Chicago, IL: Shabbona Lake
Take a break from baiting hooks and hit the trail for this 4.8-mile loop around Shabbona Lake. You're guaranteed to catch lake views, dense woodland silence, and wetland vistas.
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Shabbona Lake, surrounded by rolling farmland 60 miles west of Chicago, is known more for its fishing than hiking—it’s the Muskie Capitol of Illinois, after all. But, this 4.8-mile loop samples the rolling prairie and bottomland woods that characterize the 1,550-acre Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area .
Beginning at the Shabbona Grove picnic area on the 318-acre lake’s southwest corner, this route heads east along the earthen dam past the spillway. Turning north on the Tomahawk Trail, the trail winds in and out of dense woodlands, occasionally touching the lakeshore, but offering views of it along most of the route. At mile 1.4, tackle a short climb and a tight squeeze between a finger of the lake and a natural reed-filled fen on the left.
The second half of the hike passes the park’s 150-site campground, briefly parallels the road, and skirts a tree-peppered wetland before landing near the restaurant and bait shop—a great place to refuel before the final half mile to the trailhead.
Trails close occasionally during hunting season, call (815) 824-2106 for conditions and closure information.
-Mapped by Ted Villaire
- Distance: 7.9
Location: 41.736187, -88.8632889
From the Shabbona Grove picnic area, hike across the half-mile-long earthen dam. The dam was constructed in 1975 to create the lake.
Location: 41.740097, -88.8504333
After the spillway on the dam’s east side, turn left onto the Tomahawk Trail.
Location: 41.7428835, -88.8541603
Funding shortages prevent regular trail maintenance, so there may be places where the trail is overgrown or where signs warn of trail closures. However, trails are still open to hikers.
Location: 41.7464561, -88.8530731
Continue straight, bypassing the Papara Trail as it turns right. From here, the trail alternates: sometimes following the shoreline and occasionally turning inland through the woods.
Location: 41.7512741, -88.8551636
Continue straight at 3-way junction, bypassing the snowmobile trail to the right. Hikers aren’t allowed on the 7-mile snowmobile trail in winter, but in summer, it is mowed and open to hikers.
Location: 41.7535324, -88.8622971
Stay straight at 3-way junction, another end of the snowmobile trail. Up ahead, the trail skirts the campground on the left and the golf course on the right.
Location: 41.7544403, -88.8708572
After crossing the campground access road, turn left on the Arrowhead Trail.
Location: 41.7435379, -88.8677216
Cross the park road that leads to the lakeside concession area and boat launch on the left. Continue back to the parking area near the dam.
Location: 41.737896, -88.8578644
Ice formations alongside the Shabbona Lake Dam. During winter deep-freezes, this is also a popular ice-fishing destination. © Ted Villaire
Location: 41.7499809, -88.8545914
After entering the grassland, the trail climbs a hill and then drops down between a finger of the lake on the left and reedy pond on the right. © Ted Villaire
Location: 41.7523232, -88.8750763
On the banks of Indian Creek, look for signs of beaver activity: cone-shaped tree stumps surrounded by wood chips on the ground. © Ted Villaire
Location: 41.7484131, -88.875267
As Indian Creek enters Shabbona Lake, it flows through this expansive, tree-fringed wetland. Keep an eye out for great blue herons, white egrets, and other waterbirds. Some 30 species are said to drop-in annually at Shabbona Lake. © Ted Villaire