The Chainlink

Worth Checking Out: Camp Shabbona Woods

By Brett Ratner

Update: All of the five new campgrounds opened this year. Four out of five of the campgrounds are available for camping year-round. http://fpdcc.com/camping/

If you've ever wanted to do some weekend bicycle camping within reasonable riding distance from Chicagoland, your options have been fairly limited.

Indiana Dunes State Park and Illinois Beach State Park have long be go-to's for Chainlinkers. If you're open to "slingshotting" on a Metra train, Rock Cut State Park and Starved Rock State Park are also within easy reach.

But thanks to a recent project by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, we'll soon have five new campgrounds to add to the list. These are Bullfrog Lake (in Willow Springs), Dan Beard (in Northbrook), Reinberg (in Palatine), Sullivan (in Oak Forest) and Shabbona Woods (located in South Holland). In fact, Reinberg, Sullivan and Shabbona Woods are already open!

With the forecast looking promising last Saturday, The Chainlink decided to give Shabbona Woods a go for a quick overnight.

Camp Shabbona Woods offers, hands down, the friendliest staff I've ever encountered in a campground.

On a summer weekend, a campsite costs $35 for a Cook County resident and $45 for a non-resident (six people maximum per site). Eight-person cabins are also available for $80 (resident) or $90 (non-resident). Weeknight and off-season prices are considerably less. Registration includes one free bundle of firewood.

Nearby attractions include the Sand Ridge Nature Center and the Green Lake Aquatic Center. Onsite amenities include a pavilion (with lots of electrical outlets to recharge phones), showers, flush toilets, a children's play area and hiking trails. The campground office sells firewood, a limited selection of food and beverages as well as various camping supplies you may have forgotten (e.g. fire starters).

The biking route from Chicago is super easy. With the exception of a few on-street miles here and there, you're either on the Lakefront trail or the Burnham Greenway the entire way. Anyone who's ever ridden to the Three Floyds Brewery knows this route well. If you're starting on the north side of Chicago, the trip will be 30 miles, give or take.

The Burnham Greenway made for some easy pedaling to the campground.

This well-loved Chicago establishment, located next to the bridge made famous in the Blues Brothers movie, made for an ideal lunch stop.

Anyway, I can't say enough nice things about the campground and campground staff.

Everything onsite is brand-spanking new, clean, well-maintained, freshly landscaped, and very, very nice. Smart touches include solar-powered lights along the walkways and wood-chip tent platforms. A utility sink is located near the restrooms for washing dishes, and each site has a tall metal lantern post. While the post is designed for hanging stuff (like garbage bags, water jugs and obviously lanterns), it's also perfect for locking up bikes. In addition, there are bike racks located near the restrooms.  

The lantern posts served double duty as bike racks.

The staff was extremely friendly and courteous, seemed quite happy to be there, and expressed a large amount of pride in not only Shabbona Woods, but in all the new Cook County Forest Preserve campgrounds. I kid you not, even the guy doing maintenance work at 2:30 in the morning (don't ask me why I was still up), was talking up the other sites and encouraging me to visit them.

The pavilion is used to host a variety of youth activities. Here, area schoolkids were learning about the turtles native to the area.

While this isn't something that necessarily bothers me, some people prefer a little more tree coverage when camping. If you're one of those people, you might try to reserve campsites numbers "1" through "4," as the rest are in an open area. You can site map here

If you like your creature comforts, a Starbucks, Denny's, Buffalo Wild Wings, drug store and liquor store are an easy pedal from the camp. Speaking of alcohol, it's allowed...provided you're not "that guy." In other words, sipping a beer by the campfire is totally OK. Having a loud party well into the night is decidedly NOT OK. If not being "that guy" isn't reason enough, there are lots of area schoolkids who enjoy the campground and you definitely want to serve as a positive example.

Since there were scattered showers during our visit, the pavilion got lots of use for relaxing...as well as cell phone charging.

The camping experience is unique. If you're expecting serene silence and star-filled skies, this isn't the place. The forest preserve is nestled in a pretty well-populated area, so while you're surrounded by trees and wildlife, you can still hear traffic and other noises off in the distance. And obviously, that huge metropolis 20 miles to the north casts a glow over the night sky.

What the experience DOES deliver is the somewhat surreal feeling of camping in a city. It's a bit like pitching a tent in your parents' backyard when you were a kid. And that's kinda cool.

Anyway, Camp Shabbona Woods is an excellent facility staffed by truly nice people. It's a great option for a weekend bike getaway and I think it's worth checking out.

Visit http://fpdcc.com/camping/ to learn more.

Bikes and gear featured in this article:

Surly Long Haul Trucker

Bianchi Volpe

Burley Nomad Cargo Bike Trailer

Ortlieb Front Roller Panniers

Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers

REI Half Dome 2 Plus Tent

REI Half Dome 4 Tent

REI Flex Lite Chair

About the Author

Brett Ratner (brett@thechainlink.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.

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Comment by Jorge on November 7, 2015 at 11:34am

I posted this in the muti-modal thread, but I thought it should go here, too. I just took the orange line out to midway last Monday. I found a decent route out to the Palos trails, and camped for the night. It is about 8.5 miles to the preserves, then another 8 miles of trails to the new campground at Bull Frog.

http://ridewithgps.com/trips/6983330

63rd by Midway is horrible. Take the sidewalk. It should be mostly empty. After the airport 63rd isn't that bad to bike on. There are a few bike sharrows, even. Archer and roberts are the worst, but you can take the sidewalk. They are empty suburban path like sidewalks. 80th and 81st are calm neighborhood streets. Thats about it! 

Tentsite was $20 in the off season, and they had a special unlimited free firewood weekdays. I might do it again before winter!

Comment by Yasmeen on November 6, 2015 at 8:27am

Update: All of the five new campgrounds opened this year. Four out of five of the campgrounds are available for camping year-round. http://fpdcc.com/camping/

Comment by Greg Berry on August 4, 2015 at 10:09am

Well I guess this settles it, time to get a LHT.  Thanks for the update!

Comment by David Pulsipher on July 23, 2015 at 12:20pm

There's one more site that is good for bike camping in Chicago - Blackwell Forest Preserve. $30 for non-DuPage county residents. A lot nicer than Zion, but no lake. Definitely worth a visit. Great staff as well. Thanks for the write up!

$35 does seem a bit on the price side, IMHO.

Comment by Katie Smith on July 17, 2015 at 10:21am

Thanks Brett,

I wasn't sure if the two posts about this trip were by the same crew or not, so decided to cover my bases!  That gap is definitely a problem for him as I was able to zoom in on that area you describe.  We will definitely have to take the sidewalk or walk some areas.  (We will be prepared for some possible 7yo whining about that!)  But overall, we are excited to have a bike camping option within biking distance for us, so thanks for your nice write-up as I had missed this had opened!

Comment by Brett Ratner on July 17, 2015 at 10:02am

Hi, Katie:

I see from your other post you've anticipated the answer to my question. The gap in the Burham Greenway is a bit of a bummer. In particular, there's a train tack (at a busy intersection), then an overpass and then a cloverleaf you have to navigate. I wouldn't be a good judge as to the safety for a 7-year-old riding on that section. One thing I can say is that there is a sidewalk on the overpass, so at least you can get off the highway there.

Outside of that, the ride is easy-peasy.

Comment by Katie Smith on July 16, 2015 at 12:30pm

How would the on-street miles be for kids?  Would sidewalks be an option?  He can do the distance, but common sense isn't necessarily his strong suit for on-street riding.  (We do plenty in our neighborhood, but we know which lights cars blow, etc by now.) 

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