Forest Faves: Waterfall Glen
As one of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s largest preserves, Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien offers many spots worth checking out. Naturalist Keriann Dubina has been exploring Waterfall Glen since she was a child and has many fond memories of her favorite spots at Waterfall Glen.
The 2,492-acre forest preserve is one of the most ecologically impressive parcels of open space in the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, if not northern Illinois.
Dubina’s favorite spot is the Rocky Glen Scenic Overview, which features a picturesque view of Sawmill Creek. Dubina enjoys taking walks along the trail and bird watching. The Rocky Glen and Signal Hill areas are part of the first 75 acres the District purchased at Waterfall Glen in 1925. Rocky Glen is well known for its popular tiered waterfalls, which the Civilian Conservation Corps built in the 1930s.
Dubina’s No. 1 tip when visiting this spot is to just stop and take it all in. The Rocky Glen Scenic Overview overlooks a one-of-a-kind view of Sawmill Creek that is beautiful any time of the year. Waterfall Glen supports 740 native plant species — 75 percent of all the species known to grow naturally in DuPage County — as well as 300 kinds of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles, and 400 invertebrates.
Waterfall Glen includes an 11-mile loop of limestone and turf trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding or cross-country skiing that has been described as “fierce enough to make you sweat but not so vast that you’ll need a tent.” The trail takes visitors to some other popular spots at Waterfall Glen, including the Bluff Savanna, featuring pileated woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, barred owls and broad-winged hawks, and Poverty Prairie, a 120-acre wide-open space with 339 plant species, including meadowlarks, gray catbirds, western harvest mice, and poverty oat grass.
There are also opportunities to fish in the still waters of old quarries scattered throughout the preserve or where Sawmill Creek flows into the Des Plaines River.
Waterfall Glen also offers an orienteering course where visitors can learn how to navigate through the outdoors with a map and a compass. A permanently marked course is in northeast Waterfall Glen near the trailhead. Visitors may reserve supplies for the course by calling Visitor Services at 630-933-7248 but must do so at least three business days in advance. The preserve also features a model airplane field and two youth-group campgrounds.
This spot is also a great place to do some birdwatching. The best time of day to look out for the birds are in the morning. The most common birds to be found in Waterfall Glen include pileated woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, ovenbirds, wood thrushes, broad-winged hawks and barred owls.
Dubina reveals a couple of Waterfall Glen’s best-kept secrets are the large number of old oak trees and the huge millipedes that can be found on the trails that are not common to the area.
An interesting but little-known fact about the preserve is that it was named Waterfall Glen after Seymour “Bud” Waterfall, an early president of the District’s Board of Commissioners, not the popular waterfall at the preserve.