January 17, 2016

Deer Grove Forest Preserve and Camp Reinberg (Dec. 2015)

Sun's peeking out over the cabin 

December 19 - 20, 2015 (Sat.-Sun.)
Near Palatine and Deer Park IL, northwest of Chicago
20-35° throughout the weekend
42°08'31.7"N, 88°03'40.0"W

On the weekend before Christmas, we decided to get out of town and try out the new cabins at Camp Reinberg, a part of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve (Cook County Forest Preserve). It's about an hour out of Chicago by taking either I-90 or I-94, or your could take the Metra to Palatine and hike a mile. In other words, it's a perfect escape from the city to get some fresh air and trees.

We loaded a rental car Saturday afternoon and got on the road.

Car's ready and full

About the Cabin

Camp Reinberg is a small campground in the middle of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve. We got the keys for a large cabin for a night to try it out. In only three words: it's brand new. Mmmmmm that new cabin smell, and there are no carvings in the bunks :)

Cabin Bunks 

Big Cabin 

There's a nice table in the middle for dinner or a Cards Against Humanity game with your cabinmates.

Bunks in the cabin 

There's also a small bedroom with two bunks for those in your party who don't like the idea of a communal bunkroom. But ohhhh how it takes me back to my scouting cabin days of sharing a room of 6 bunks with a bunch of guys for summer.

However, this was a bit large for two people, but still affordable for anyone looking to get out of town! Next time we hope to bring some others to have fun and enjoy a campfire. 

Evening Meal

Chicken stew was on the menu. But it was cold. And I wanted to read in the warm cabin. I set up the table and stove and got some hot water going in a boiler to heat it faster. I intended to use a big pot to make the stew, but ended up being lazy and making it directly in the boiler.

Cooking dinner 

Chicken stew in a 3qt boiler 

After flipping that top open, I am sure the camp ranger could smell it over at the park HQ. It tasted just as good in the boiler as if it was made in a dutch oven. Mmmmmmmm chicken stew. We enjoyed a bottle of champagne and a large loaf of french bread with the chunky stew.

Cabin dinner with some champagne 

Nom nom nom 

I clearly enjoyed my meal.

Morning at Reinberg

It was chilly, but sunny. When I first cracked open the door, I was greeted by five deer. One buck and four does were munching on some grass by the picnic table when I came outside to set up the stove to get the percolator going.

Morning cabin 

On the menu this morning was some fresh Chicago-made polish sausage chunks with some eggs, some oatmeal, and some hot perc coffee. I got a fire started and we enjoyed some coffee within minutes.

Keep your eggs fresh with Coghlan's 

Morning fire 

Deer in the distance 

Although the deer fled when I was starting my fire, they came back to the treeline after about 20 minutes. I got my binoculars out to see those up-close deerfaces. 

Sun's peeking out over the cabin 

Nothing beats the smell of campfire and coffee in the morning, especially when the sun is beaming down. 

Morning coffee

The Campground at Reinberg

The campground itself is a tree-lined clearing, an almost oval in shape. There are showers and running water. There are trails running in and out of the campground. Across the street to the west, you can access the west unit of the Deer Grove Forest Preserve.

On Sunday morning, we walked around the campground to get a good look.

In the winter months (Nov-Mar), the large heated cabins are $65 a night (what a steal, right?) The large cabins are cozy enough for just two people, but also spacious enough for a getaway party with your best buds (they sleep up to 10 people). They're ADA accessible for your friends who need some additional space to get around. Also, there's a shower!

Large cabins

There's also smaller cabins (sleep 8), but they're not heated. Presumably for insurance reasons, they're only available during the three non-polar seasons of Chicago. 

A small store occupies a corner of the camp HQ in the north large admin building. You can pick up some incidentals that you may have forgotten. Campers can also cook in their facilities, as there are two large family kitchens available and an indoor eating area. The back part of the HQ is a large dining all, but appears to be reserved for forest preserve events and youth camps.

Camp dining hall

There's an amphitheater in the middle of the camp, presumably for all the riveting campfires full of skits for the kids.

Amphitheater and gathering area

Tent sites surround the eastern side of the camp. Each site has a cement pad, picnic table, and some spots to put your tent.

Tent areas on the treeline

The Red Trail

The next morning, Jessie and I decided to try the east unit's Red Trail. There are a few trails available to try, and this is a recommended beginner trail. This was a simple trail that looped around the prairie, pond, and small thicket growth. You can pick up a trail map at the Reinberg camp office.

Red Trail - trailhead marker

Hawk flying overhead

Signs of wildlife still showed themselves, despite being near freezing temperatures. A hawk (above) circled high above the naked trees, accented by the blue sky. A couple of mallards (the male is below) were hanging out in a portion of a creek that was not frozen over.

Mallard drake

Empty underbrush

There's a parking lot in the east unit where the trail starts. It's a bit of an uneventful hike at first as the southern end of the trail borders a busy street. However, about a mile in, we started to be satisfied. Trees begin to line the path as we were led to some expansive fields dotted with ponds.

Red Trail (paved)

Bare trees

The blue sky accented the bare trees well. The angle created by the winter sun created a beautiful contrast.

Wetlands and grasslands 

A felled beaver tree marked a creek at the edge of the trail, but no sign of the beaver.

Beaver evidence


Even in the winter, the fields held onto some ripples of tall grasses. They waved in the wind as we walked by, marked by the urban progress of water towers and factories in the far distance. Even when you feel so far away with the quick escape, there are continual reminders of the proximity of the suburban cities. The balance here is beautiful, though - I am grateful that we have these pockets of natural green spaces (or, tan spaces in the winter) in the middle of our cities.

Frozen ponds 

Grassland at Deer Grove Forest Preserve 

Pond and prairie 

Fields of grass

About halfway around the 3-mile trail, we wound our way around the many ponds. At this point of the season, they had all frozen over, affording the sun a great opportunity to bounce off and blind us.

Frozen over 



Some of the ponds hosted small forests of their own, with dense packs of trees providing some wetland habitat for the little creatures who call this preserve home. The forested ponds were also frozen over, creating a beautiful mirror at the base of the trees.

Wetland trees 

Sparrow hanging out 

Big tree

The trip ended bittersweet, however. Toward the end of our loop, we began to see many trees marked with an orange X. A few feet forward on the trail revealed a sign that helped us interpret these orange X's. These trees are condemned. The Emerald Ash Borer has found its way to the forest and has begun its devastation. The Forest Preserve staff have identified the trees that have been infected and marked them with the X. They are to be removed. A number of the trees in the thickets were marked! Including one on which a cardinal and a downy woodpecker danced around in search for food. This put a damper on an otherwise nice hike.

X trees = emerald ash borer 

I am looking forward to trying the other trails on our next visits. We will definitely staying at the cabins and campground tent sites again, as it's only a mile from the Palatine Metra station. Such an easy backpacking escape! I'm also hoping for some snow, as the trails at Deer Grove look like a lot of fun for snowshoeing or cross country.

Things to Do

  • Things we did
    • Camping in the large, heated cabin (great during winter!)
    • Birdwatching
    • Visiting the camp office (there's a small shop for campers also with gear they may need)
  • Things we didn't do
    • Camping in the tent sites
    • Camping in a small cabin
    • Yellow trail (5.5mi)
    • Black trail (1.5mi)
    • Brown trail (3mi)
    • Orange trail (1.5mi)
    • Palatine local trail (south of the preserve)


Flickr Slideshow (Hover over or tap to get slideshow controls, click to see photo on Flickr)

Deer Grove Forest Preserve and Camp Reinberg (IL)

Map of the area, plus Red Trail hike (Orange dots indicate points of interest)

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