Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 26, 2018
(Fall Color Edition & Final Report for 2018)
“Plan the best Chicago autumn nature walks with this fall color report
filled with news and info about the region’s finest natural wonders.”
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Now that autumn has arrived and the blooming season has effectively ended, this post will be our final wildflower alert for the year. Below, I suggest where to find any remaining blooms and provide recommendations about where to find kaleidoscopic fall foliage during the weeks to come.
Here are some highlights to help you plan your fall-color outings around Chicago:
The autumn prairie is a mosaic of colors and textures. It is the first habitat to display autumn color in the foliage. And with the many asters and the ethereal blue and purple gentians that bloom through the end of September, the prairie becomes a beautiful mosaic of colors and textures. Experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and the tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather that glow in the sunlight. In one small patch of prairie, it’s common to see more color than any autumn woodland: oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. Here’s a list of preserves that are worth visiting as they change into their autumn wardrobes:
Prairies to visit this fall:
- Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: Visit the golden sand prairie close to the lake using the trail to the east.
- Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: This preserve offers open expanses of woodland, wetland, and prairie that is my personal favorite preserve of the fall season. Click here for the location of the trailhead that goes west into the prairies.
- Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit to experience the grand grassland expanse.
- Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: This prairie offers a hundreds of species with a wonderful combination of color and texture.
- Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This large prairie offers an array of changing colors, including blooms of fringed and prairie gentians that last through the end of September.
- Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This preserve is really a savanna, but it features many prairie plants.
- Theodore Stone Preserve: There are two different prairies here, a mesic prairie on the west side of the preserve (near the main entrance) and a dolomite (limestone) prairie on the east side.
- Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits.
- Powderhorn Prairie: Experience the most biodiverse natural area within the city limits of Chicago.
- Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit to see the tall grasses and the colorful foliage of the forbs. While you’re on your way, take time to pause under the embrace of gallant oaks in the intimate oak savanna.
- Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois: Contrary to the name, the preserve offers an expanse of prairie that looks great in the fall.
- Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois: Hike this hill prairie and the large grassland at its base.
- Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois: This intimate remnant prairie is beautiful throughout the year. And because it’s quite small, your visit could be quite short.
- Lockport Prairie in Lockport, Illinois: This prairie features a wonderful expanse of tall, waving grasses on a short out-and-back trail.
Woodlands to visit this fall:
- Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: The black oak savanna takes up the majority of this preserve. You can spend all day exploring.
- Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: Lots of great hiking and color through beautiful woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Spears is one of my favorite autumn spots.
- Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: The many flowers and grasses that have brought us joy throughout the growing season are now performing their final show of the year.
- Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois: This is a magic place with steep bluffs, a beautiful stream, and where maples scream gold.
- Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien, Illinois: This vast preserve is a very popular spot for hikers, bikers, and fall-color chasers. It’s beautiful, but there are a lot of people.
- Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, Illinois: Like Black Partridge Woods, this is a wonderful woodland where maples turn to gold.
- Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve in Schererville, Indiana: The name refers to the large expanse of mostly inaccessible prairie across the street from the parking lot.
- Messenger Woods in Lockport, Illinois: A beautiful maple forest with nice color.
- Pilcher Park in Joliet, Illinois: The color here can be great, but keep in mind that it’s a popular preserve.
- Sagawau Canyon: You can sign up for a tour of the canyon, but you can go anytime to walk the trails in the surrounding preserve.
- Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois: This is the finest example of black oak savanna anywhere in the world. For fall color, black oaks can be a bit understated, but there is a wealth of color in the understory.
- Miller Woods in Gary, Indiana: This is a big, beautiful preserve that features black oak savanna and a rich understory.
- Cowles Bog Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Walk the trail through the colorful black oak savanna. When the time comes, choose the fork to the right. Soon you’ll be taken over a steep dune and onto a dramatic panorama of waving grasses along the sand shores of a blue Lake Michigan.
- Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The oak savanna at the entrance is a gem. It’s small, but very inviting and intimate. And, you also can also hike the trail through the prairie and fen.
Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds will often remain while the weather is warm. You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau Canyon, Pilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.
To experience a beautiful fern-lined canyon, call Sagawau Canyon in Lemont to sign up for their next canyon tour. Hurry! They fill up fast.
Get out there and discover what autumn can bring:
Bottle Gentians (through late September, possibly into October)
Fringed Gentian (through late September, possibly into October)
Asters Mark the End of the Blooming Season (many can be seen into October)
Big Bluestem Grass and the Tallgrass Prairie
* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.
If you’d like to help your neighbors discover national-park quality natural events around our homes, then become an official scout. Or, you can help by just sending us pictures and a text description from your visit. Another way is to post your pictures to Instagram using these essential hashtags: #ChicagoNatureNow and #NameOfPreserve.
© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.