Hidden Pond Woods: What if You Held a Nature Party and No One Came?

What if you held a nature party and no one came?

That was the scene early last September when I stumbled upon Hidden Pond Woods-East (Entrance: S. Kean Avenue, north of W. 95th Street, Cook County, IL 60480, near Willow Springs) after hiking about 3 miles at wild and hilly Spears Woods just to the west. Forest Preserves of Cook County had created the scene for a nature party of sorts (e.g., picnic grove with a 150-person capacity, ample parking, stunning scenery) at Hidden Pond Woods but it was deserted on a beautiful late-summer day.  

Before stumbling upon Hidden Pond, I’d hiked the rolling hills of Spears Woods in mid-70s warmth and savored the wildflowers and several sloughs in the quiet, dense woods. But I wanted to keep hiking, so I followed the Orange Trail east towards 96th Avenue (LaGrange Avenue). The trail eventually turns south and traverses a north/south ridge above the road, which is like a speedway surrounded by thick forest on each side. The silence of Spears Woods was replaced by the Willow Springs 500. My ears hurt from the sounds of the cars whipping by and I smelled exhaust, but I didn’t care. I was hiking and exploring. It was warm and sunny. I had plenty of water and snacks. And I didn’t have to be anywhere for a few hours.

I passed an old, limping man with a walking stick and was impressed by his tenacity to enjoy the outdoors despite his physical challenges. I hope I’m a hiking warrior when I reach octogenarian status.

I continued to walk. The cars continued to resemble earthbound rocket ships on LaGrange Road. And the sunlight and heat continued to feel soothing on my skin.

The trail descended and I suddenly glimpsed an underpass coated with graffiti that traveled below the road. The path through the underpass was muddy and smelled like one of the men’s washrooms at Wrigley Field in extra innings. I quickly walked through as the cars raced overhead. (Note: Forest Preserves of Cook County, this underpass needs lighting and a clean-up, pronto!)

I emerged from the underpass and hiked north up a slightly challenging trail for about 10 minutes.

There it was: Hidden Pond Woods-East. Big, beautiful oak trees. A massive parking lot with nary a car. Empty picnic tables. And, yes, Hidden Pond, so green, so pretty, with an audience of tall oaks gathered around it. And despite the thick layer of algae coating the top of the pond, it was still stunning.

It was beautiful, and I was the only savoring it at that particular moment.

It amazed me that no one else was there. Forest Preserves of Cook County had created this place for big get-togethers. Because I’m curious (and couldn’t just enjoy the scenery), I wondered:

And then it occurred to me that before I stumbled into the area, Hidden Pond Woods was just nature existing for itself and not for the pleasure of humans. Free to be whatever it wanted to be if we just left it alone. And it would be so again after I left. That was a wonderful thought in a busy county with a population of 5.1 million people and a vast stretch of neighborhoods starting just east of Hidden Pond and extending about 18 miles to Lake Michigan. I took the hint and turned on my heels and headed back toward the smelly, graffitied underpass, then traversed the rolling hills back toward home.

Things to Do at Spears Woods

Hiking: Portions of the 42.1-mile Palos Trail System wind their way through the Spears Woods and neighboring preserves.

Bicycling

Hanging out with your dog (Note: dogs on-leash only)

Cross-Country Skiing

Horseback Riding

Ice Skating

Final Thoughts

Hours: Year-round, Sunrise to Sunset

There is no fishing at Hidden Pond.

There is a second parking area—Hidden Pond Woods-West. Enter from 96th Avenue, north of W. 95th Street Cook County, IL 60480, near Willow Springs)

Hidden Pond Woods connects to large swathes of woods to the north, west, 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

Spears Woods

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

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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