Midwest Trails: McDowell Grove Forest Preserve

Another local forest preserve, another decent trail run. This is an interesting preserve, in that it appears to be cobbled together from a variety of sources, by a disparate group of organizations. First and foremost, this was a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, where people lived while working on various projects. Then  it became the site of a secret radar development HQ. Nifty.

Typical trail view of the Northern out and back

The parking lot is located somewhat in the middle of the preserve, so I decided to head north first, including a side trail that was part singletrack connecting to a grass trail back to the main path.

Side trail

This park runs along the West Branch of the Du Page River, before this I ran near the East Branch (see Greene Valley post). Apart from the river itself, there was quite a bit of other water features, including some streams and lakes.


West Branch DuPage River and transition between gravel and paved paths

Between the parking lot and a road to the north, the path was crushed gravel, but then changed to a paved trail, which was a bicycle trail developed by the state of Illinois. It passed under a street and also the Interstate and was quite a bit more developed than the earlier section of trail, with houses backing right up to it.

It terminated at another road, so I headed back the same way. Coming back towards the parking lot, I found a section of singletrack, which was welcome after the paved section.



Several days before my run, our family took a walk in the preserve, covering several of the southern side loops. From the photos, you can see that our family outing was under blue skies and sun, while my run included clouds and rain.

The southern loop is more open, less wooded and traverses one of the ugliest dams I have ever seen. Such a complete disregard for both nature and aesthetics is not uncommon with dam projects, but this one was more brutal than most.

By running an out and back to the north, including a side loop, then running an out and back to the south (including side loops), I was able to stretch the run to nearly 9 miles, so this is a decent location for a mid-distance run.

The preserve is located near an expressway exit and lies approximately a half hour west of Chicago, making it a decent option for someone looking to run a trail near the city. While not one of my favorites among the preserves I have run, it has some beautiful sections, and the variety of surfaces is a nice change.

Other nearby trails: Waterfall Glen, Hidden LakeDanada Forest Preserve, Sag Valley, Waterfall Glen again, Herrick Lake and Danada, Greene Valley, Palos Forest Preserve, Blackwell (winter), Greene Valley (winter), Illinois Prairie Path, Hidden Lake (winter), Waterfall Glen (winter).

14 thoughts on “Midwest Trails: McDowell Grove Forest Preserve

  1. “Rail” run? “Iliinois”? Hum…you hit some interesting places, for sure. Will have to seek an atlas for those two.
    Payback for the Scrooge comment :).

    Did you run like 40 miles that day? Such a vast array of topography, which I like – keeps it more interesting. You need a fam pic with the sunny blue skies!

    Hope IN is going well.

  2. I really enjoyed learning about the history of the preserve- very cool. We used to run with my middle school x-country and track team at McDowell woods. I think we should do a blogger meet-up/run at McDowell woods.

  3. I love these posts about the preserves. I do most of my trail running in areas like that, but obviously it is totally different in nearly any aspect. Wonderful to see these photos of beautiful places far away.

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