Late-summer hikes in the Palos preserves

Every season offers reasons to get outdoors, and late summer is no exception.

A farewell to summer, a scouting expedition for fall, a season-changing cleansing breath, a declaration of intent to stay active as the weather turns cooler — there are more reasons to hike now than there are trails in the Palos preserves.

Which is where I headed to scout some September hikes. As part of my elusive but enjoyable quest to become familiar with the 51 miles of trails in this nearly 16,000-acre expanse of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, I headed down to the near southwest suburbs and laced up my hiking boots.

But on my first walk, the footwear of choice was running shoes.

The unpaved trail that makes an 8.1-mile loop (with several shortcuts available) through Swallow Cliff Woods is a much-beloved fitness outing as well as a walk in the woods.

Because it can be reached from the top of the stairs that once served toboggan slides, the trail attracts runners and brisk walkers who add it to their stair-climbing workout.

Which isn't to slight the woodsiness of the walk. The trail has some hills, plenty of forest and a variety of wildflowers in the more open section just west of the Swallow Cliff Woods. I walked past Joe Pye weed, woodland sunflowers and bright red spikes of cardinal flowers.

"It's beautiful," said Joan Zigulich, a yoga instructor who walks here several times a week. She loves the scenery, she feels safe and she finds her walks not unlike her yoga practice.

"The breathing, the attention to my posture — it's just an extension of what I do as a yoga teacher," she said.

And though the trail is unpaved, it's smooth enough that Leah Frericks and Kourtney Wabick were walking it while pushing strollers. In Frericks' case, a double stroller, with 2-year-old Jameson and 3-month-old Stella inside.

"I start out at the top of the slides," Frerick said. "My husband carries the stroller up."

"It's wonderful for the boys," said Wabick, whose own stroller held almost-2-year-old Brayden. "They like looking at the bugs and the trees."

"Horsey!" Brayden said happily, as one walked past with a rider atop.

Equestrians, dog walkers, mountain bikers — they were all here, proving the trail's popularity. But if this walk has too much of a fitness vibe for you, there are plenty of alternatives. I drove north to one of my favorites, the loop around Tomahawk Slough near Wolf Road Woods.

Being a sucker for lakes and open meadows, I parked at Bullfrog Lake and walked along the parking lot to its end, and then up a hill on an unmarked trail through the grass.

Grasshoppers rose in clouds around my feet, springing away as I walked. At the top of the hill, there was a sweet view of the lake, and the path headed into the woods and the orange-coded trail that starts the loop.

The trail rose and fell, dipped into woods on a single-track path ideal for mountain biking, and came out into dappled sunshine punctuated by butterflies. All was quiet and solitude — in fact, a little too much solitude for me, walking alone. I saw no one else on the trail and would have felt more comfortable walking with a friend or on a busier day.

So I was glad to encounter Miguel Mijes and his three dogs in the parking lot at the end of my walk. He comes here every other day from the Southwest Side to walk his dogs and clear his mind.

"I put the spa music on" — he patted his pocket, where his smartphone was playing softly — "and keep walking. It keeps my stress level low."

You can do the same, throughout Palos and its cornucopia of trails. And after you've squeezed every last bit of summer from the end of the season, you can test what Mijes said about hiking here: Fall is even better.




— Take a trail map. There are excellent, oversize maps posted at parking lots showing trail heads, but after that you have to rely on color-coded signposts, which are meaningless without the corresponding trail map.

— You can download maps at For Swallow Cliff, choose the Sag Valley Trail System; for Tomahawk Slough, the Palos Trail System. You can also get maps at the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, 9800 Willow Springs Road, Willow Springs.

— The Tomahawk Slough loop is a little tricky. Park at Bullfrog Lake — off Wolf Road south of 95th Street. After you walk through the grassy trail, turn right on the orange trail; left on the single-track red trail; then left on the brown trail, which takes you to the Wolf Road Woods parking lot.

Walk toward the road, then onto the orange trail back to where it meets the grassy path to Bullfrog Lake. (That last orange trail segment was closed for maintenance the day I was there; the alternative is to walk back on the road.)

— I continue to recommend my all-time favorite Palos hike, which takes you past Cranberry Slough and Boomerang Slough. To walk it, park at Country Lane Woods, entered from the south side of 95th Street between U.S. 45 and 104th Avenue/ Willow Springs Road. Take the beige-coded Old Country Lane trail south. Turn left on the yellow trail around lovely Cranberry Slough. Follow the yellow trail across 95th Street and left as it passes the even lovelier Boomerang Slough. Then turn left onto Old Country Lane to return.

For more outdoors ideas, visit

And of interest to birders: On Thursday, Sept. 12, Richard Crossley, the well-known birder, author and photographer who created the Crossley ID Guides, will be the guest speaker at the DuPage Birding Club. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be at 7 p.m. at the visitor's center at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

TribU Chicago River Wildlife Cruise

On Sept. 28, please join me and the experts – Mark Hauser, education manager of Friends of the Chicago River, and Geoff Williamson, a bird expert from the Chicago Ornithological Society — on a chartered boat ride down the South Branch of the Chicago River. We will learn what kind of creatures live in and around the river — and perhaps see some too. More information and tickets are at

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