Camp Shabbona Woods was the second of Cook County’s brand new camping sites I decided to check out. Located about 30 miles from Logan Square, and almost entirely on trail, Camp Shabbona Woods definitely hits a lot of the “good for beginners” check boxes while keeping the same cyclist friendly reservation and occupancy structure as the other Cook County campgrounds.
The wooded areas of Shabbona Woods are really quite lovely (sites 1-4). This campground has the luck of already being an established picnic grove and doesn’t face a lot of the landscaping challenges that the also new Camp Bullfrog Lake is currently contending with. Like many of the other campgrounds in the area, the sites at Shabbona Woods are pretty close together. When I visited the Sunday-Monday of Labor Day weekend, there was no one else camping here, so I can’t say it really bothered me.
While the wooded campsites are probably the best sites to get at Camp Shabbona Woods, there aren’t really bad places to be either. All sites are equipped with a new picnic table and fire rings with useable cooking grates. The campground isn’t really large enough to ever feel secluded from anything. This could be a problem if the campgrounds ever get really full. As it is a new site, there aren’t any trees or other plants to create a sense of privacy and separation around your site. I’d try to leave space when reserving if at all possible. One of the other minor annoyances about how the sites are set up is that there aren’t more water sources. At my visit you had to walk to the bath house for everything. While the grounds aren’t so large that this is ever very far away, I do like how sites like Burnidge Forest Preserve and Blackwell Forest Preserve have multiple water sources spread throughout the grounds to cut down on waits for water access.
While the amenities at Shabbona Woods are fairly basic in comparison to Bullfrog Lake, the essentials are definitely still covered. Shabbona Woods has a very nice new bathhouse with flush toilets and ADA Accessible showers. You can access the Sand Ridge Nature Center and its hiking trails from the campgrounds, and just across the road is an Aquatic Center (pool, waterslide). Shabbona Woods also offers a camp store which was well-stocked with all the junk food I desperately wanted to eat but couldn’t pack; however, like Camp Bullfrog Lake, I really wish they would stock hotdogs. Shabbona Woods also requests that you don’t bring in outside wood and sells you a bundle for $5. While I was there in August you got one free bundle with registration. The camp host was very nice and let me root around in the wood pile to find some slivers for kindling and a few smaller logs to get the fire started.
Probably the most frustrating thing about Camp Shabbona Woods is its lack of accessibility by non-major roads. While you can almost entirely avoid Torrence Ave to get into and out of the campgrounds, there is no way to avoid at least a block of terrifying four lane to gain access to the nearest grocery store, Ultra Foods, approximately 1.5 miles away. Because Shabbona Woods is so close to Chicago, I just packed my food into camp rather than try it, but if I had to go about it, I’d recommend getting back on the Burnham Greenway southbound via the aquatic center parking lot. From the trail you should be able to get off at 170th St for a few terrifying moments before accessing the frontage road (Exchange Ave) to the Ultra Foods parking lot. I’ve been unable to find a way around riding on a four lane to get groceries, but this seems to be the least terrible option outside of just brining in your food as I did.
At 30 miles from Logan Square and almost entirely on trails, Camp Shabbona Woods is the closest campsite to the city I have found thus far. My preferred route takes the Lakefront Path to its southern end and then get on the Burnham Greenway until 159th where you can turn off and ride through the Green Lake Family Aquatic Center parking lot to almost entirely avoid the disaster that is Torrence Ave. When you reach Torrence, you can see the Shabbona Woods entrance sign across the road. I was able to wait a couple minutes and dart across at a lull in the traffic, but it is a fairly busy road. While there are still approximately 3 miles of four lane to deal with to reach Camp Shabbona Woods, none of it is too terrible if you have other people with you. I’ve come to prefer a longer ride, so I was a little disappointed with this trip, but it’s a really solid choice for folks who aren’t used to distance riding or riding with a lot of gear.
Camp Shabbona Woods is my favorite of the Cook County Forest Preserve sites I’ve seen thus far. Its scenery is nice and it’s definitely accessible. I wish it weren’t on such a major road because it’s hard to feel like you’re really “in nature” with that much traffic surrounding you. Overall, this is a pretty solid campground and good experience. If you’re looking for a more challenging ride or feeling of urban escape, you may want to keep looking, but if you’re just trying to get someone to try out bike camping, Shabbona Woods is a really good option.
Overall Score: 4/5
Ride Quality: 4/5
Proximity to grocery: 2/5