The Keepataw Preserve is an excellent destination if you:
- Are tired of the flat, boring topography of most of Chicagoland
- Like a good hike or run
- Enjoy seeing rare and endangered species
- Want to see the “birthplace” of limestone that was used to construct some of Chicago’s most famous downtown buildings.
I was excited to experience all these things (okay, not the run), when I visited the Preserve two weeks ago on a beautiful late-summer day. The Preserve is located on Bluff Road, east of Joliet Road in the southwest Chicago suburb of Lemont.
Keepataw Preserve offers a diverse range of habitats—beautiful forests, golden prairies, wet wetlands (just seeing if you’re still paying attention), and a portion of the Des Plaines River Valley. There’s a short 0.28-mile mowed grass circle trail that provides a relaxing hike filled with enchanting scenes of natural beauty. (The views were truly enchanting; I don’t use this term lightly.) Additionally, footpaths allow you to hike deeper into the woods if you so choose.
One of the best aspects of the Preserve are the beautiful views of the river valley that are available from atop the 60-foot bluffs. These cliffs were created as dolomite limestone was mined in the late 1800s. Ruins of the limestone quarrying operation, including a tall smokestack, can be viewed from the cliffs.
After viewing photographs and video of the smokestack, I thought it would be easy to find. Not so. The dense summer foliage made it hard to spot. But I was not deterred. I hiked east on a footpath that began just after the only bench in the preserve (the one that overlooks the river valley) and eventually spotted the tan smokestack through the trees. Success! As a nature writer, I’m not a big fan of smokestacks, but seeing that a remnant of this area’s rich history had survived was pretty cool.
I carefully descended the 60-foot cliff. My goal was to get a closer look at the smokestack, the limestone quarries, and the spring-fed wetlands that are now home to a beautiful natural area that features the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly and other rare species, as well as plant species such as robin’s plantain, Ohio horse mint, and false pennyroyal.
I tried to reach the smokestack and one of the now-water filled quarries, but the wetlands were really wet and the late-summer growth was quite dense. I turned around and headed back up the sheer cliff.
Many huffs-and-puffs, wild grabs at roots and tree branches, and 7,000 calories burned later, I pulled myself back atop the cliff. There must be an easier path to the smokestack and the valley bottom, but maybe not. But I enjoyed the exertion and adventure. Plus, you’d never get this type of adventure as you stroll flat North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, where some of the limestone from this area ended up as Chicago was slowly built into a great, international city. When I see Holy Name Cathedral, the Water Tower, and other iconic buildings that were built with dolomite limestone, I’ll always remember my hike at the Keepataw Preserve. The Preserve is named after Chief Keepataw, a Potawatomi who settled in this area in the early 1800s.
- Keepataw’s Stone Transformation (excellent article on the history of Keepetaw, the limestone quarrying industry in the area, and the unique natural environment of Keepetaw)
- Drone Video of Keepataw and the Des Plaines River Valley
I highly recommend a visit to the Keepataw Preserve. Pair it with a visit to Black Partridge Woods, a few minutes east on Bluff Road. (Click here for my article on Black Partridge Woods.) This Illinois Nature Preserve features ravines and streams, prehistoric-looking fish, challenging hiking, some of the earliest spring flowers in the Chicagoland area, stunning fall colors, migratory bird watching, and much more.
After visiting the Keepataw Preserve and Black Partridge Woods, be sure to visit the historic town of Lemont just across the river. The town was originally named Keepetaw in honor of the Potawatomi chief, then changed to Athens, then Palmyra, and finally Lemont in 1850. Lemont, which was first settled in 1833, offers historic churches and other buildings made from dolomite limestone, a pretty historic downtown, antique shops, boutiques, and tons of history. It’s one of my favorite towns in the southwest suburbs.
Visit if you like history:
Visit if you’re hungry or thirsty:
Still want to do some more hiking and nature-watching? If so, check out some of my past blog posts to learn more about other interesting destinations near Black Partridge Woods:
- Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve: The Wildest Place in Cook County
Located about 10 miles due east of Black Partridge Woods
- Red Gate Woods: Hawks and Hills, Sloughs and Snakes, and Ghosts and Buried Nuclear Waste, Oh My!
Located about 10 miles east of Black Partridge Woods
- Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center: Not Your Parents’ Little Red Schoolhouse
Located about 12 miles due east of Black Partridge Woods
- Orland Grassland: A Respite From Malls, Motorways, and Modernity
Located about 20 miles due southeast of Black Partridge Woods
- Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and 6 Other Places to See Bison in the Midwest
Located about 31 miles southwest of Black Partridge Woods
Copyright [text/photos (unless otherwise credited)] Andrew Morkes