Laona Heights Sugar River Colored Sands Sugar River Two Rivers Ferguson Hartley Memorial Trask Bridge Four Lakes Pecatonica River Pecatonica Wetlands Crooked River Grove Creek Seward Bluffs Klehm Forest Preserve Severson Dells Fuller Memorial Cedar Cliff Indian Hill Hinchliff Memorial Kilbuck Bluffs Trailside Kishwaukee Gorge South Kishwaukee Gorge North Rockford Rotary Kishwaukee River Oak Ridge Blackhawk Springs Deer Run Espenscheid Memorial McKiski County Line Kieselburg Roland Olson Stone Bridge Clayton Andrews Ledges Hononegah J. Norman Jensen Millrace Isle Macktown Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve Headquarters

#OptOutside for the Holidays


Celebrate the holidays with family and friends by exploring the great outdoors in your 10,500 acres of forest preserves. This holiday season, the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County joins national outdoor retailer REI in encouraging residents and visitors to enjoy quality time with family and friends by making memories in the great outdoors. (Vehicle access to preserves will be limited to select preserve locations once the roadways become snow or ice covered. Walk-in use is welcomed at all preserve locations, with some hard paths kept cleared, but not all parking lots will be available and not all gates or roadways will be open.)

According to REI’s recent report, The Path Forward, the average American spends 95 percent of their life indoors. It continues:

“As a result, we are becoming an indoor species, which comes with consequences. Our health and well-being may suffer. And the less we value our outdoor spaces, the less likely we are to protect them.”

We hope we can inspire you to spend more time outdoors and to #OptOutside with us this holiday season with the following suggestions for exploring, enjoying, connecting, and renewing in your 43 forest preserves. Find detailed descriptions and maps for each unique forest preserve on this website under the Preserves tab.

Take a Hike! Hiking in the forest preserves is an excellent way to reconnect with family and the natural world. All totaled, FPWC’s preserves offer 100 miles of hiking trails in a wide variety of terrain. So, refresh and reconnect . Three of our most scenic preserves offer paved, handicap accessible trails. Blackhawk Springs, Severson Dells and Klehm Arboretum have paved trails so that people using walkers, strollers and wheelchairs can enjoy the outdoors. The paved paths at these locations are cleared during the winter when special events are taking place. Headquarters Forest Preserve also offers a paved loop trail, which is the trailhead for the Rock River Recreation Path.

Get Fit! Remember, hiking is excellent exercise too! A 150–pound person burns 200-475 calories and gains cardiovascular conditioning in an hour of vigorous hiking.

Notice Nests! Winter’s bare branches make it the best time to observe bird nests and other animal homes that now become visible. It is fun to try to identify the type of bird that built the nest by learning shape, form, placement and the materials used for building. Some nests are tiny, intricately woven creations. Others are minimalist constructions of a few twigs placed precariously across supporting branches. Look carefully for the tiny nests of hummingbirds, and see if you can find the Baltimore Oriole nest hanging like a fuzzy pouch from a high branch. White-faced hornets’ nests are also revealed in naked trees. These exceptional examples of natural engineering appear as a marbled teardrop-shaped balls hanging from tree branches.

Birds!(or Brrrrrds!) There are over thirty different species of birds that can commonly be viewed throughout the colder months when it is easier to spot birds and study them without obstruction. Local birders look forward to this season so they can find northern species that that are not here during other times of the year. Great spots for bird watching are along the rivers, especially when part of the water is frozen, but enough is open to provide food and water for the birds. Look for areas of good cover and trees with seeds for the birds. Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a good site because of the many fruit trees that provide necessary survival nutrition for birds. Some of the common birds likely to be seen in our winter woods are the Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, White- breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Red- and White-winged Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin and Black-capped Chickadee. Listen for Great Horned and Barred Owls calling at dusk.

Winter Wildlife Wonders! On warm winter days you may notice some animals out and about that are dormant during the winter, but are not true hibernators. The animals that are active all winter will leave tracks and signs in the snow that tell the tale of their activities. After a snowfall it’s challenging and fun to learn to identify the tracks of skunks, chipmunks, raccoons, squirrels, weasels, otters, owls, and lots of birds. Expect to see deer tracks in forest preserves, as well. Raccoon tracks are easy to identify due to their finger-like paws. Look for the tracks of mice and other small rodents on top of the snow, or evidence of their tunnels as bumps in the snow. Sometimes it is easier for a small animal to go under the snow rather than to try to trek across the top where they may be predators like fox and coyotes. These canines grow a thick layer of fur that helps keep them insulated from the snow. Look for their four-toed tracks with claws, just like a dog track.

Skiing and Snowshoeing! If the white stuff arrives, make the most of it by strapping some fun to your feet and hitting the preserves. Rocktown Adventures in Rockford offers instruction, rental, and guided group outings utilizing cross-country skis and snowshoes. Over sixty miles of trails in forest preserves offer pristine scenery and challenging terrain. Skiers should take snow conditions into consideration, as forest preserves trails are not groomed. The preserves below are popular with cross-country skiers.

  • Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve has 6.3 miles
  • Hononegah Forest Preserve has 2.7 miles
  • Kieselburg Forest Preserve has 2.9 miles
  • Kishwaukee Gorge Forest Preserve has 3.1 miles
  • Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve has 1 mile
  • Espenscheid Memorial Forest Preserve has 1.6 miles
  • Pecatonica River Forest Preserve has 9.8 miles in the lower portion
  • Oak Ridge Forest Preserve has 5.3 miles and connects to Deer Run Forest Preserve if the river can be safely crossed
  • Deer Run Forest Preserve has 9.5 miles
  • Seward Bluffs Forest Preserve has 8.5 miles
  • Sugar River Forest Preserve has 5.9 miles
  • Sugar River Alder Forest Preserve has 4.9 miles
  • Colored Sands Forest Preserve has 2.8 miles

Serene Start 2019. There may be no better way to start the New Year than by learning how to walk – again! Bundle up and join us for a guided New Year’s Day Tranquility Walk through the
winter woods of Klehm Arboretum. Experience the healing properties of spending quiet time outdoors in this beautiful setting, while rediscovering the peace and serenity that exists within you.
See details and register in advance