A Preserve With A View
When renowned landscape designer O.C. Simonds (1855–1931) conceived plans for the Fort Sheridan army base in 1889, he meticulously merged military needs with the land’s rolling terrain and ecologically sensitive bluffs and ravines while making breathtaking views of Lake Michigan a priority. Our team of landscape architects, ecologists and educators considered many of the same philosophies when planning how the public would experience the site and learn from its unique history.
A scenic destination, this stately preserve offers a variety of opportunities to recreate in nature. Fort Sheridan is one of only a few places in Lake County that offer free public access to Lake Michigan and an awe-inspiring lake overlook perched on a 70-foot-high bluff. Known for its pristine natural areas and excellent birdwatching, Fort Sheridan is home to several rare species not found elsewhere in the region. The preserve's savanna, ravines and lakefront location allow visitors to observe one of North America’s busiest flyways for migratory birds. At least 236 species of birds have been seen here.
On Wednesday, August 30, 2023, Openlands transferred ownership of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve to the Lake County Forest Preserves. The following day we reopened the 71.55-acre addition to Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. Learn more»
Relax on the sandy shore, enjoy 3.65 miles of trails for recreation and nature observation, and learn about Fort Sheridan's story through self-guided educational exhibits. Please keep dogs leashed and on trails at all times, and pick up after them. Learn about our off-leash Dog Parks (permit required).
Three paved trails are available for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing:
1-mile Hutchinson Trail runs from Sheridan Road along Hutchinson Ravine to Lake Michigan, and features interpretive exhibits and viewing stations along the route.
0.2-mile Lake Overlook Trail runs from the Gilgare Lane parking lot along the top of the bluff to the pond and lake overlook.
0.75-mile Parade Grounds Trail runs from the Gilgare Lane parking lot to the Parade Grounds (National Historic Landmark), and features interpretive exhibits and views of the surrounding Fort Historic District.
Ideal for birdwatching, the 1.7-mile Birding Trail Loop can be accessed from both parking lots and has connections to the other trails. It brings visitors over Janes Ravine, past the Army cemetery, and through woodlands and savanna to the top of the lake bluff. It is open for hiking and cross-country skiing only.
You can also walk along a 0.75-mile stretch of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline. The shoreline is also great for fishing, birding, picnicking or relaxing. Swimming, wading, and boating are not allowed.
Regional Trail Connections
Trails at Fort Sheridan tie into other regional trail systems including the 20-mile McClory Trail, which runs north and south along Sheridan Road, and the 11-mile North Shore Path, which runs west along Route 176 from Sheridan Road. You can use the North Shore Path to connect to our Des Plaines River Trail near Libertyville and the Millennium Trail near Mundelein.
One-of-a-kind outdoor educational exhibits blend into the landscape and tell the story of Fort Sheridan’s rich natural resources and military history. These self-guided exhibits can be found along the trails, woodlands and ravines, and at the shoreline. Learn more »
Trailhead and Welcome Area
Start your journey at these symbolic gates that include parts of the original fence that once surrounded the main gate at the base.
Bird Migration Viewing Area and Lake Overlook
From this platform you can observe one of our nation’s busiest flyways for migratory birds and learn about the fragile ecosystem of the Great Lakes. Bench seating and a handicap-accessible binocular viewer are available here.
This exhibit features a unique walk-in environment that replicates an army training gun emplacement (circa 1920–1943) and includes an anti-aircraft artillery cannon similar to the type once used in training at the Fort.
Red-tailed Hawk's Nest
Step inside a hawk's world at this larger-than-life exhibit. Cradled among the trees overlooking ravines, the nest provides information on this majestic raptor and features a specially designed viewing station that offers a hawk's-eye view of the preserve. This handicap-accessible exhibit is large enough to accommodate as many as 20 school children.
A variety of other informative trailside displays about human history, nature, and ecology are scattered throughout the preserve.
The Fort Sheridan National Cemetery has played an important role in the site’s history. It stands as a silent witness to the past. Gravestones here date back to 1890. Though we provide ongoing care and maintenance, the cemetery is operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). For questions regarding burials, contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.
VA request for Fort Sheridan National Cemetery Expansion
Building the Fort
If you've ever wanted to travel back in time, then we encourage you to visit this preserve. The site of the historic U.S. Army post (1887–1993) holds national significance for its landscape and architecture design, and for the preparation and training of American soldiers for military service.
The first infantry companies arrived in November 1887 under the command of Major William J. Lyster (1869–1947). In February 1888, the post was renamed Fort Sheridan to honor General Sheridan’s service to Chicago, and his role in restoring order after the Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871. Sheridan was the first living general to have a post named in his honor. In 1889, Congress appropriated $300,000 for permanent buildings. Approximately 80 troops stationed there had been living in tents for two years and had struggled to stay warm through the frigid northeastern Illinois winters. Learn more »
Fort Sheridan's buildings represent a significant period of architectural history. Prestigious Chicago architects Holabird and Roche were awarded the commission to design the buildings. The firm’s ability to combine classical beauty and practicality resulted in one of the finest examples of architecture in a permanent military installation. They would be one of the few architectural firms to receive such a commission, since in 1896, Congress prohibited the use of private firms to design military installations. They implemented the Richardsonian Romanesque style in the design of the water tower and the original 66 buildings at the Fort. Massive brick construction and an abundance of arches and towers reflect this style.
An integral component in the Fort’s plan was its landscape design. William Holabird (1854–1923) and Martin Roche (1853–1927) hired their former colleague, landscape architect, Ossian C. Simonds (1855–1931). Simonds designed the landscape, drainage and sewage systems, parade grounds, winding roads, and the parkland. His appreciation of the ravines and native plants enhanced the beauty and cohesion of the site. Simonds chose the land between the site’s two ravines for the military parade grounds and to create an open space reminiscent of prairies.
While Simonds preferred that much of the natural areas be preserved, the bluffs held deposits of sand, gravel and clay useful in the Fort’s construction. The harvested clay was used to make 6 million bricks for the buildings constructed between 1889 and 1910, including the 66 buildings designed by Holabird and Roche. The cream-colored bricks with their subtle greenish hue were molded and fired in the old brickworks of the former Village of St. John’s (1844–1865). The bluffs were stripped of clay, leaving them vulnerable to erosion from the removal of vegetation.
The most prominent of the Holabird and Roche strutures was the water tower, built in 1891. It remains a notable landmark today. The tower served an essential purpose as an elevated water storage tank, and it dominated the region’s landscape. At 227 feet tall, it was taller than any structure in Chicago at that time. It became the symbol of Fort Sheridan’s military might. In 1940, the top of the tower was modified and the tower’s overall height reduced to 169 feet.
In 1982, Fort Sheridan was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Secretary of the Interior. Fort Sheridan joins 2,540 sites across the country recognized as places that possess exceptional value and quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. National Historic Landmarks are places where significant historical events occurred, where prominent Americans worked or lived, that represent the ideas that shaped the nation, and that provide important information about our nation’s past. Ninety-four buildings at the Fort are designated National Historic Landmarks.
Training and Trenches
The entire site, including the plateau, bluffs and ravines were used for infantry and cavalry training. Cavalrymen were undaunted by the uneven terrain of the ravines and bluffs, and reveled in showcasing their horsemanship as they rode their mounts down the bluffs to the lakeshore or performed trick riding at public horse shows.
During World War I, an extensive trench system constructed on the southeast portion of the post served to simulate the trench warfare at the European front for infantry training. Beginning in 1924 with the arrival of the nation’s first anti-aircraft regiment, practice rounds were fired over Lake Michigan. Army engineers also found the site’s landscape useful for training as they built temporary bridges with tree trunks harvested from the ravines.
End of an Era
Measures to secure the Fort for public benefit began in the late 1980s. For nearly a decade, the Lake County Forest Preserves worked with surrounding communities to win congressional and presidential approval of legislation to have the U.S. Army transfer land to us for public open space, recreation and preservation.
After Fort Sheridan was officially closed on May 28, 1993, by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, many wondered what would become of the site and the surrounding communities whose history, culture and economy had been so closely tied. The U.S. Department of Defense conveyed 250 acres of land to the Lake County Forest Preserves in 1994 as part of the Base Closure Act. In 1997, the Army began conveyance of the northern section of the former base. The third and final parcel was received in 2001.
The U.S Department of Defense retained 90 acres of the base for the Fort Sheridan Army Reserve Center and sold a portion of the remaining land for private development. Several of the Fort's buildings and officers homes were renovated and sold by the Town of Fort Sheridan for private residences.
Dunn Museum Collections
To ensure that Fort Sheridan’s history and the role it played locally and on the national stage was preserved and interpreted, the Bess Bower Dunn Museum in Libertyville (formerly named Lake County Discovery Museum) partnered with the Fort Sheridan Museum, operated by the U.S. Center for Military History in Washington, D.C.
Dozens of artifacts and nearly 3,000 photographs and postcards were transferred to the Dunn Museum for permanent care. By keeping these materials in Lake County, we can maintain that link between the past and the present, and provide greater access to the stories of people and events that shaped the world around us. Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the collection was digitized and is accessible to the public online through the Illinois Digital Archives.
Great Lake Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), working through the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) program, has collaborated with the Lake County Forest Preserves, Lake Forest Open Lands Association and Openlands on a large-scale coastal ecosystem restoration project at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest, Illinois. This project has been ongoing since 2011 and work was implemented in two phases. Both phases are now complete.
Phase I Completed
In Phase I, extensive construction and restoration work was conducted to restore natural features, landscapes and species in the uplands, ravines and along the Lake Michigan lakeshore. The project extended from Lake Forest Open Lands Association property to the north and through Openlands property on the southern end.
Phase II Completed
In Phase II, we partnered with the ACOE to restore nearshore habitat for aquatic species found in Lake Michigan by installing underwater living reefs along 1.5 miles of lakeshore. This work was completed in July and August 2020. The reefs were built from tree trunks and branches, root wads, limestone slabs, glacial erratic boulders, cobble and sand. These structures act as human-made reefs to provide submerged habitat for fish and wildlife. They also help stabilize the nearshore lakebed and coastline. Cranes and other heavy equipment were used to install these materials from barges stationed off the lakeshore.
Ongoing Through 2025
Now that work for Phase I and II is complete, ACOE and its contractor will conduct ongoing maintenance and adaptive management in these areas until 2025. This work includes monitoring and management of the reef structures and remediation if necessary.
Check our Interactive Trail Map for up-to-date information about the status of the lakeshore.
Questions, comments, updates? Contact Pati Vitt, Director of Natural Resources, at 847-968-3285. You may also contact Vanessa Villarreal, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Officer, at 312-846-5330.
Openlands Lakeshore Preserve at Fort Sheridan
Preserve Information Press Release