Witness Tree Tour
What are “Witness Trees?” The term comes first from surveying; it means trees marked as a corner location. The National Park Service describes them as trees that were present during key events in history; in the United States they are especially linked with Civil War battlegrounds.
The name Lake Forest reflects the importance of trees in our local history. The natural beauty of the area was enhanced with extensive plantings by renowned landscape designers. From dedicated efforts to contain Dutch Elm Disease and other blights, through decades of recognition as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation, the City has never wavered in its commitment to the health and preservation of the community’s trees.
In this tour, you'll find Lake Forest's own Stately Observers, 10 trees visible to all on a walk, bike or drive. These are but a few among the many arboreal observers of our past. They are beautiful as representatives of their species, and significant as witnesses to important milestones in Lake Forest’s growth as an outstanding place to live.
Note: This tour was originally published in a 2011 publication celebrating the sesquicentennial of the City of Lake Forest, which was founded in 1861. For 2021, we have updated the tour with new photographs. Thanks to our original writers Steve Bartram, Jean McBride Green, Margie Juedes, Jeanne Lane, Maren McKee, Judy Nickels and Rosemary Troxel for their research and expertise.
Click here to view a map of all the trees.
Click each tree location to see current and historic photographs, and learn more about the history each tree has witnessed. Below you will find one possible tour route for viewing the trees, starting at the History Center.
Tour Route - Driving or Biking Directions
The tour is 16 miles and takes about 1 hour 15 minutes, traveling by car with stops. Most stops are 1-2 miles apart.
Begin the tour at the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff, 509 East Deerpath, Lake Forest. Across the street is Triangle Park, stop #1. Click here for images and information.
#1 Triangle Park. The witness tree is at the northeast corner of the park, arching over Washington. Proceed north to Walnut, turning right/east. Go to Sheridan and turn left/north. Turn right/east on Westminster to Lake Road. Turn left/north on Lake to the Lake Forest Cemetery gates. (10 minutes)
#2 Lake Forest Cemetery. Just after entering the cemetery, take a right at the fork and continue halfway down the road toward the bend at the lake. The witness tree stands north of the drive, east of the Roberti and Claeys gravesites. (Park on the side of the cemetery drive. Please do not park on the grass.) Exit through the cemetery gates. At Spruce, the first street, turn right/west. Continue on Spruce, bearing to the right at the fork by the entrance to St. Mary’s Cemetery. Continue straight on Spruce across Sheridan to Edgewood. Turn left/south to stop sign at Noble. Turn right/west to McKinley Road. Turn right and then immediately turn right again into Lake Forest High School. (5 minutes)
#3 Lake Forest High School. The witness tree is on the drive into the school, on the left where the drive bends. Park in the lot ahead on the right. Exit following the circular drive in front of the school. Turn left/south onto McKinley Road to Woodland. Turn right at the light at Woodland and go underneath the railroad viaduct. Turn right/north on Western immediately after passing under the tracks. Turn left/west at Laurel, the first street. Proceed past Kelmscott on the right. (5 minutes)
#4 Laurel. The witness tree is on the right, in front of newly constructed homes just beyond Kelmscott. When leaving, proceed straight to Green Bay Road and turn left/south out of the drive onto Green Bay Road. Continue to the stoplight at Deerpath and turn left/east to Oakwood. City Hall is on the northeast corner of Oakwood and Deerpath. (5 minutes)
#5 City Hall. The witness tree is on the east side of City Hall. When leaving, continue east on Deerpath to Sheridan Road. Turn right/south and proceed to Westleigh, across from Woodlands Academy. Turn left/east on Westleigh. Continue to the end of Westleigh. Park here and walk down Bluff’s Edge Drive, heading north to the pedestrian bridge. (10 minutes)
#6 Bluff’s Edge. The witness tree is the large Norway Spruce at the end of the bridge. When leaving, drive back down Westleigh to Sheridan Road, turn left/south to the intersection with the stoplight. Turn right/west and continue on Westleigh to the stoplight at Green Bay Road. Turn right/north on Green Bay Road. Continue to Lake Forest Country Day School on the right and Foster Place on the left. (8 minutes)
#7 Green Bay Trail. The witness tree is across from Lake Forest Country Day School, beyond Foster Place at 150 Green Bay Road. It is a busy road and parking is on the side streets. Proceed north on Green Bay Road to the stoplight at Deerpath. Turn left/west on Deerpath. Continue to Westmoreland, the drive in to Lake Forest Hospital. Turn right/north and drive just past parking lot #8. Walk north across the road. (10 minutes)
#8 Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. The large Burr Oak, with a stone marker at its base, stands north of the Hospital’s red and white helipad. When leaving, continue around the hospital to the intersection with Waukegan Road. As you leave the Lake Forest Hospital witness tree, straight west across Waukegan Road. That becomes Middlefork Road, and go to Elawa Farms and the Middlefork Savanna. When reaching Elawa Farm, turn around and continue back up the hill. Stop near the top.(5 minutes)
#9 Elawa Farm and Middlefork Savannah. The witness tree is on the hill and looks over Elawa Farm’s large fruit and vegetable gardens to the east of the farm buildings, directly south of the roundabout in Middlefork Drive. Proceed to Waukegan Road. At the stoplight, turn left/north to the stoplight at Knollwood Road. Follow the drive into the Golf Club. (5 minutes)
#10 Knollwood Club. On Knollwood Road just north of the club’s paddle courts, the witness tree is near the road on the east side and overlooks the 18th green. The tree is easily seen from a bike or car; parking may be available in designed lots near the main clubhouse, a short walk to the tree. This is the last stop.