Van Patten Woods

15838 West Route 173
Wadsworth,IL 60083
975 acres
6:30 am–sunset, daily.

Van Patten Woods

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 for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Please keep dogs leashed and on trails at all times, and pick up after them. Learn about our Off-Leash Dog Areas (permit required).

The Des Plaines River Trail bisects the preserve and is also open to horseback riding and snowmobiling. It's accessible from the preserve trails or from the trailhead at the preserve's second entrance on the south side of Russell Road. 

Canoe Launch

A canoe launch, located on Russell Road, offers shoreline fishing along the Des Plaines River, and parking. If you put in here, the next canoe launch is at Wadsworth Road, 6.25 river miles downstream. 

Sterling Lake

The 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 non-motorized watercraft. Electric trolling motors are allowed. Trailers are permitted but parking is limited to the grass overflow parking lot. Launching is free and at your own risk. You'll need approved flotation gear. When conditions allow for ice fishing on the lake, the preserve is open weekdays 6:30 am until one hour past sunset.

Youth Group Campground

A rustic 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. A permit is required to reserve the campground. For details or to purchase a permit, call or visit our General Offices, 847-367-6640, weekdays from 8 am–4:30 pm.

Model Aircraft Field

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



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More About This Preserve

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.


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.


Main preserve entrance is on Route 173, east of Route 41. Second entrance is on Russell Road, east of Route 41.

Boat launchpicnic shelters: use main entrance, follow signs to Sterling Lake, park in first lot on the west side of the lake.

Horse trailer parking, Des Plaines River Trail mile marker "0": use second entrance, parking is on south side of Russell Road.

Model aircraft field, youth group campground: use second entrance, parking is on north side of the road. Permit is required for use of these areas.

Canoe launch: on south side of Russell Road, east of Route 41 and the Aircraft Field and Campground area.

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