Hammel Woods

A preserve that always delivers 

|  Story by Meghan McMahon |


Illinois is a state much more known for its open than dense forests, but if you look across northern Illinois, you’ll find pockets of forest that break up the wide open spaces. In Will County, Hammel Woods is one of many of these pockets of forests where trees dominate the landscape.

Hammel Woods is one of the Forest Preserve’s oldest preserves, with the first 147 acres acquired as the District’s second and third property acquisitions in 1930. The preserve was named for American World War I soldiers who fought in a battle in Hamel, France.

Today, the preserve includes 445 acres and is part of the DuPage River preservation system, which conserves 1,500 acres in all. Hammel Woods has three access areas, all in Shorewood: Route 59 Access on Route 59 and Crumby Recreation Area and DuPage River Access on Black Road.

The DuPage River

Europeans settled in the area of what is today Hammel Woods beginning in the 1820s and 1830s. In 1845, William Grinton built a flour mill in what is now the southern end of the preserve. That area became known as Grinton Grove and was the origins of the village of Shorewood.

In the present day, a visit to Hammel Woods always delivers, whether as a shady spot for a summer stroll or a place to beat cabin fever on a winter walk. During spring and fall, it can feel magical, as life returns to the trees and forest floor as winter breathes its final breaths and then as the trees turn into a colorful palette as a last hurrah before winter’s inevitable return.

“For me, fall is the best time to visit,” said digital communications manager Chad Merda. “The changing colors of leaves provide some incredible bursts of color, plus there’s nothing more peaceful than being deep in the woods on a natural surface trail and pausing to take it all in while the leaves are gently falling to the ground.”


Don’t sleep on spring, though. That’s when pops of color begin to emerge from the forest floor to signal better weather to come. Keep your eyes cast downward looking for ephemeral wildflowers such as trout lily, violets, spring beauty and beloved Virginia bluebells.

“While Hammel Woods won’t compare to places like O’Hara Woods Preserve or Messenger Woods Nature Preserve, there are a number of spots, either along the paved trail or along the natural surface trail, where there can be some nice pockets of bluebells in the spring,” Merda said.

Wildlife and habitats

A chipmunk on a wooden post.

Hammel Woods sits in a populated part of the county, which makes it a good place to take a break from the often-hectic pace of life.

“For me, one of the things I love about Hammel Woods is that you can quickly escape the hustle and bustle surrounding it,” Merda said. “A quick walk from the various parking lots has you immersed in a thick tree canopy, natural surface trails as well as a few different ways to get down to the DuPage River to do some wildlife spotting.”

The preserve is largely forested, bordered on the east by the DuPage River. The forests and river provide excellent habitat for dozens of bird species, including ducks and other waterfowl, wading birds, songbirds and woodpeckers.

A bald eagle perching in a tree.

Beyond the birds, many mammals call Hammel Woods home too. On any given day, you might see squirrels, chipmunks, coyotes and especially white-tailed deer.

“If you like watching deer, look no farther than the parking lot by the Shorewood Grove Shelter,” Merda said, adding this particular shelter, at the Route 59 access, is also known as the bat shelter because they have taken up residence there.

The river is another good place for wildlife viewing. “It’s fun to go down to the river from the Hammel Woods Nature Trail,” Merda said. “Beavers, muskrats, herons, egrets and a variety of waterfowl are plentiful. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see a bald eagle perched in a tree or swooping down to the river to catch a fish.”

Recreation opportunities

A trailhead sign at Hammel Woods.

Hammel Woods is a recreation hotspot for residents of western Will County, with hiking and biking among the most popular activities. A 3.77-mile segment of the DuPage River Trail cuts through the heart of the preserve, offering up a great spot for both activities. In the winter, the paved trail is an excellent place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Hikers and walkers can also immerse themselves in the forest habitat on the 1.6 miles of natural surface trails that crisscross the preserve. Merda recommends newcomers to Hammel Woods make a point to check out the dirt trails.

“They are high up in spots where you can get some impressive views of the river down below,” he said.

These natural surface trails will bring you down to the shore of the river too, traversing some steep terrain in the process. In the summer, these paths are shady respite in the heat of the day, and in the fall they bring you right into the seasonal explosion of color.

A line of trees with fall color.

For longer rides, runs or walks, the DuPage River Trail exits Hammel Woods and crosses Black Road, traveling another 1.92 miles north. You can also use a trail connection that runs along Black Road and crosses Interstate 55 to connect with the Rock Run Greenway Trail at Rock Run Preserve less than a mile away.

The river itself is a big draw as well. The Route 59 Access has a canoe and kayak launch where paddlers can enter the water, and shoreline fishing is permitted along the river as well. (All state and Forest Preserve fishing regulations apply.)

Hammel Woods is one of only a handful of preserves with a campground for overnight tent camping. Because the preserves close at sunset each night, camping is one of the few ways to experience the woods at night. Six spots are available for rental, with a maximum capacity of six to eight people per site. Camping permits must be obtained no less than two business days prior to the reservation.


Dogs love Hammel Woods too, and not just for walking the trails with their owners.

A dog park user holding a dog.

The preserve is home to one of the District’s six dog parks, where dogs can run, play and sniff off-leash. The Hammel Woods Dog Park has separate areas for large dogs (more than 35 pounds) and small dogs. A permit is required to use any of the Forest Preserve District’s dog parks.


Geocaching is allowed at Hammel Woods, but a permit is required.

Hammel Woods has three picnic shelters, two of which are available for rental. The Crumby Recreation Area Shelter can hold up to 120 people, and Hidden Shelter at Route 59 Access has a capacity of 100 people. The third shelter, Shorewood Grove Shelter at Route 59 Access, is no longer available for public rentals because it is inhabited by a bat colony.

Photo credits: Caren Kilroy, Glenn P. Knoblock, Chad Merda, Anthony Schalk


Back to Top