UPDATED JUL 14, 2020
Have we hiked at Starved Rock State Park just for the Insta photo op? You betcha. But there’s more than this fitfluencer fave to explore. Here are the best hiking trails to hit up in and around Chicago.
Call it a hidden gem, but this 155-acre escape is in walking (or should we say hiking) distance of the city. Seriously, when’s the last time you walked in an open meadow? Quiet paths, boardwalks, and some undisturbed woodland make this a serene hike that lasts about an hour or two.
Upping the ante of animal life near the suburb of Palatine, Chicagoland’s oldest nature preserve takes hikers through 1,800 acres of wetlands, prairies, ravines, and woods. You’ll find a ton of wildlife here, including migrating birds, amphibians, and deer.
Characterized by its many rock canyons, Illinois’ most popular state park is situated on the Illinois River. In addition to 13 miles trails ranging from easy to challenging, you’ll find waterfalls (our favorite is Ottawa Canyon Falls), whitewater rafting opportunities, and cozy cabins to stay in. It is so worth the trip.
Stretching 25 miles along the Lake Michigan shore in Northwestern Indiana, this 1,500-acre national park includes gorgeous beach dunes, bogs, and wooded trails. Cowles Bog Trail, a 4.4-mile loop that challenges hikers with steep dunes, is one of the most popular paths. The trail takes you to the namesake Cowles Bog, an 8,000-year-old wetland filled with insects and birds (bring your bug spray!).
Okay, we’ll get this out of the way early: there’s no waterfall in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. Instead, there's an incredible 9.5-mile crushed-limestone loop with natural woods, savannas, some hills, and bluffs overlooking the Des Plaines River. This trail is pretty easily accessible, too; it's just a jump away from the city in suburban Darien.
Nestling Central Wisconsin, this 9,217-acre park doesn’t look like it belongs in the Midwest. Rocky bluffs tower over a huge, glacial lake, and ancient rock formations are dispersed throughout. Hikes are breathtaking (both physically and metaphorically), but you can also enjoy mountain climbing, swimming, kayaking, fishing, and camping.
Just 30 minutes from downtown depending on traffic, the Palos portion of the Cook County Forest Preserve features 30 miles of well-maintained trails. Our favorite adventure is the hilly and challenging Orange West Trail. It’s a tough trek (6.8mi), to say the least, and connects to a section called “the Psycho Path”. Luckily, a major perk of this trail system is that there is access to bathrooms and water, so you don’t need to go into survival mode if you spend the day there.
Accessible through the Palos Trail System, these woods include 20 miles of unpaved trails that take you as far away from roads as you can possibly go in Cook County. Scenic and hilly, hikers will find wetlands, oak woodlands, and grasslands. The best part? Chicago Swallow Cliffs — a 100-foot bluff with a staircase that just begs to be climbed.
There are over 100,000 trees on this epic hike just 25 miles away in Lisle, Illinois. On top of that, you can get lost in over 200,000 types of living plants across the 1,700 acres. The 16 miles of trail contain truly stunning landscapes, perfect for a trek through the woods, wetland, and prairie.
With hilly landscapes and vistas, this 2,600-acre nature preserve is the perfect antidote to life in a flat, urban area. Just over an hour and a half northwest of the city in McHenry County, Glacial Park is also great for fishing, biking, horseback riding, and cross country skiing. Plus, you can find camping in nearby Thomas Woods.
Filled with paths and restored prairies, this 91-acre manmade peninsula seems like it’s miles away from the city… except when you get a glimpse of the stunning city skyline. Just south of the city’s Museum Campus, it’s home to the Huntingdon Bank Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater that can hold over 7,000 people. Luckily, the island is usually much quieter.
Stretching the definition of what we call a hike, this 20-mile trail extends all the way from Chicago’s Edgebrook neighborhood to the Chicago Botanic Garden in the northern suburb of Glencoe. Winding along the North Branch of the Chicago River, the trail takes you past the Skokie Lagoons, which is also a great place to kayak.
Editor's note: COVID-19 may have affected the operations of these areas, check with the parks service before heading out.
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