Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area

21950 North Riverwoods Road
Riverwoods,IL 60015
565 acres
6:30 am–sunset, daily.

Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area

Rare species, rare communities and exceptional natural areas combine to make this a very special preserve. More than half of the land is so ecologically valuable that it is dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve and benefits from special protection rules.

The preserve's rich natural and cultural history is recognized by its dual designation as an Illinois Nature Preserve (a selection saved for ecologically high-quality land) and as a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places.

Due to its nature preserve designation, bicycles, snowmobiles, dogs, horses and other pets are not allowed at this preserve.


Over 6.5 miles of scenic trails wind through woods to the Des Plaines River. Trails here are open for hiking and, when snow is at least 4 inches deep, cross-country skiing.

Trails lead past historic buildings, next to the Des Plaines River and into a woodland dense enough to block out most human-made noises. Some visitors have even said that they feel transported far from Lake County as they follow the trails.

Educational Opportunities

A variety of public programs and field trips for school and scout groups are offered here throughout the year. Ryerson also hosts popular annual events like Maple Syrup Hikes and Halloween Hikes. Stop in at the Welcome Center for a calendar of events and programs, or subscribe to Horizons, our free quarterly magazine. You can also read it online.

Explore Backpacks

Borrow our nature themed backpacks filled with activities for families with children up to 10 years old to help you learn as you explore. The packs are free to use while in the preserve and can be checked out at the Welcome Center. A driver's license is held as deposit. Choose from four themes: plants, farm, birds and nature.

Active Projects | Ryerson Woods Education Center

Net-zero Energy Education Center Construction in Progress

As stewards of healthy landscape and proponents of climate resiliency, the Lake County Forest Preserves approved construction of the Ryerson Woods Education Center in Riverwoods. Construction began in early summer 2022.

A net-zero energy building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements, reducing the use of nonrenewable energy. The building uses cost-effective measures to reduce energy usage. Featured components and building materials chosen to meet net-zero energy building requirements include:

  • A 23.8kW system of rooftop solar panels, a similar size to what is found on a home or small business
  • HVAC systems and mechanical equipment with the highest efficiency ratings
  • Increased insulation values in the walls and roof
  • Strategic placement of high-performing windows to help regulate temperature
  • LED lighting throughout the building
  • Occupancy sensors in rooms and daylight sensors in perimeter spaces
  • EPA Indoor Air Plus requirements for paint and materials
  • Bird-friendly glass windows to help reduce bird strikes

“We want to raise the bar and set the example when it comes to green buildings and environmental sustainability. Our goal is that this new building will become a viable model of long-lasting energy-efficient design,” said Executive Director Alex Ty Kovach.

Ryerson Woods has been a center for environmental education and programming since it was acquired in 1972. Programs offered here, designed for all ages, are based on nature and the environment. The new facility replaces aging classroom cabins that previously hosted thousands of school children annually. It will be the first public building in Lake County to gain net-zero energy certification through the passive house institute.

The project is made possible as a result of an Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation grant, North Shore Gas, the Medline Foundation, private donations and support from Lake County residents.

Questions or Comments? Contact Landscape Architect Becky Mathis at 847-968-3270 or via email: Ryerson@LCFPD.org



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More About This Preserve

The Natural Scene

Ryerson supports some of Illinois' most pristine woodlands and several state threatened and endangered species. One of the best examples of a northern flatwoods forest, a rare northern Illinois landscape, and most of the floodplain forest left in northeastern Illinois can be found here. Learn more »

The preserve supports a variety of state threatened and endangered species. More than 150 bird species and nearly 600 species of flowering plants have been seen at Ryerson. Springtime brings special wildflower magic and autumn puts on a dazzling show of color in the maple forest.


Local history records document that Lake County’s first European settler, Captain Daniel Wright, owned property within the preserve. In the 1920s, a small number of families, including the Ryersons, Borlands and Fishers, purchased land here and built log cabins as weekend retreats. Learn more »

In 1942, the Ryersons built a summer estate home, which became the center of activity for their Brushwood Farm, known for its Arabian horses.

In 1966, the Ryerson family began to donate land to the Lake County Forest Preserves that eventually totaled 257 acres. The other families followed their lead and also donated and sold land enabling Ryerson to grow to its current size.


The entrance is on Riverwoods Road between Half Day Road (Route 22) and Deerfield Road, just west of the Interstate 94 Tollway.

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