The Run Down

Start your day at a sustainable farm, picking up fresh produce and sipping local coffee. Then, step into a neighboring nature preserve for an easy stroll or a longer hike through a tall grass savanna. End the day at a family-owned brewery, with craft beer paired with a delicious brisket sandwich.

1. Elawa Farm and Market

2. Hike @ Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve

3. Hike @ Overlook

4. Eat @ Lake Bluff Brewing Co.

1. Elawa Farm and Market

It’s Saturday morning and the sun is just beginning to rise. While you’re still fast asleep, the workers at Elawa Farms have already begun the day tending to their crops and priming this 16-acre sustainable farm for your visit to their weekend market.

Here are some logistics notes to get you on your way:

– Located in Lake Forest, IL, you’ll need to hop in a car to get to the farm in this North Shore suburb. It’s just over 30 miles from downtown Chicago.

– The market is open 8am – 2pm  every Friday and Saturday from mid-May to mid-October

It’s mostly highway driving to get here, but as you exit the interstate, you’ll eventually drive through a picturesque residential community filled with sprawling estates.

Go deeper into the neighborhood, and the homes give way to a vast expanse of oak savannas, prairies, and this small non-profit farm.

The market is housed in a renovated farm outpost. Freshly harvested veggies, fruit, and flowers from their garden are carefully arranged in wicker baskets, and the aroma of of baked goods from their in-house kitchen linger in the air.

You’re going to be hiking later in this guide, so a caffeine pick-me-up might be in the cards. Luckily, a pop-up coffee shop operated by Culture Drip, a locally-owned coffee shop based in Waukegan, operates right outside the market.

Hang out with your coffee and other provisions on the patio right outside the market entrance. As your eyes scan the property, you’ll see a doorway leading to the garden grounds. Everything is accessible to the public, so if it looks interesting, follow that voice inside your head telling you to explore.

On the other side of the door tall hedges border a gravel path. On the other sides of those hedges are pockets of different working gardens and a chicken coop providing fresh eggs for the market.

If you want a more formal experience, there are 45-minute farm tours on most Saturday mornings at 10am. And occasionally, they’ll host extravagant farm dinners and brunches throughout the summer and fall.

2. Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve

The next spot on our list is just steps away: Elawa Farms is connected to Middlefork Savanna, a 687-acre nature preserve home to a rare and one of the best-kept tallgrass savannas in the country.

Cut across the farm parking lot and find yourself at the trailhead.

There are multiple trails at this preserve. For something easy, there’s a half-mile looping trail through the tall grass savanna. It’s a flat, mowed grass path filled with wildflowers and sweeping views of the terrain.

This is near the start of the half-mile loop. If you’ve ever wondered what the North Branch of the Chicago River looks like if you keep following it from downtown, this is it.

Next to the parking lot is a playground with a large open field next to it. If you follow the tree line, another small trail circles a pond through an oak savanna. On a warm summer day, turtles regularly bask in the sun right along the path.

3. Overlook

For a more extensive hike, a four-mile gravel trail starts from the main trailhead where you initially began. This trail extends from the north end of the savanna to the south end.

Head south on the gravel trail, and you’ll see a sign pointing toward a small overlook. It’s about 1.5 miles from that sign, the next stop on this guide.

The overlook is more like a small hill, but what’s a hike without a scenic payoff at the end?  As you approach, the trail ascends towards a bridge that spans over the Metra tracks below. This bridge is also where you’ll find the overlook.

The tall grass savanna can be seen in the distance. Below, bikers are winding through the gravel path, and a pair of anglers are wading through the marsh in search of the perfect fishing spot — they don’t seem to be catching anything.

4. Lake Bluff Brewing Co.

After the hike, a cold beer is the reward. About a 10-minute drive away, you’ll be in the village of Lake Bluff. Along a small downtown main street, residents dine along the sidewalk, with most congregating near Lake Bluff Brewing Co.

This small family-owned brewery has become a go-to brewery destination for the North Shore region.

While all beers are brewed on-site, they rely on the kitchen at Maevery Public House next door to feed patrons. You’ll order from a limited pub menu with root beer, braised pork sliders, and burgers. For a wider variety, you’ll have to dine at Maevery Public House, which has a more upscale vibe.

You’ll want to dine in the brewery if you want a more relaxed experience.

Their Texas brisket sandwich was the final send-off from our trip to the North Shore, and we recommend you end it the same way.