Outdoor Activities and Social Distancing
By Katie Arvia published March 23, 2020
Right now, many of us are adjusting to working remotely, the temporary closure of attractions and the limited dining options at restaurants. It is easy to get cabin fever during these unprecedented times. However, the Chicago Southland has many options that can help you safely get out of the house while still practicing social distancing.
With over 40,000 acres of forest preserves to explore, the Chicago Southland has endless trails for walking, hiking, biking and more. While nature centers, visitor centers and other public spaces including restrooms are currently closed, the trails will remain open. Please note, that while trails located within the Forest Preserve District of Will County are currently open, parking lots and dog parks are currently closed, and trails must be accessed by foot or bicycle.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County trails are also open (please click here for an up-to-date map of parking lots that are open), and they recommend the following tips to stay safe while visiting a trail:
- Use Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidelines on hygiene before, during and after your visit.
- Do not visit the forest preserves if you are sick or experiencing symptoms.
- Wash your hands before and after visiting.
- Carry and use hand sanitizer if you touch surfaces like handrails.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes (preferable with a disposable tissue).
- Keep a minimum distance of six feet from other trail users at all times.
- Warn others on the trail of your presence and step off the trail when necessary to maintain six feet of distance.
- Bring your own food and water; do not use drinking fountains or water pumps.
- Help us by carrying any trash out with you, particularly used tissues or food wrappers.
While visiting the forest preserves throughout the Chicago Southland, try your hand at bird watching! Visit the Bartel Grassland in Tinley Park for a chance to spot bobolink, eastern meadowlark, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, savannah sparrow, sedge wren and dickcissel. If you are looking for red-winged blackbirds, chimney swifts, mallards or greater white-fronted geese, stop at the Burnham Prairie Nature Preserve in Burnham. Or if you would like to try your luck spotting a rare grassland bird, travel to the Orland Grassland in Orland Park. Make sure to bring along your binoculars and camera!
For more information regarding trail access and closures, please visit the Forest Preserves of Cook County website at FPDCC.com and the Forest Preserve District of Will County website at ReconnectWithNature.org. As always, we encourage you to call ahead to confirm trail accessibility.
The Cal-Sag Trail is open daily from dawn until dusk. Currently 13 miles long, the Cal-Sag is perfect for bike rides, walks, bird watching or simply enjoying the great outdoors. The Cal-Sag is connected to Lake Katherine, Sag Quarries Preserve and over 60 additional miles of non-motorized trails. As always, please be sure to clean up any trash that you bring along and maintain a safe social distance to other trail users.
Friends of the Indian Boundary Prairies
The Indian Boundary Prairies are made up of four different prairies in Markham: Gensburg-Markham, Dropseed, Paintbrush and Sundrop Prairies. Consisting of over 200 acres of Illinois Native Prairie to explore, this beautiful area gives visitors an idea of what our area was like pre-settlement. The Gensburg-Markham Prairie is a National Natural Landmark, dedicated in 1988. Visit the prairies and allow yourself to be transported back in time while you enjoy the beautiful landscapes. Plus, as the weather begins to warm up, witness the prairies coming to life. Wildflowers, birds, butterflies and other wildlife can be spotted throughout the Indian Boundary Prairies.
Please use safe social distancing while visiting and remember to clean up any trash you may bring with you to the prairies.
Many people probably don’t associate the Chicago Southland region with waterfalls. However, there are a few beautiful locations throughout the region that would serve as excellent places to relax and enjoy nature.
The Blue Island Waterfalls (2251 Fulton Street, Blue Island) is one of five of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s waterfalls. Built to improve the water quality and create a new life in the Chicago Area Waterway system, the Blue Island Waterfalls are used by local municipalities as parks to be enjoyed by the public. Located along the banks of the Cal-Sag in Blue Island, SEPA Station 3 is a park where visitors can overlook the waterfalls and the Western Avenue Bridge.
In Worth, the Worth Waterfalls can be found at SEPA Station 4, located at 115th and Harlem Avenue. Designed to be a lagoon in a wooded grove, this waterfall features a pavilion, walking/running paths, pedestrian bridges and a scenic overlook, all on 12.5 acres.
While visiting the waterfalls, please be sure to practice social distancing and clean up any trash that you may bring with you.
Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
While the visitor center at Lake Katharine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens is currently closed, the grounds in Palos Heights are still open for visitors to enjoy. Please note, Lake Katherine staff is currently not on duty and guests are encouraged to take home anything they bring along, especially garbage. Lake Katherine is also home to its own waterfall, one of the nature center’s most popular features. The waterfall tumbles over four separate falls, travels a distance of over 300 feet and descends approximately 30 feet in height before joining the 20-acre lake.
The Chicago Southland is home to many beautiful works of art, many of which you can find outside.
Homewood is home to the largest collection of Richard Haas murals in the world. Haas is a world-renowned painter who specializes in large illusion murals. While walking the streets of Homewood, you’ll find more than a dozen murals on the sides of various buildings, including a 1950s diner, a greenhouse and a service station. Click here for a map detailing where to find all of the Haas murals.
Not far from Homewood, you can find the Flossmoor Sculpture Gardens. The sculpture gardens are a public art program that places works of art throughout Flossmoor, including the village square, along residental streets and in the Floosmoor Garden & Sculpture Park. Click here for a map of where to find all of the sculptures.
University Park is home to the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University. This sculpture park is a collection of 30 large-scale sculptures situated across 100 acres of prairie landscape. Although it is located on the GSU campus, it was founded and is maintained through grants and donations from businesses and individuals. This park is open 365 days a year and is free of charge to all visitors.
Throughout the Chicago Southland, you can find the Illinois Lincoln Highway Murals. These murals can be found along the first coast-to-coast road in the United States, Lincoln Highway. The highway was dedicated in 1913 and runs approximately 25 miles through the Chicago Southland, from Lynwood to New Lenox. A series of nine murals can be found near the highway commemorating the local and national history of the Lincoln Highway. For a list of locations and more information on each mural, please click here.
Take a walk through Tinley Park this summer and enjoy the 2020 Benches on the Avenue series! This year's theme is "Around the World" and will feature nearly two dozen hand-crafted, imaginative benches created by both amateur and professional artists. These 3D works of art will depict some of the most explored and fascinating travel destinations, vacation spots and/or iconic landmarks across the globe and will be on display in downtown Tinley Park from May to October. For more information on the Benches on the Avenue project, click here.
While these collections of art are free and open to the public, please use good judgement when visiting each location. Be sure to practice social distancing and be mindful of any current travel restrictions.
The Chicago Southland is home to many exciting railfanning opportunities, including railfan parks in Homewood and Park Forest.
The railfan park in Homewood (2020 Chestnut Road) is home to an elevated train watching platform where you can see Canadian National, Amtrak and Metra trains throughout the day. This park is adjacent to Homewood’s historic train station, a Spanish-revival style structure that was completed in 1923. You can also see the refurbished IC engine and caboose at the park.
In Park Forest, the railfan park can be found at North Street and Homan Avenue. Here, you railfans can observe Canadian National and Metra trains, along with a rare opportunity to see a double wye rail interchange. Opened in 2012, the park features a 40-foot elevated viewing platform and features a restored Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad Caboose #531 as well as eight interpretive signs that describe the history of railroads in Park Forest and the Chicagoland area. At least 32 trains pass by daily. The park connects to the Old Plank Road Trail, part of the Forest Preserve District of Will County.
Please remember to wash your hands before and after visiting the railfan parks and maintaining a safe social distance.
The Chicago Southland is home to several fun roadside attractions that you can safely view from your car! These unique travel destinations are sure to catch your eye as you drive by. If you decide to stop and visit Elise the Cow or the Frankenstein Muffler Man, make sure to practice safe social distancing and share your travels.
Here is a list of fun roadside attractions for you to visit:
Spinning Ice Cream Cone
Andy’s Frozen Custard
8041 South Harlem Avenue, Burbank or 9507 South Cicero Avenue, Oak Lawn
Frankenstein Muffler Man
Haunted Trails Family Entertainment Center
7759 South Harlem Avenue, Burbank
Mr. & Mrs. Smiley - Smiling Water Towers
Mr. Smiley - 96 River Oaks Center Drive, Calumet City
Mrs. Smiley - 1700 Dolton Avenue, Calumet City
Cow with a Chef's Hat
Los Portales Mexican Restaurant
2 East Main Street, Chicago Heights
Guardian Auto Rebuilders
8939 South Kedzie, Evergreen Park
Giant Spinning Pork Chop
14933 Pulaski Road, Midlothian
Elise the Cow
19000 Wolf Road, Mokena
King Tin Man
King Heating and Air Conditioning
4813 West 159th Street, Oak Forest
Big Chief: World's Largest Cigar Store Indian
Cardinal Liquor Barn
9630 Southwest Highway, Oak Lawn
Light Bulb Water Tower
13603 South Halsted Street, Riverdale
Cleaning Up the Community
Looking for a way to give back to your community? Grab a garbage bag and head outside! Help clean up your neighborhood by collecting and disposing of discarded trash. Please use safe practices while cleaning up outside, including:
- Washing your hands before and after collecting trash.
- Use plastic gloves while handling trash.
- Secure and properly dispose of any trash collection bags.
Make sure to share your community clean-ups on social media and use the hashtag #ChicagoSouthlandCares!