Great Parks! Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva

Friday, Oct 15th, 2010 by

With its riverfront setting, Japanese garden, arbors, zoo cages and windmill, the Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva gives you a glimpse into how wealthy Chicago families enjoyed life at their “country homes” in the early 1900s. It’s also an amazingly beautiful spot to spend a morning or afternoon exploring, relaxing and getting up close to the Fox River.

A gate at the Fabyan Forest Preserve. Photos by Tara Burghart.The Fabyan Forest Preserve was once part of a large country estate called “Riverbank.” Owned by George Fabyan and his wife Nelle, it eventually became their permanent home.  When they died in the 1930s, the Kane County Forest Preserve District purchased 235 acres of the estate and made it into the preserve.

The preserve is located on both the east and west sides of the Fox River, with entrances on both Route 25 and Route 31, just north of Fabyan Parkway.

The preserve doesn’t have any playground equipment. But as I watched my 2-year-old daughter’s delight at the crunching sounds the leaves made under her feet and her joy on the face as we played chase around the huge tree trunks, , I realized there are things certainly better than playground equipment!

What the preserve does have is plenty of open space and tables at which to picnic, spots to fish, and paved trails on which you can walk, run or bike. It also offers tons of history.

Yes, bears were really kept inside.The Fabyans had the property’s original farmhouse enlarged and modernized in 1907 by Frank Lloyd Wright. They called it the “Villa,” and it is now the Fabyan Villa Museum, which is open for guided tours on select days mid-May through Mid-October. (I’ve never been on the tour myself – always having a baby and a stroller with me – so I don’t know how kid-friendly it would be.)

But even without a house tour, you can enjoy how much time, energy and money the Fabyans spent developing their estate – and what a great job the Forest Preserve has done in protecting it.

Probably my favorite feature is the bear cage. Yes, the Fabyans had a private zoo on the property. The bear cage is now a picnic pavilion you can rent – and while it is on the gloomy side – it would make for an awesome base for a zoo-themed birthday party!

The preserve’s most famous feature, the 68-foot-high windmill, was completely restored in the last decade and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s open for tours on weekends only in the warmer months, as is the tranquil Japanese Garden. But both are still fun to look at from the outside – and Go West Young Mom will have to check out how family-friendly these tours are next May.

The Japanese Garden is open for tours in the warmer months.But places I know your kids will love are the bridges over the Fox River, the hills perfect for rolling (or sledding, in winter), the mysterious remnants of old stone walls and the long arbors near the estate, very inviting for a run or a skip. You’ll likely want to bring your camera – this is one of the most picturesque spots you’re going to find in the area to capture your kids in a natural setting.

Note: If you want to park near the windmill, it’s on the east side of the Fox River off Route 25. If you want to see the villa, bear cage and gardens up close, they are on the west side of the Fox River off Route 31.

The Fabyan Forest Preserve is open every day, from sunrise to sunset. There is no admission fee. There is no food service inside the preserve, but of course you are welcome to bring your own. The preserve does have restrooms on both sides of the river.

Each week on Fridays, Go West Young Mom brings you a new entry in our “Great Parks!” series. Do you have a park you think should be featured? Please make your suggestions here in the comments section or write to