The Run Down

We're taking a short trip outside the city to hike through a 2,500 acre forest preserve. We start by grabbing coffee at a quirky and retro coffee house, then we head to the trail head where we'll hike through rolling hills, waterfalls, and overlooks. We'll then take a detour off the trail to have lunch beneath a Hindu temple. Here are the details.

1. Coffee @ Ashbary Coffee House

2. Hiking @ Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

3. Lunch @ The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago

1. Ashbary Coffee House

A leisurely hike ahead awaits. The walk goes great with a hot chocolate or coffee in hand, so the first stop is this retro coffee shop about a 10-minute drive from the trailhead.

We’re at Ashbary Coffee House, set inside this quiet shopping center that looks like it belongs in the backdrop of a mountain ski town rather than a Chicago suburb.

As you walk inside and admire the relaxed throwback vibe of the place, there’s one thing you have to keep in mind. This place is haunted.

Before this was a coffee house, this was the site of a general store in the late 1800s. As legend has it, a young girl who lived above the store was burned alive when the building caught fire. The owners claim that she still makes appearances every now and then.

So, if you see a little girl in an old-timey dress playing with a red ball, don’t take any chances; just turn around and leave.

2. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

After coffee, you’re about a 10 minute drive to the trail head. The trail is about a 9 1/2 mile loop so you can technically start anywhere. Some of the highlights of the hike are the waterfall and an overlook. There are multiple trailheads, but this parking lot that gets you closest to landmarks, so that’s where this begins.

From the Waterfall Glen parking lot, you are less than half a mile from both the waterfall and the overlook. The trail is level and paved with gravel, making the walk fairly easy.A few minutes into the trek, the path pulls you into a pine forest where colossal pines envelope you on both sides.

Follow signs and in less than 10 minutes you’ll be at the overlook. From high above, you’ll see a creek meandering across the forest.

From the overlook, a path leads down to the stream. Follow it until you reach the man-made waterfall. By this point, you’ve covered half a mile of a 9.5-mile loop. There’s much more to explore, so continue on for as long as you wish. 

If you do decide to keep going, you’ll also notice signs and fenced off areas restricted to government personnel. That’s because in the center of this forest preserve is the Argonne National Laboratory. It’s run by the Department of Energy and houses scientists from all over the world working on cutting edge research projects. The lab was borne out of the University of Chicago’s work on the Manhattan Project in the 1940’s, so who knows what they have cooking up in there.

Between the haunted coffee house and this top secret lab in the woods, it seems like we got a Stranger Things scenario going on, and we’re all down for that.

3. The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago

This area outside of Chicago keeps getting more interesting as we dig deeper. Right outside the boundary of the forest preserve is this beautifully ornate Hindu temple. While you can get to the temple from an offshoot of the main trail, it’s a pretty long detour. You can also drive here after you’re done hiking through the preserve, which might be easier after a long hike.

While you’re here to marvel and show our appreciation for the culture and architecture, you’re also here to eat. Here are the details.

– The temple is open to the public every day from 9am – 9pm.
– On Saturday and Sunday, they run a kitchen in the basement of the temple that serves up traditional South Indian cuisine. The kitchen is open from 11am – 7pm.
– The kitchen is also open on special holidays as well.

There’s a couple of different buildings across this campus. Walk the grounds and explore.  

To the side of the temple is a small administrative building. This is where you’ll enter for the gift shop and the cafeteria.

To get to the cafeteria, walk straight through these doors and follow the first hallway right in front of you. You’ll enter a room, which is a staging area before you go into the temple. It’s filled with visitors stowing away their shoes and hanging up their jackets before entering the sacred space.

If you don’t plan on entering the temple, you can keep all your stuff on and follow signs into the cafeteria.

After you enter the cafeteria, you’ll go through an efficient ordering process. Start at the cashier window where you’ll order. Behind the cashier window, one group of grandmas is hunched over the stove while another group is rolling dough.

You’ll place your order at the window. After, they’ll give you a small card with the name of the item you ordered. Take it to the second window, hand them your card, and they’ll prep your order.

Onto the food. Though their menu is limited, what they offer is arguably the best version available in Chicago. First up, the masala dosa: a colossal, crispy crepe crafted from a fermented blend of rice and lentils. Stretching over a foot in length, it’s generously stuffed with a savory potato mixture and accompanied by two distinct chutneys for dipping.

We also got a side of tomato rice. It’s rice cooked in stewed tomatoes with a smattering of Indian spices. It’s aromatic, savory, and with a touch of sweetness from the tomatoes. You’ll want a second order for good measure.