Forest Faves: West Branch Forest Preserve
One of the best things about West Branch Forest Preserve in Bartlett is that it features two lakes and the west branch of the DuPage River, according to Dan Grigas, fish ecologist at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
“I especially love the Bass Lake area because it’s off the beaten path,” Grigas said. “It’s an area that I can get lost in and forget that I am actually in the greater Chicagoland suburban sprawl.”
The 725-acre West Branch Forest Preserve also contains wetlands, a tallgrass meadow, a wet prairie, an immature floodplain forest, and a rare fen, and it’s home to a variety of reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds, including grassland birds and migrating and nesting shorebirds. Originally purchased to help with flood control, the forest preserve also features a reservoir that collects and naturally filters storm water.
West Branch offers many types of recreational activities, from fishing to hiking and picnicking. Grigas said his favorite activity to do at West Branch is fish. The 40-acre Deep Quarry Lake has two wheelchair-accessible fishing piers and a maximum depth of 45 feet. The deepest point of the nearby 15-acre Bass Lake is 30 feet. Both contain bass, sunfish, channel and flathead catfish, carp, bluegill and crappie. Giant red-ear sunfish and the largemouth bass are the preserve’s best-kept secret, Grigas said. Night fishing is allowed along the shores of Deep Quarry Lake, but anglers must be out of the forest preserve by 11 p.m.
The west branch of the DuPage River also snakes through the forest preserve for more than two miles, providing scenic beauty in addition to ample fishing opportunities.
Both Bass and Deep Quarry lakes contain invasive, nonnative zebra mussels, so anglers are asked not to dump bait. Visitors are asked to dispose of bait and bait water in the trash or on the ground far from shore and remove all water, mud, plants or animals from all equipment before leaving the shore. They should also wash and dry anything that comes in contact with the water, such as tackle and clothing, with hot water (over 104˚) or a power washer and allow it to dry for at least five days.
West Branch offers many nice spots for picnickers. Ground fires are not allowed, but visitors can bring their own grills and use the on-site hot-coal disposal containers. West Branch features hiking trails on its east and west sides and one that runs south between Deep Quarry and Bass lakes. Dogs are welcome at the preserve but must be kept on a leash.
Grigas said one of the best times to visit West Branch is in the early morning because it’s quiet and you can catch the sunrise. “The same can be said for the evening and sunset,” he added. Fishing is also better at dawn and dusk, he said.
Grigas offers some tips for if you go: Bring your hiking boots and your favorite fishing setup. And enjoy!
The main entrance is on the south side of Army Trail Road two miles east of Route 59 at Gerber Road. Another entrance is on the west side of Fair Oaks Road 0.8 mile south of Army Trail Road.