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Easy Outing: Covered Wagon Rides at St. James Farm in Warrenville

St. James Farm Forest Preserve offers covered wagon tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through Nov. 18, and Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Nov. 28. You'll find the tours listed on the Go West Calendar, but here, guest contributor Naomi Krodel tells you what to expect. 

I’m always looking for nearby fun outdoor activities to do in the fall with my kids, especially this year with such pleasant weather. So when I saw that the St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville was offering covered wagon rides, I thought it was a good chance to check out a place I'd always wanted to visit anyway.

St. James Farm encompasses 607 acres, including more than 100 acres of woodlands, prairies and wetlands. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, it was the retreat of the wealthy McCormick family.

Its borders are Butterfield Road to the south and Mack Road to the north. South Winfield Road runs through it on the west side.  We first attempted to enter from the north and west (lots of construction), and eventually we found the correct entrance from Butterfield Road.  At first we only saw a few cars but no people so we walked toward a caboose on the property. 

We then saw a wagon unloading and quickly inquired about the next ride. I paid $5 (children ages 5-12 are $2; kids under 5 are free) and we were then treated to a private tour -- we were the only ones on our wagon on a recent weekday afternoon. Although we didn’t see any coyotes or deer (the earlier tour did) we loved the colorful trees and imagining how it must have looked when the McCormick mansion was standing. 

The author, accompanied by her children, on a covered wagon tour of St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville. Photo provided.

There are still several structures standing and a small dirt road that was the original Butterfield Road. The tractor took us over by the corncrib, which was intriguing to my daughter as to why it was called a crib. There is a gabled-roof-and-wing farmhouse, which is one of the only ones left in DuPage County. We rode by the impressive Colonial-style red brick horse stables, bull barn, and milk house while learning the history and significance of these buildings. (For instance, in the 1980s, St. James Farm hosted a steeplechase race and other international equestrian competitions.) Along the way were different murals, bronze reliefs and sculptures to see. We also learned that work is being done to complete a state-of-the-art parking lot at the west end of the preserve.

After the 20-minute wagon ride focusing on the natural and cultural history of St. James Farm, we returned to a large outdoor eating area with a fun dolphin fountain and plenty of picnic tables. We opted to cross the little scenic bridge and eat near the creek and by the prairie soaking in the warm sun. 

You are also able to hike, bike, and ride horses on the 3.4 miles of turf trails. Dogs are allowed if they are leashed. If you can't make a covered wagon tour, you can also do a self-guided tour by reading the interpretive signs. 

St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville features more than 600 acres. Photo by Jason Sturner 72 on Flickr.

As we walked back to the car through the horse arena near the judges' tower, I thought that others would also enjoy going back in time to this unique old farmstead. So the secret is out … enjoy your day at St. James Farm! You’ll be happy you visited!

Additional Information: The cost for a covered wagon ride is $5 per person for ages 13 through 54; $4 for ages 55 and up; $2 for ages 5 through 12. Children under 5 are free. Reservations are not required. For more information, call 630-933-7248 or visit www.dupageforest.com.

About the writer: Naomi Krodel is a teacher who lives with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog in Batavia. She lives in her own calm vortex while others around her get swept up in her abundance of activity!

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