Mountain Biking the Windy City

Waterfall Glen
Waterfall Glen

You'll love this scenic, eight-and-a-half-mile loop. Period. One of the most popular multi-purpose trails in the western Chicago suburbs, it passes through a variety of terrains, including meadows, praries, woodlands, and wetlands. While the entire forest preserve surrounds Argonne National Laboratory, a major scientific installation, you never really see it. The eight-foot-wide gravel trail is suitable for all ages and abilities. This is the perfect place to get away from the flurry of your daily life and spend some time on a leisurely ride. Few technical skills are required, so you could fly down the trail—but why would you want to? Relax on this trail.

The forest preserve contains several sites of note. The county's only artesian well is at the south end of the preserve. You'll pass through the "leaning forest," an area where a 1976 tornado bowed the trees. For a scenic view, look across the Des Plaines River at the town of Lemont nestled in the hills. You may spot many species of animals, including coyotes, beavers, bluebirds, herons, and cranes. But the animal you want to keep your eyes peeled for is the deer. I don't mean your average, everyday, brown-colored deer, but a species of white deer. Not a genetic mutation caused by Argonne National Laboratory, these white fallow deer were actually imported here from Asia at the turn of the century. Oh, and one more thing. With a name like Waterfall Glen, you'd expect to see a waterfall—and there is one. Oddly enough, though, the waterfall has nothing to do with the name of the preserve. The area was named after Seymour "Bud" Waterfall, an early forest preserve district president.

General location: Off Cass Avenue, south of Interstate 55 in Darien.

Elevation change: Negligible. The only small hill is by Saw Mill Creek.

Season: Enjoy the changes year-round. The autumn colors are especially vivid.

Services: Water and restrooms are available at the trailhead. All services can be found in Downers Grove or Willow Springs.

Hazards: Since this is a popular multi-purpose trail, you'll be sharing the path with both pedestrians and equestrians. Especially watch the traffic crossing Cass Avenue.

Rescue index: The ranger station often isn't manned, but Lemont Road to the west of the preserve and Cass Avenue to the east are quite busy. Also, there's a guard booth for Argonne National Laboratory near the trailhead. You probabably don't want to bother the lab, but in an emergency, would they turn you away?

Land status: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

Maps: The Forest Preserve District has a great colored map which is sufficient for your needs. You can write for one at the address below. Also, maps are available at the information sign at the trailhead. The USGS 7.5 minute quad is mostly Sag Bridge with a bit found in the Romeoville quad.

Finding the trail: From I-55, take the Cass Avenue south exit. Go south on Cass Avenue a quarter mile and turn right on Northgate Road. Go to the second entrance labeled "Waterfall Glen—Ski Equestrian Trailhead Area." The trail begins at the south end of the parking lot to the left of the restrooms.

Sources of additional information:
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
P.O. Box 2339
Glen Ellyn, IL 60138
(708) 790-4900

Notes on the trail: Since the area has had trail usage conflicts in the past, please stay on the main trail marked by brown carsonite posts with a white circle. Don't take any user-made, single-track spurs you might find. Following the trail is easy, except in a few spots: By Westgate Road, you'll need to ride down the road a little, and the trail will continue again off to your left. Later, when you get to the power station, turn left down the road; the trail will pick up on your right in a few yards. Finally, just past the ranger station, the trail has not been graveled. When it becomes dirt, you'll enter a clearing. The markings aren't clear here, so look carefully for another clearing on your left, heading west, where you will want to turn. This stretch is a little rough from horse use, but it will be well worth it when you come to a majestic wetland area, where I've even seen a sparrow chasing a 6-foot crane. Only in the Chicago area!

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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