chicago nature photos

Think Chicago isn’t the place for nature photos? Guess again!

Published on June 23, 2022

Even though Chicago is a sprawling urban metropolitan area, there are still plenty of places throughout the region where you can set up shop with a camera or your phone and take some amazing photos of beautiful nature.

Chicago’s acclaimed Lakefront Trail is filled with photogenic spaces, but there are a couple in particular that stand out when it comes to viewing nature. The Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area and the adjacent Bird Sanctuary are celebrated for the number of species—more than 300—that have been spotted in the area. The Dunes made local headlines when a pair of Great Lakes piping plovers—named Monty and Rose—began nesting there in 2019. They hatched seven chicks over three seasons before Monty’s death in May 2022.

On the South Side of the lakefront, the 100-acre Burnham Wildlife Corridor consists of three unique areas: The Burnham Centennial Prairie, Burnham Nature Sanctuary and the McCormick Bird Sanctuary. Combined, they provide a habitat for birds, caterpillars and butterflies, with many species of plants, grasses and wildflowers that are native to the Chicago area.

The counties that comprise the metropolitan area of Chicago have all set aside land where you can interact with nature as a respite from the sprawl and pace of urban life, and take some grea photos. The largest is the Forest Preserves of Cook County, which consists of 70,000 acres of protected public open space throughout the city and suburbs. Many of the 356 preserves are connected via a series of paved and unpaved trails that offer plenty of opportunities for photographing nature. Among the biggest trail systems are:

  • North Branch Trail System: A 20-mile long system which starts at LaBagh Woods on the Northwest Side of Chicago and runs along the Chicago River through the Skokie Lagoons.
  • Salt Creek Trail System, which follows the Des Plaines River to the Brookfield Zoo, where it picks up Salt Creek and continues out west to Westchester.
  • Des Plaines Trail System, which starts at Sunset Bridge Meadow in River Grove and goes north through more than a dozen preserves until it reaches Northbrook. 
  • Thorn Creek Trail System, which consists of nearly 20 miles between Lansing Woods in Lansing and King’s Grove in Bloom Township.
County Cook Preserve

DuPage County’s forest preserves district contains 60 preserves covering 26,000 acres with 166 miles of trails. The district is dedicated to protecting the more than 5,000 species of plant and animal life that inhabit the area from non-native invasive species that threaten the ecosystem. The county has also created a helpful guide to the 24 most popular preserves, detailing the locations, lengths of trails and other important information about what can be found there. 

The Lake County Forest Preserve District was established in 1958 as the population of the area was starting to grow. Since then, more than 31,000 acres of open space have been spared from development. As with Cook County, many of the Lake County Forest Preserves are connected by trails. The largest are the Millennium Trail (32.9 miles from Countryside Golf Club in Mundelein to Van Patten Woods in Wadsworth), the Des Plaines River Trail (31.4 miles from Cahokia Flatwoods in Deerfield to Van Patten Woods) and the Chain O’Lakes Bike Path (a 10.7-mile loop connecting Chain O’Lakes State Park in Spring Grove to Grant Woods in Ingleside). The district has interactive and downloadable maps for you to plan your excursion.

Remember that these are areas devoted to protecting the local ecosystems, so please check the websites for any and all guidelines regarding how to best respect the environment. 

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