Pine Dunes Forest Preserve: Birding, Biking, and Easy Hiking

Looking for a place where you can:

  • view as many birds as possible
  • have the chance to hike several miles on a loop trail
  • enjoy some solitude
  • visit someplace new

If so, you should visit Pine Dunes Forest Preserve, which is located in Antioch, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border. It’s part of the Lake County Forest Preserves (LCFP) and features 956 acres that consists of rolling hills, oak-hickory woodlands, prairie, savanna, and vernal ponds and other wetland communities. The LCFP says that Pine Dunes has “some of the finest rolling topography found in Lake County,” and that it is “one of five preserves and one state natural area that comprise a 5,300-acre regional trail and greenway in northern Lake County.”

Here are five things you can do at Pine Dunes Forest Preserve:

Go Hiking

The preserve, which opened to the public in 2018, offers 2.8 miles of easy gravel trails along with four boardwalks and three scenic overlooks. What’s nice about this path is that it’s a loop trail, and there are mileage markers in case you want to track your progress. I started my November hike by heading north on the trail from the parking lot, then east. Heading this way will take you through rolling hills that provide great views of the ponds and other wetlands. I liked this trail a lot because of its “Big Sky” feel, as well as its close proximity to the water features (i.e., great birdwatching). Although I didn’t experience the issue, some people who visit the preserve warn that the trails can be muddy and difficult to traverse in the rainy season or when the snow melts. Click here for a trail map.

The trails at Pine Dunes connect to the Des Plaines River Trail along Russell Road (located on the preserve’s east side) to Van Patten Woods Forest Preserve (  in Wadsworth. LCFP says that the trails at Pine Dunes also will connect to its regional Millennium Trail.

Go Animal Watching

More than 200 bird species have been spotted at Pine Dunes, according to ebird. Examples include the state-endangered American Bitterns and Common Gallinules, as well as Brown Thrashers, Northern Flickers, Field Sparrows, European Goldfinches, Bobolinks, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Willow Flycatchers.

I saw many birds—including herons, Sandhill Cranes, and Trumpeter Swans—during my visit. Not just a few birds, but hundreds of birds in the wetlands and ponds. My birding highlight: watching two Trumpeter Swans suddenly take off from wetlands where I’d been viewing them; watching them soar through the air in beautiful, synchronized flight toward me; and then heading toward another wetland.   

According to the Urban Biotic Assessment Program, wildlife surveys have detected 12 species of dragonfly; 20 species of butterfly; Big Brown, Eastern Red, Hoary, Silver-haired, Little Brown, Evening, and Tricolored Bats; six species of amphibian (including Blue-spotted Salamanders); and other animals. iNaturalist offers a list of plants and animals that have been sighted at the preserve.

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“Andrew Morkes gets the options, information and places right on where to recreate in the natural world near Chicago and beyond in his ‘Nature in Chicagoland.’”–Dale Bowman, Outdoors Writer, Chicago Sun-Times

Go Biking

The mostly flat gravel trails at Pine Dunes are perfect for biking. I look forward to bringing my 12-year-old here for some spring biking. Click here for a trail map.

Enjoy Winter Activities

The recent snows in Chicagoland—after a dearth of winter white for much of the season—make it a perfect time to go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, or enjoy a winter hike. For some tips on snowshoeing and winter hiking, check out my articles First-Time Snowshoer Tells All: 10 Tips for Success and My Son’s Thank You  and 12 Tips for a Successful Winter Hike.

Go Horseback Riding

When I was in my 20s, I used to lease a horse and enjoy riding in the forest preserves. It was SO MUCH FUN! The beautiful trails and views at Pine Dunes Forest Preserve made me want to get back in the saddle once again. Who knows, maybe it will happen. Pine Dunes is a perfect spot for horseback riding.  

Things to Know Before You Go

Pine Dunes Forest Preserve is located at 42909 Hunt Club Road, Antioch, IL 60002. The entrance is on Hunt Club Road just north of Edwards Road.

Hours: 6:30 a.m.–sunset, daily

A drinking fountain and washroom facilities are available.

Dogs must be kept leashed and on trails at all times.

Wear sunscreen because there is little shade in most of this preserve. 

Click here for information about the Irish immigrants who established farms in the rolling hills of Pine Dunes Forest Preserve in the 1840s to the early 1900s; the whippet racing that was conducted in certain areas of the site from the 1960s to 1990s; and the ownership of a portion of the property by the McClure family from 1977 through 2010 ).

Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes

Photo Credits:

copyright Andrew Morkes (as credited); all other photos copyright Lake County Forest Preserves


Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations (including for birding) in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book (306 pages, 210+ photos) is only $18.99. Click here to learn more and purchase the book.



I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job OpeningsNontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDsThey Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titlesThey Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.

In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering CareersWhat Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).

My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.


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