Hike and Play!

Outdoor Fun

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, while the fall hikes, by far my favorite, show us wooded areas awash with the most colorful nature palette one could ever imagine.

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, so we could 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!

Lake County Forest Preserves with Playgrounds

Independence Grove 
Libertyville, 60048, 847-968-3499

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. There is also a beach there open during the summer that would be fun for little ones after a long hike. 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.

Photo Credit: Genevieve O’Keefe.

Heron Creek  
Lake Zurich, 60047

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, even out of the stroller, it is doable. 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 go play on this playground so it is a fun reward for a hike well done.

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.

lake county forest preserves with playgrounds
The playground at Heron Creek

Wauconda, 60084

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.

Half Day
Vernon Hills,60061

Half Day Forest Preserve is a lovely area with a one-mile hiking trail, perfect for little ones, or mom needing a nice walk with baby in the stroller. This preserve has a pond for fishing, 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, which is 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).

lake county forest preserves with playgrounds
Playground at Half Day Forest Preserve

Van Patten Woods 
Zion, 60099

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.

lake county forest preserves with playgrounds
©H. Williams | Little Lake County.com | 2013

North Chicago, 60064

Amongst many other amenities, this preserve offers five miles of hiking trails, four miles of bike trails and a one-mile, self-guided nature trail. 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 who are 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.

Old School 
Mettawa, 60045

This little gem of a preserve was a fantastic find for us. 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.

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

lake county forest preserves with playgrounds
Playground at Old School Forest Preserve

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!

By: Heather Williams

Heather is a busy mom of three who loves exploring Lake County with her kids. When she, her husband, and kids are not embarking on new adventures, you will most likely find her cooking and posting some great family-friendly recipes at Girl and Her Kitchen.

Hike and Play!
About Melissa Haak 31 Articles
Little Lake County is for parents, grandparents, caregivers, families, anyone who is looking to do their living where they live. Run by Little Trike Media, Little Lake County is a digital magazine by parents for parents about everything Lake County. Whether you’re looking for a fun weekend activity with your family, a place to take your toddler when it rains, or a preschool to enroll your child in, Lake County parents can turn to us for the answers.

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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