Open daily one hour after sunrise until one hour after sunset
Darien, IL
11 Miles
Drinking Water
Horse Trailer Parking

Waterfall Glen

The 2,492-acre Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien is one of the most ecologically impressive parcels of open space within the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, if not northern Illinois.

The ridges and scattered potholes that make up the topography of Waterfall Glen — and most of the county — are the result of one geological event, the Wisconsin Glacier. In fact, the entire Des Plaines River Valley was formed by glacial meltwaters and drainage from a postglacial lake that covered most of the Chicagoland area.

Today, Waterfall Glen’s prairies, savannas, and oak-maple woodlands contain 740 native plant species, 75 percent of all the plants known to grow naturally in DuPage County. As a result of this rich variety, over 300 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles and another 300 of invertebrates use the forest preserve either year-round or during their migrations.

The District has removed considerable amounts of buckthorn, honeysuckle and other select weedy, invasive trees and shrubs from Kettle Woods since winter 2014. Click here for more information on the project.

Natural History

Bluff Savanna

Long-term habitat-improvement projects have helped restore and maintain Waterfall Glen’s 773-acre Bluff Savanna, which roughly covers the southern part of the preserve between Argonne National Laboratory and the Des Plaines River. One of the highest ranked conservation areas in the county, the savanna contains 422 native plant species, including one state threatened and 36 of special concern. Individual black and white oaks, shagbark and bitternut hickories, and black walnuts range from 180- to 215-years-old and are some of the oldest in the county.

Bluff Savanna is also the District’s largest continuous tract of woodlands, making it especially attractive to birds like pileated woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, ovenbirds, wood thrushes, broad-winged hawks, and barred owls, which breed in the area. Ephemeral ponds make the savanna an essential habitat for salamanders and frogs as well.

Poverty Prairie

Forest Preserve District restoration efforts have also benefited Waterfall Glen’s 120-acre Poverty Prairie, a stable, diverse community with over 339 native plant species and resident animals from meadowlarks and gray catbirds to western harvest mice. This dry prairie contains several native grasses, including poverty oat grass, which gives the area its name.

Preserve History

Long before Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet paddled their way through the Des Plaines River Valley in the mid-1600s, American Indians were living along the surrounding limestone bluffs, including today’s Signal Hill, which served as a communications vantage point.

By the late 1800s, though, the Ward Brothers’ mill was turning out lumber on Sawmill Creek, and Edwin Walker’s three quarries were yielding tons of quality Lemont, or Joliet, limestone for projects like the landmark Chicago Avenue Water Tower and Pumping Station. In 1907, the Lincoln Park Commission, a predecessor of the Chicago Park District, had its own 107 acres with a small nursery and a considerable supply of topsoil, which it used to fill in the shoreline along Lake Michigan to create the Lincoln Park area.

In 1925, the Forest Preserve District purchased its first 75 acres at Waterfall Glen, the Signal Hill and Rocky Glen areas. Rocky Glen soon became the site of the forest preserve’s well-known tiered falls, which the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed in the 1930s. In 1973, the forest preserve had its single largest addition, over 2,200 acres of surplus land from the U.S. Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. That same year, the District named the site Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, not after the familiar falls but in honor of Seymour “Bud” Waterfall, an early president of the District’s Board of Commissioners.



Hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders and cross-country skiers can enjoy some of Waterfall Glen’s most scenic areas via four mapped trails, which contain almost 11 miles of limestone- and turf-covered routes. Visitors on foot can explore the narrow, unmarked footpaths that crisscross through Waterfall Glen but should remember that these paths are not on the map and may not connect with mapped trails. To protect Waterfall Glen’s sensitive natural areas, bicyclists may ride only on designed bike trails.

Horseback riders should park their trailers in designated spots at the trailhead on Northgate Road; parking is not allowed at the Lemont Road lot. Riding is not allowed in developed recreational areas, such as the youth-group campground.

When conditions permit, rangers groom trails for cross-country skiing. Classical-style skiers should use the set tracks on the outside of the trail, leaving the inside for freestyle skiers and other trail users. 

If snacks or other food items are packed for a trail excursion, dispose of waste properly. Practice pack it in, and pack it out.  


Several old quarries scattered throughout the preserve offer still fishing waters. Anglers 16 or older who are not legally disabled must carry valid Illinois sport fishing licenses, and all anglers must follow all District and state regulations.

Youth-Group Campground

The two Waterfall Glen youth-group campsites share a shelter and large grill and are close to trails, restrooms with pit toilets, drinking water, trash and recycling containers, and firewood. As part of Districtwide efforts to help slow the spread of the emerald ash borer, outside firewood is not allowed.

Open year-round, these camping areas are set aside for use by youth groups. The District defines youth groups as recognized, nonprofit organizations. Only members of these groups, with their accompanying leaders, may camp in these areas. Camping permits and adult supervision of one leader over 21 years of age for every 10 children are mandatory for campsite use. Groups can reserve sites through Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248 but must do so at least three business days in advance.

Orienteering Course

This challenging activity involves navigating through the outdoors with a map and a compass. A permanently marked course is located in the northeast section of Waterfall Glen near the trailhead. Visitors may reserve supplies for the course by calling Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248.

Model-Airplane Field

A large open field in the southwest section of Waterfall Glen is a popular spot for local model-aircraft enthusiasts. For information on access to this area and use by qualified clubs, contact Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248.

Volunteer Opportunities

Working under the direction of the Office of Natural Resources, volunteer site stewards and “Volunteer Restoration Workday” participants help to monitor and manage Waterfall Glen’s oak woodland, the largest and most diverse of its kind on District land. For information on volunteer opportunities at Waterfall Glen and other forest preserves, visit the Natural Resource Management volunteer page, or contact Volunteer Services at (630) 933-7681 or volunteer@dupageforest.org.


The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is committed to making its facilities accessible to all visitors. For special accessibility needs or concerns, please contact the District's ADA coordinator at (630) 933-7683 or
TTY (800) 526-0857 at least three business days in advance of your visit.

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©2016 Forest Preserve District of DuPage County