Messenger Woods: Famous Spring Flowers and Year-Round Fun

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AFTER MONTHS OF GRAY, DREARY WINTER IN CHICAGO, the Virginia bluebells, great white trillium, and other flowers that blanket the gently rolling hills of Messenger Woods Nature Preserve (13800 W Bruce Road, Homer Glen, IL 60491; 815/727-8700; Facebook page) almost hypnotize you when you suddenly see them in all their glory. That’s what Ellen, my wife’s cousin (I consider her my cousin, too), and I thought as we hiked the fine trails at this Illinois Nature Preserve. These preserves protect the highest quality natural lands in the state.

Messenger Woods offers what many consider to be the most beautiful and impressive display of Virginia bluebells in the Chicagoland area. These vast stretches of beautiful flowers went on for as far as my eyes could see as we walked a trail that ran along Spring Creek. They were a stunning and awe-inspiring reminder of the beauty of nature—something I think we sometimes forget as we are glued to our various digital devices. Better yet, Ellen and I were completely alone in the preserve on a beautiful 70+-degree day in May. No crowds; just the sounds of birds, the wind rustling the young leaves, and the gentle sound of water flowing in Spring Creek.

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Take my word for it, if the photographs in this blog don’t convince you. (As I viewed the photos I took at the preserve, I soon realized that, while beautiful at times, they did not capture the full effect these spring blossoms have on your eyes.) This is a place you need to see in person to believe, although this 360-degree video of the bluebells from the Forest Preserve District of Will County (FPDWC) is pretty illustrative.

According to the FPDWC, here are some other spring flowers that are in bloom at Messenger Woods and other district properties: buttercups, violets (common, yellow, lance-leaved, and bird’s foot), rue anemone, meadow rue, trilliums, wild geranium, woodland phlox, cleft phlox, spring beauties, violet wood sorrel, marsh marigold, hoary puccoon, shooting star, blue-eyed grass, and wood betony.

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So, now that I’m done rhapsodizing about the fantastic display of spring flowers, here are some practical details about Messenger Woods:

  • Lots of land: The 441-acre preserve features forest (including ravines and massive oaks), prairie, savanna, wetlands, and a portion of Spring Creek.
  • Pristine: Environmental organizations report that Messenger Woods is one of the few forests in northeastern Illinois that has never been grazed, cut, farmed, or developed.
  • Birds galore: More than 60 bird species are found at the preserve.
  • There is great hiking. The preserve features nearly two miles of natural surface trail. You can also connect to other trails in nearby preserves.
  • There’s camping. The preserve has four primitive campsites for family or group rental. Campers have access to fire pits and latrines.
  • You can picnic. The preserve offers nice stretches of flat, grassy areas for picnicking. You can also rent one of two picnic shelters if you want to have a large get-together.

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Keep the following in mind when you visit Messenger Woods:

  • Preserve hours: 8:00 a.m. to sunset
  • Park in the second, most-northern, lot, and then hike the trail that parallels Spring Creek to view the most impressive stretch of Virginia bluebells (at least when we visited). Here’s a trail map.
  • Visit soon because the spring flowers won’t be in bloom forever—although we noticed many areas still had plants that had sprouted, but that were not yet in bloom.
  • Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and water.
  • Pack binoculars. There is excellent birdwatching.
  • Early morning and late afternoon/early evening are the best times to take photographs.
  • Leave your dog at home; they are banned because of the environmentally sensitive and protected natural areas.
  • Spring is an amazing time at Messenger Woods, but don’t forget to visit during the summer (for hiking, camping, birdwatching, etc.), fall (hiking, fall colors), and winter (snowshoeing, cross-country skiing)
  • The FPDWC offers a variety of nature hikes, presentations, and other activities at Messenger Woods. Click here for the latest opportunities.

IMG_1961If you’re at Messenger Woods, why not make it a day of hiking and nature watching? Check out some of my past blog posts to learn more about other interesting destinations near Messenger Woods:

Orland Grassland: A Respite From Malls, Motorways, and Modernity
Located about 7 miles due east of Messenger Woods

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and 6 Other Places to See Bison in the Midwest
Located about 19 miles southwest of Messenger Woods

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center: Not Your Parents’ Little Red Schoolhouse
Located about 14 miles northeast of Messenger Woods

Next Time at Nature in Chicagoland: Black Partridge Woods

Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes

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10 thoughts on “Messenger Woods: Famous Spring Flowers and Year-Round Fun

  1. The first two wildflowers that you mention, Virginia bluebells and great white trillium, both seem to be very common everywhere but here. I have never seen either of them in the wild. Our native trilliums are not much to look at. It sort of makes me wonder what I am missing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both the Virginia bluebells and great white trillium are beautiful here. The vast stretches of bluebells were simply awe-inspiring to see at Messenger Woods. Of course, spring flowers really jump out in Chicago after a long, gray, and sometimes snowy winter.

      Liked by 1 person

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