First thing to know: the Skokie Lagoons aren’t in Skokie, Ill. The forest preserve is part of the Cook County system and is located in Winnetka, Northfield and Glencoe, well north of Skokie. The lagoons are located on a site that was originally marshland that was called by the Potawatomi Indians “Chewbab Skokie,” or big, wet prairie. The site eventually became called Skokie Marsh by the English-speakers, even as it was partially drained to create more farmland. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps brought the flooding under control by creating the lagoons that you see today. Workers moved more than 4 million yards of earth, in what the Forest Preserve of Cook County says was the largest CCC project in the nation.
What Makes It Great
The result is seven numbered lagoons of various sizes plus dozens of channels and islands that link them all together. The forest preserve claims it features some of the best fishing in Cook County, with strong populations of walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill and bullhead. You also may be able to spot coyote, mink, gray and red fox and lots of birds, including common loons, black-crowned night-herons, green herons and prothonotary warblers.
The forest preserve starts at Willow Road, and runs basically parallel to I-94, just east of the expressway. The Chicago Botanic Gardens marks the northern edge of the preserve, between Dundee and Lake Cook Road, and paddlers can explore the gardens from the lagoons that surround the property.
Private boats can be launched from the Tower Road Boat Launch, which is just south of Tower Road and east of I-94. Rentals are available just a bit further east on Tower Road from Chicago River Canoe and Kayak. They even offer a guided sunset dinner paddle during the summer, which features a picnic dinner on Seafisher Island and a twilight return through the lagoons.
The launches here provide easy access to lagoons 3, 4 and 5, while additional lagoons can be accessed via short portages of small dams and dikes.
Who is Going to Love It
Nature lovers and bird watchers will certainly enjoy the forest preserve. All the channels and islands make the lagoons a fun place to explore in a relatively small area.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Parking is available at the Tower Road Boat Launch.
Cook County Forest Preserve hours are from sunrise to sunset.