Spring Lake Forest Preserve

Hiking from Penny Pond to Beverly Lake

Spring Lake Forest Preserve is one of the largest forest preserves within the district, and about as far away as you can get from the city while still somehow being within Cook County. Located in Barrington Hills, Spring Lake is 4,000+ acres and features more than 45 miles of unpaved trails reserved for hiking and horseback riding. Other activities include fishing at Penny Road Pond and Beverly Lake.

Trip Report

We’ve had our eyes on Spring Lake Forest Preserve for a while. If you take a look at it on the Forest Preserve District Online Map you’ll see a crazy network of trails that look unlike anything else in the area. We attempted to visit last year (Spring 2019), but misjudged the weather and arrived in the middle of a thunderstorm with neither of us feeling much like getting drenched.

For our return trip to Spring Lake Forest Preserve (for my Birthday Hike!) we chose to explore the southern end of the forest preserve. We parked at Penny Road Pond, a popular fishing spot. The lot was full, but we snagged the last spot when we arrived in the early afternoon. We had planned to hike all the way down to Beverly Lake along the Beverly Lake Trail, but it was brutally hot and we cut our hike a little short. One nice feature of this trail network is there are ample ways to make your own creative loop hikes. There are plenty of opportunities to turn around if you’re getting tired.

After parking at Penny Road Pond, we went west around the pond to meet up with the well-maintained Beverly Lake Trail. This wound through deep woods and along the edges of several grassy green meadows. Much of the hike was on mowed paths, and only about a third was in the shade.

Large, lush, open meadows at Spring Lake Forest Preserve.

While we typically enjoy taking deer paths for off-trail adventures, it was fairly unnecessary at Spring Lake due to the overall isolation. We saw a number of “Private Property” signs on the west side. There was also a few little social trails leading off to some of the lakes and ponds deeper in the preserve. I’d love to explore more upon our next visit.

beverly lake trail hike
5 mile loop we hiked at Spring Lake Forest Preserve

Link to Forest Preserve District of Cook County Map for Penny Road Pond and Spring Lake Preserve

Ratings

Wildlife✶ ✶ ✶
Scenery✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
Isolation✶ ✶
Difficulty
Upkeep✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
Distance (from Chicago)33 miles

Wildlife

It was a hot and humid day, over 85 degrees during our hike, so there wasn’t much wildlife astir. No deer or other critters. Though we did see many birds (including a cardinal, a blue heron, and plenty of red-winged blackbirds), some squirrels, hundreds of toads (that I was constantly worried about stepping on), some ducks, and at least one frog.

Scenery

Our hike on the south end of Spring Lake Preserve went along the edge of a few wide open, rolling, green meadows that looked like a Windows XP background. About a third of the hike was inside lush forests, mostly surrounded by invasive buckthorn. It wasn’t all dense forest, there were several lovely oak clearings. The south end of the preserve contains several ponds and lakes deep within the woods. A few miles into our hike from Penny Road Pond to Beverly Lake, we found a beautiful swampy oasis surrounded by oak trees in the middle of a grassy field. It was a little buggy and the field was flooded out so we didn’t stick around long, but it was probably the visual highlight of the trip. Overall, Spring Lake offered a wide variety of scenery.

One of the nicer, shady wooded areas toward the end of our hike.

Isolation

While there was a crowd of folks fishing at Penny Road Pond, we only saw 1 small group and 2 individuals during our entire 3.5 hour hike on the Beverly Lake Trail. It was hot as hell outside, and the preserves have been a little less crowded during these quarantine times, but seeing less than a handful of people on any hike around Chicago is an accomplishment. Most people I’ve mentioned Spring Lake to haven’t heard of it, and it’s about as far away as you can get from the city while still being inside Cook County.

Difficulty

If it has been raining lately, I’d recommend bringing a pair of waterproof hiking boots with you to Spring Lake Forest Preserve. Pack plenty of water if its a hot day, because at least half of the trail was uncovered. There were quite a few sections of this hike on the wooded trail sections that required careful navigation through 15 ft sections of ankle-deep mud. Spring Lake is a popular location for horseback riding, which doesn’t help the mud. Aside from the mud, compared to other trails in the area, it had quite a bit of up-and-down elevation change—over 150 ft throughout the hike. Because of this elevation change, these trails are also used for cross-country skiing in the winter.

Upkeep

While the area around Penny Road Pond was pretty trashed up, we saw very little rubbish out on the trails. While there were a few oak clearings, most of the deeper wooded areas had been taken over by invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle. I’m sure that Spring Lake Forest Preserve’s distance from the city keeps it under the radar, and it was much cleaner than the average preserve near the city!

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