In Chicago’s southwest suburbs, Oak Forest was inhabited by Native Americans in the 17th century, and has a local cemetery with burials going back to the 1830s.
The city went through sudden development in the 1960s, and since that time has had a strong Irish influence, visible at the Chicago Gaelic Park cultural center and the Oak Forest Fleadh festival every March.
One look at a map and you’ll see that Oak Forest is practically surrounded by large natural spaces, with woods, creeks, wetlands and prairie, all in the care of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Many of these preserves are threaded by the Tinley Creek Trail System, winding through Oak Forest and neighboring suburbs for almost 30 miles.
1. Chicago Gaelic Park
Around a quarter of Oak Forest’s residents have Irish ancestry, which makes the city a logical place to have an Irish cultural center for the Chicago area.
Intended to foster and promote Irish sports, music, dance, theatre and religious customs, the Chicago Gaelic Park is on a sprawling 62-acre site.
This is home to the Chicago branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association, with facilities for sports like hurling and Gaelic football.
As well as a series of function rooms, the main building houses the Carraig Pub, a traditional Irish tavern with live music every weekend.
2. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery
Long associated with supposed paranormal activity, people have been talking about this old cemetery since the mid-20th century, around the time it was abandoned.
The first burials took place in the early 1830s, and plenty of its 82 lots and 200 graves were never used.
With rumors of Prohibition-era gangland graves and roaming groups of hooded monks, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is a kind of Mecca for ghost hunters.
But for everyone else it’s an attractive and rather atmospheric place for a walk, especially since 2014, when the Forest Preserve District cleaned the site up and started mowing the grass.
There’s an unpaved path, lots of beautiful old trees and you can check out the weathered old monuments as you go.
3. Tinley Creek Trail System
We’ll see that Oak Forest has a string of interconnected forest preserves in almost every direction, and these can be accessed via a paved trail system, roughly following Tinley Creek and its tributaries.
These paths ramble over hills, through peaceful woodland, into ravines and across prairie and wetland, and you can begin your journey right in Oak Forest’s backyard.
There are nine color-coded trails in all, adding up to more than 27 miles and delivering you to picnic groves, a campground, various lakes and the renowned George W. Dunne National Golf Course.
Naturally you can combine two or more of the various loops for a unique adventure.
4. Ozinga Field
The Windy City ThunderBolts, based five minutes away in Crestwood, are a pro baseball team playing in the Frontier League, an MLB partner league.
Since they were founded in 1995, the ThunderBolts have claimed three league championships, most recently in 2008.
Their 3,200-capacity home, Ozinga Field opened as Hawkinson Ford Field in 1999 and has multiple party decks and a beer garden.
There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the stadium’s entertainment goes to great lengths to make sure everyone has a good time, with themed nights, pre-game live music, wrestling shows and fireworks.
After the game kids are allowed down onto the field to run around the bases.
5. George W. Dunne National Golf Course
This golf course in the southwest of Oak Forest has been hailed by Golf Digest as one of the top public courses in the country.
The course is the flagship of the 11 facilities in the hands of the Chicago area’s Forest Preserve Golf organization, offering a memorable round to beginners as much as experienced golfers playing from the tips.
On your round you’ll find bent-grass greens and fairways, lined with tall stands of trees, and eight lakes, which come into play on 11 of the holes.
A convenient way to get around the course is on a Golfboard, a kind of electric scooter with a wide board and designed to carry a golf bag at the front.
6. Oak Forest Heritage Preserve
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County acquired this 176-acre space in 2010 for its ecological and historical importance.
Oak Forest Heritage Preserve is at a transition between a morainal ridge and the Chicago Lake Plain.
The high ground here offered shelter to Native Americans, escaping the hot and humid low-lying swamps, and the remnants of a village dating to around 1680 were discovered in the 1950s.
There’s a trail for walking, running, biking encircling the preserve, and a loop cutting into the center from the north and east sides. On the west side is a 14-acre lake for fishing, and also an important birding area.
7. Forest View Farms
The Tinley Creek Trail goes right past this family-owned stable, which has been in business since the 1950s.
Forest View Farms offers year-round boarding and riding, with two outdoor arenas and one heated indoor arena.
The farm offers all kinds of horse-related activities, like riding and horse-driving lessons, pony rides, hayrides, carriage and coach rides, a summer horse camp and trail rides for all ability levels.
There’s also a petting farm here open May through October, keeping goats, llamas, sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, a mini-burro and a mini-horse.
8. Midlothian Meadows
Right across 159th Street from Oak Forest Heritage Preserve is the picturesque Midlothian Meadows.
Here the Tinley Creek Trail System curls through the undergrowth in a tunnel of trees and bushes for almost three miles.
The path is paved and has a light gradient, and you couldn’t pick a prettier place for a summer walk or bike ride, and there’s ample shade from the foliage overhead.
Midlothian Meadows has four picnic groves, all with shelters and one of which is accessible for visitors with disabilities.
9. Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
With audiences of 28,000+, one of the largest live music venues in the country sits a few minutes from Oak Forest in Tinley Park.
Then known as the World Music Theatre, the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre opened in 1990 and in the last 30+ years has hosted some of the biggest acts in music.
To name a handful, these have included David Bowie, Rush, Cher, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and The Grateful Dead.
In the raft of famous performers from the last few years are names like Bruno Mars, Santana, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rod Stewart and Pitbull.
10. Rubio Woods
Both the Tinley Creek Trail and the creek itself snake through this forest preserve, which sits opposite Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery on the Midlothian Turnpike.
The roads near Rubio Woods are all low volume, so a walk, run or bike in these woods and meadows feels like a real escape to the wild, while the trail is suitable for cross-country skiing in winter.
The preserve has no fewer than four picnic groves, two of which have specially designed accessible shelters. These grassy areas can be found along the access roads in the very north and south of the preserve.
11. Bremen Grove Dog Park
On the Tinley Creek Trail System, just west of the George Dunne Golf Course is a highly-rated off-leash dog park run by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Naturally this is an asset more suitable for residents, and there’s an annual fee for membership.
The park covers three acres, with separate areas for dogs above and below 25 pounds. Complete with a picnic grove, Bremen Grove is also somewhere to take a break during a trip on the Tinley Creek Trail, and has a bike rental kiosk open in the summer.
12. Fannie May Outlet, Tinley Park
A Chicago area original, Fannie May has been making fine confectionery since 1920 and in 2017 was bought by the Italian confectionery multinational, Ferrero SpA.
While production is currently based in Green, Ohio, the company is still headquartered in Chicago, and does business almost exclusively in the Chicago area.
One Fannie May Outlet is just west of Oak Forest at the Tinley Park Plaza shopping center.
If you’re from out of town, this is an opportunity to get hold of indulgent chocolates like the Carmarsh (caramel and marshmallow), Pixies (caramel and pecan), Mint Meltaways (mint chocolate) and Trinidads (chocolate truffle coated with coconut flavor chocolate).
13. Camp Sullivan
Also belonging to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County is this campground little more than ten minutes from the center of Oak Forest.
Easily recognized by its famous red barn, Camp Sullivan has a choice of bunkhouses and cabins for rental, as well as tent and RV campsites ensconced in woodland.
That barn can be rented for events, parties and company outings, and contains a 28-foot climbing wall equipped with an auto-belay system.
Camp Sullivan is yet another location on the Tinley Creek Trail System, meandering off to neighboring preserves like Rubio Woods and Tinley Creek Woods
14. Hailstorm Brewing Co.
Based at an industrial park in nearby Tinley Park, Hailstorm Brewing Co. is a craft brewery with a big following.
There’s indoor and outdoor seating at the taproom here, and for a glance of the many beers on tap you’ve got Beachside Hideaway (Hazy IPA), Sno Daze (Sour Ale), Crash Test Dummy (Belgian Tripel), Big Beautiful Wheat (Hefeweizen), Primo (Mexican Lager) and Paddling Out (IPA).
These are just a few picks from a range of 17. Hailstorm is also rare as it has its own kitchen, making beer-friendly snacks like paninis, wraps and grilled cheese, in a menu that changes by the week.
15. Oak Forest Fleadh
We’ve seen that since the town was developed in the 1960s Oak Forest has always had a large number of residents with Irish heritage.
This is celebrated on the first Saturday in March with a festival featuring lots of fun activities. There’s a family parade along Central Avenue, a variety of open streets events, an open bike ride, a 5k run and lots of open bars and restaurants around the town.
The Oak Forest Park District also gets involved in the morning, offering all sorts of “Leprechaun Activities” for wee ones in the morning.