Like us, you perhaps may have driven past The Hollows, a 478-acre conservation area managed by the McHenry County Conservation District, countless times. Given its location along Hwy-14, sandwiched between the Algonquin Township Road District, Suburban Propane, and various other commercial and industrial operations, not to mention the Metra line running along the other side of Hwy-14, it wouldn’t be surprising if you had hardly noticed the sign or given it much thought.
I have to admit, I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I finally made the trek. And pulling into the main parking lot to see a house also sitting there, I still wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into.
Address: 3804 US Hwy-14, Cary, IL 60013
Admittedly, it is a bit surreal.
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The sound of the wind rushing through the trees, mixed with the distant sound of the Metra train making its inbound trip to Chicago.
Occasionally you may hear sounds of trucks (there are still nearby gravel pits) or construction from nearby residential areas (some parts back up to nearby apartments being built). But as you head down the trails, those sounds become more and more distant, simply fading into the background, as nature envelopes you.
While the trails aren’t clearly marked, they are simple enough to follow, especially if you looked over one of the maps beforehand. They are decently wide enough in most places, though some are a bit rocky, so definitely choose appropriate shoes for the journey.
It is especially enjoyable as you wind through the trail and start to get glimpses of Lake Atwood. Even when the trail opens up to it, you are still a bit elevated to it, and still only get a partial view until you get down to the shore and the clear waters…fishing and boating, but no swimming.
There are three parking areas: the main entrance area, the picnic grove, and then near Lake Atwood. Each of these areas also features basic restroom facilities and some have hand-operated water pumps as well.
The Hollows History
The land The Hollows sits on was a dairy farm in the late 1800s. In 1891 though, it was converted over to gravel mining. And though it changed hands over the decades, it continued to be used primarily for mining gravel, clay, and silt.
In December of 1977, the McHenry County Conservation District acquired over 300 acres from Vulcan Materials Corporation who owned the land at that time. The MCCD made The Hollows a conservation area and began restoring the land. They began adding public amenities, acquired additional land in 1982, opened to the public officially in 1983, and made another land acquisition in 2006, bringing The Hollows up to 478 acres.
While The Hollows provides for recreation, the primary focus has still been on restoration and preservation. Efforts have been made over the years, and continue, to remove invasive species as well as reseeding and planting native species, including 335 native wetland and woodland wildflowers, grasses, and plants.
Much of these efforts have also helped to restore and create native habitats for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects, including over 31 different butterfly species!
A number of small gravel pit lakes were combined to form the larger lakes, providing more suitable habitat for fish.
Hiking Trails & Cross-Country Skiing
The Hollows features around 4.75 miles of small loop trails, winding through the woods, grasslands, and prairies, including a .4-mile trail that encircles the 22-acre Lake Atwood. While mostly wooded, the trails do provide various terrains to be experienced. They are all short individually, though they are also all interconnected to form larger loops if desired.
Some of the trails can also be used over the winter months for 2-miles of groomed cross-country skiing, as long as there are at least four inches of snow.
Lake Atwood (22-acres) and Little Lake Atwood (2.5-acres) provide opportunities to cast a line, either from the shore, the fishing pier on Lake Atwood, or from on the water. Lake Atwood is a stocked lake and hosts the District’s annual Hooked On Fishing event in June when the whole family can take a hand at catching bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and even rainbow trout…and possibly win some prizes!
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Lake Atwood also features a boat launch for those who prefer their fishing that way, or for those who just enjoy being on the water. Being a small lake, only electric motors are allowed on rowboats, so it’s also a great opportunity for paddlers, whether by canoe, kayak, or paddleboard.
The Hollows also has you covered, literally, for picnicking, whether individually, small group, or large group. The two picnic groves feature a covered picnic shelter as well as a number of individual picnic tables and standing charcoal grills. There is also another covered shelter near Lake Atwood and the parking lot. The shelters and picnic groves can also be reserved.
For those wanting to make a day, and night of it, there is also a group campground for small (1-40 people) and large (1-100 people) groups that can be reserved for pitching tents and sharing stories around the campfires.
Don’t Have to Go Far
We often feel like we have to “take a trip to the country” to get out and experience nature. While certainly that may true, in its purest sense, The Hollows is a great reminder that there are many opportunities to experience nature in McHenry County, no matter where you are. Sometimes, these opportunities are where we least expect them.
And with the many benches positioned along the trails and around the water, this may just be the nearby getaway you’ve been looking for, to sit, unplug, and unwind.
For more information on The Hollows, including an online trail map, site hours, and facility reservations, check out The Hollows page on the MCCD site.