Spears Woods: Room to Roam Amidst Rolling Hills, Sloughs, and Oak Woodlands

BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER & AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND

If you’re looking for a large preserve in which to hike, bike, cross-country ski, snowshoe, and otherwise explore, than Spears Woods near Willow Springs, Illinois, is the place to be. It offers rolling hills; sloughs (such as whimsically named Boomerang, Hogwash, and Pollywog Sloughs); winding creeks; oak forests; and prairies. Spears Woods consists of nearly 450 acres of wonderful, and sits at the junction of the Valparaiso and Tinley Moraines—two ridges of rock and sediment that were deposited by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. In recent years, there have major efforts to remove invasive species (such as honeysuckle, barberry, and buckthorn) and otherwise improve the preserve. Spears Woods was named after John Spear, an early settler and landowner in the area.  

Here are six things that you can do at Spears Woods:

Go hiking. Portions of the 42.1 Palos Trail System (including the unpaved Yellow, Orange, and Brown Trails) wind their way through the woods. The Yellow Trail is classified at the Intermediate Level by Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC). In most areas, it traverses hilly terrain that is not too challenging for those with basic physical fitness. (Note: The Yellow Trail at the far west end of the preserve near Flavin Road is considered challenging.) The Orange Trail is classified as Easy by the FPCC. The preserve is bisected by Old Country Road (that begins at 87th Street and travels south to 107th Street), which is now closed to vehicles and serves as a recreational trail for hikers and bicyclists. Old Country Road is now known as the Brown Trail.  

Enjoy a bike ride. The preserve is very popular with cyclists because it offers a variety of hilly trails (for the most physically fit), as well as the aforementioned Old Country Road (Brown Trail), which is wide, flat, and perfect for families who want to experience nature who but do not want a challenging ride. Old Country Road also serves as a great way to quickly travel between preserves.   

See the sloughs. These shallow wetlands or small ponds are located throughout the preserve and offer a good place to see birds and other wildlife.

Savor the spring blooms and fall colors. Spears Woods is beautiful in all seasons, but it is especially stunning in these seasons.

Participate in some winter activities. The woods are a great place to snowshoe, cross-country ski (especially on Old Country Road), and hike.

Enjoy wildlife viewing: Swarms of dragonflies danced over my head as I walked one of the preserve’s prairies during a recent visit. It was relaxing to watch them perform their aerial acrobatics for a few minutes. You might see muskrats, deer, coyotes, and western chorus frogs, among many other creatures. Ebird.com reports that more than 160 avian species have been sighted at the preserve, including scarlet tanagers; American woodcocks; red-bellied, downy, red-headed woodpeckers, and pileated woodpeckers; blue jays; black-capped chickadees; white-breasted nuthatches; dark-eyed juncos; great blue herons; great egrets; red-tailed hawks; ruby-throated hummingbirds; sandhill cranes; and American white pelicans.

Spears Woods connects to large swathes of woods to the southwest and south. These areas are part of the sprawling Palos Forest Preserves. Check out the following nearby destinations.

Bullfrog Lake and Campground

Camp Kiwanis Equestrian Staging Area 

Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve

Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve

Red Gate Woods

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

Getting There and Other Details

I parked at the Spears Woods parking lot (LaGrange Road/96th Avenue, south of W. 87th Street, Cook County, IL 60480), which you can access from S. LaGrange Road. But be advised that you can only access the preserve from the southbound lanes due to a highway divider. Other visitors choose to park at Willow Springs Woods or Country Lane Woods.  

Dogs are allowed at the preserve, but they must be leashed. There is a picnic grove at the Spears Woods parking lot in case you want to pack a picnic lunch.

It’s hard to get lost at Spears Woods (if you stay on the trails) because the FPCC is testing out signage (pictured) that helps visitors navigate the vast preserve. The signs are easy to use and very helpful.

Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes

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Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book has 306 pages and 210+ photos and is only $18.99. Click here to purchase the book.

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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES

I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job OpeningsNontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDsThey Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titlesThey Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.

In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering CareersWhat Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).

My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.

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