a forest preserve with a playground near you

Independence Grove, Libertyville

This one is a given. If you live in Lake County, odds are you have visited Independence Grove at least once. If you haven’t, you need to get that on your list of things to do ASAP! Besides having the most picturesque grounds around, it is the perfect place for hiking, picnicking, fishing, canoeing, and biking. There is a beautiful lake there, and the kids will love looking at the fish and ducks. There are many options for hiking, or just walking and sightseeing with really little ones as well. Best of all, this fits into our “hike and play” theme with its beautiful two-story playground with many unique features such as a climbing wall up to a slide and a fun little cave for little ones. Inside the main building, there are restrooms, as well as a small little museum-like display about the history of Independence Grove. The kids love cooling down in there for a few minutes on a hot summer day.

The entrance is located on Buckley Road (Route 137) just east of Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) and west of River Road in Libertyville. Parking is plentiful, and be advised, Lake County Residents enter for free, but if you are a non-resident, it is $5.00 to enter and park.

Heron Creek, Lake Zurich

Heron Creek is another great location that offers hiking paths that the kids would enjoy. There is a little bridge on the hiking trail that my kids loved, and the path is breathtaking in the woods. This location offers picturesque wooded areas as well as large open fields. The trail is not that long either, so if you have little ones, it is doable even out of the stroller. The playground adjacent to this hiking trail is a lot of fun! It has a lot of interesting play features that you do not see at most parks. My kids beg to play on this playground, so it is a fun reward for a well-done hike.

There are restrooms available and parking close to the playground. Heron Creek Forest Preserve is located on the southwest corner of Route 22 and Old McHenry Road in Lake Zurich. Heron Creek Playground Profile.

Lakewood, Wauconda

Lakewood is Lake County’s largest Forest Preserve. This preserve offers woods, wetlands, and fields, as well as farmlands and groves of evergreens.  A 9.25 stretch of the Millennium Trail runs north through Lakewood all the way to Singing Hills Forest Preserve.

You will also find restrooms, picnic shelters, and plenty of parking here. Lakewood is located in Wauconda, and the main entrance is located on Route 176, just west of Fairfield Road.

lakewood forest preserve playground
Lakewood Playground

Half Day, Vernon Hills

Half Day Forest Preserve is a lovely area with a one-mile hiking trail, perfect for little ones or moms needing a nice walk with babies in the stroller. This preserve has a pond for fishing, an open trail, and a fun playground in addition to the hiking trail.  Another fun thing to see that the kids will love, a footbridge spanning the Des Plaines River, links Half Day preserves to Daniel Wright Woods, another beautiful forest preserve.

There are restrooms, and picnic shelters at this location, and parking is available. Half Day Preserve is located in Vernon Hills, and the entrance and parking area are located on Route 21 (Milwaukee Avenue) at the light for Woodlands Parkway, south of Route 60 (Townline Road) and just north of Route 22 (Half Day Road).

Captain Daniel Wright Woods, Mettawa

Wright Woods is a very pretty area and the playground is located right off of the parking lot. A quiet and serene setting right beside a small lake, it is a perfect area for a nice family picnic. There are lots of picnic tables, walking trails and the restrooms are fairly close to the playground (right across the parking lot). The playground is not too toddler-friendly though, as there are no baby swings and the slide was a little too big for my toddler to go on by herself.

lake county forest preserves with playgrounds
© J. Reedy | Little Lake County.com | 2015

Van Patten Woods, Zion

Five miles of trails are available to hikers at Van Patten Woods, amongst many other recreational activities. This preserve also boasts biking, horseback riding trails, and even areas for snowmobiling. A playground is available as well for the kids here too, making it easy to make a morning of fresh air, sunshine, and the outdoors! Restrooms are available, parking is accessible and the main entrance is on Route 173, east of Route 41 and west of Delany Road.

Greenbelt, North Chicago

Greenbelt Forest Preserve offers five miles of hiking trails, four miles of bike trails, and a one-mile, self-guided nature trail, among many other amenities. Although this preserve is located within Lake County’s most urban area, it boasts plentiful green landscapes as well as a variety of wildflowers and birds. Every summer, the Green Youth Farm opens, and youth learning about gardening work the farm, where you can purchase fresh produce through the summer and into the fall.

A playground is available in the preserve as well, so the kids can hike and play! Restrooms are available, and parking is easily accessible. The main entrance to the preserve is located on the west side of Green Bay Road, south of Belvidere Road in North Chicago.

lake county forest preserves with playgrounds
© L. Thomas | Little Lake County.com | 2015

Old School, Mettawa

Old School Foret Preserve is a little gem of a preserve and a fantastic find for our family. Not only is there a beautiful hiking trail along a pretty pond (where some children were mighty excited to find a few frogs hopping around), there is a fun playground and a large green space for running, jumping, and playing to your heart’s content. The most fun though was a little grassy path trail that led out of the playground and back into it that the kids could take their own little “hike”. My children ran through it many times and loved it. Restrooms were located very nearby and parking was easy and close too. There is also a fitness trail that is great for short hikes.

The entrance and parking area are located on Saint Mary’s Road just south of Route 176, and north of Route 60.

Hastings Lake, Lake Villa

Hastings Lake is one of my favorite places to come to in my area. Not only does it have an awesome playground, but the trails are surrounded by a gorgeous lake. Having grown up on an island surrounded by beautiful beaches, I am naturally drawn to bodies of water! This is my go-to place when I want to go running and I have my daughter and our jogging stroller with me. The trails provide a smooth – jogging stroller-friendly – ride and the scenery is amazing. After the run, we stop off at the playground and my daughter has a blast here. It has structures for kids of all ages; the only thing I wish it had was some shade.

Bonner Heritage Farm, McDonald Woods, Lake Villa

Bonner Heritage Farm is part of the McDonald Woods Forest Preserve in Lindenhurst and has a play maze along with larger-than-life farming exhibits that are fun for preschoolers.  It shares a parking lot with Millennium Park which has a lovely playground which is maintained by the Lindenhurst Park District.

All of these preserves are located in Lake County, easily accessible, and fun to explore! The playgrounds are fun, but the real beauty of these preserves lie in the nature surrounding them. Don’t be surprised if the kids choose to explore more and play later!

Do you know any great places to hike and play in and around Lake County? Respond in the comments below to add to our list!

Heather Williams and Jessica Reedy contributed to this story

Hike and Play! Lake County Forest Preserves with Playgrounds

1 Comment

  1. Fresh air is great but many of the playground areas listed use rubber mulch which off-gasses VOCs for you and your little ones to breathe in – not so fresh. Play and hike areas which do not use rubber mulch. Better yet, urge the forest preserve and other institutions using these toxic materials to remove them from places our children play.

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