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Your Forest Preserves

your forest preserves


Van Patten Woods Trail Map
Des Plaines River Trail Map
Countywide Map & Guide
Sterling Lake Fishing Map


975 acres


Boating / Canoeing / Kayaking
Cross-Country Skiing
Hike Lake County Challenge
Horseback Riding
Ice Fishing
Model Airplane Field
Picnic Shelter Rental
Youth Group Camping


Drinking Water
Horse Trailer Parking
Picnic Shelters
Picnic Tables
Public Parking

Related Sites 

Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway
Sedge Meadow Canoe Launch (Wadsworth Road)
Van Patten Woods Canoe Launch (Russell Road)

Picnic Shelters

Shelter A
Shelter B
Shelter C
Shelter D

Van Patten Woods

Alert: Construction to replace the toilet at the Sterling Lake boat launch will begin in late July. The current facility will be in operation until the new toilet is in place. Please exercise caution in this area.

An oak forest, 86-acre Sterling Lake and the Des Plaines River provide a picturesque backdrop for a variety of outdoor recreation activities at this preserve.

Five miles of trails are open to hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers. The Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT) bisects the preserve and is also open to snowmobilers. It's accessible from the preserve trails or from the trailhead at the Russell Road entrance. 

Sterling Lake offers a wheelchair accessible floating dock, two fishing piers, and a boat ramp and sand launch area for cartop boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards or other small watercraft. Launching is free and at your own risk. You'll need approved flotation gear and your boat must be properly registered with the state of Illinois. Trailers are permitted but parking is limited to the grass overflow parking lot. Electric trolling motors are allowed.

A rustic youth group campground that can be reserved for organized youth groups of up to 60 is located on the preserve's northern end. The site has a water pump, fire rings, firewood, parking and toilets.

Model aircraft enthusiasts will enjoy a nearby flying field, which includes a windsock, spectator area, toilets, drinking water and parking. A permit and current AMA license is required.



Van Patten Woods is located in Wadsworth. [View on Google Maps]

Main entrance: Route 173, east of Route 41 and west of Delany Road.

Boat launch: enter at the main entrance, follow signs to Sterling Lake, use the first parking area on the west side of the lake.

Horse trailer parking: on south side of Russell Road east of Route 41.

Model Aircraft Field and Youth Group Campground: on north side of Russell Road east of Route 41.



Van Patten Woods was Lake County’s first forest preserve, created in 1961 with a 162-acre purchase. In the 1970s the abandoned gravel pit that is now Sterling Lake was acquired. Mined from the 1930s through the mid-1970s, this area was deeply scarred. Major restoration that took place between 1989 and 1993 resulted in the safe and clean preserve we enjoy today.

The preserve is named in honor of David Van Patten, President of the Lake County Forest Preserves in 1960. The former gravel pit was once known as Vulcan Lake. Following a "name-the-lake" contest, it was renamed Sterling Lake in honor of Sterling Township, the previous name for Newport Township.


The Natural Scene

The key natural feature here is the river and its adjacent floodplain, which serve as a refuge to many native species while providing flood control to Lake County residents. On higher ground to the river’s east, you can relax among native oak woodlands and planted pine groves. To the west, natural areas are being restored where the former gravel quarry had severely altered the land.


Preserve News

2015 Picnic Shelter Reservations Now Open
ALERT: Trail Closures
Preserve safety tips