The best places for hiking near Chicago

Get out and explore nature without even leaving city limits, or hop in the car and jaunt through nearby state parks
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Robert Martinez Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
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Whether you’re the rugged, outdoorsy type or you can barely cross the street without tripping, there’s a hiking trail for you near Chicago. Our city might not be a Seattle or San Francisco in terms of proximity to mountains, but natural Midwestern beauty is abound if you know where to look. Hop on the South Shore Line and visit the striking Indiana Dunes, or drive down to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to see beautiful buffalo. Of course, the Lakefront path offers an awesome running trail and city parks and the 606 are great, but if you want to hit the trail in earnest, we suggest these 10 gorgeous spots.

1
Starved Rock State Park
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Daniel Schwen

Starved Rock State Park

Located on the south bank of the Illinois River in LaSalle County, Starved Rock offers 13 miles of well established trails winding through 18 canyons, with views of gorgeous waterfalls and rock formations (including the 125-foot butte overlooking the river that gives the park its name). Guided hikes are available year-round, or you can set out exploring at your own pace.

Travel time: 90min drive

Hours: 6:30am–9pm

Entry fee: Free

2
Indiana Dunes
Photograph: Courtesy Indiana Dunes Tourism

Indiana Dunes State Park

Nestled on the northwest (and only) shore of Indiana, this National Natural Landmark offers spectacular views of Lake Michigan. The park encompasses over 2,000 acres of shoreline, comprised of hiking trails and, of course, sand dunes. Chicago native and poet Carl Sandburg called the Indiana Dunes “to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and Yosemite is to California.” Just a short drive or train ride from downtown Chicago, it’s an easy day trip from the city.

Travel time: 1hr drive, 90min on South Shore Line

Hours: 7am–11pm

Entry fee: $7 in-state vehicles, $12 out-of-state vehicles

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3
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Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

West of the city in southern DuPage County, this nearly 2,500-acre preserve surrounding Argonne National Labs has 11 miles of mapped trails shared by hikers, cyclists, horseback riders and, when weather permits, cross-country skiers. Hikers can also explore a handful of unmarked foot paths, and licensed fishers can try their luck in a number of old quarries scattered throughout the area.

Travel time: 30min drive

Hours: One hour after sunrise until one hour after sunset

Entry fee: Free

 

4
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

This 19,000-acre National Forest Service prairie south of Joliet attracted new attention in 2015 with the reintroduction of bison to the land, with visitor numbers rising for the chance to see the herd in its natural habitat. Midewin has about 22 miles of mixed-use trails shared by hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, and another 12 for hikers only.

Travel time: 1hr drive

Hours: Trails open 4am–10pm year-round

Entry fee: Free

 

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5
Photograph: Flickr/CC/lapstrake

Kankakee River State Park

The Kankakee River has been a treasured area for centuries, occupied by the Illini and Miami tribes in the 17th century. The park itself surrounds the river for about 11 miles, totaling to 4,000 acres of protected land. It’s popular spot for fishing, canoeing, hiking and mushroom hunting (yep), and includes campgrounds with cabins, electricity and more amenities available.

Travel time: 1hr drive

Hours: 7am–6pm

Entry fee: Free

6
Morton Arboretum
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/

Morton Arboretum

This nature preserve in west suburban Lisle boasts an incredibly complex landscape, with more than 4,000 catalogued species of trees and plants. Explore them on 16 miles of paved and wood-chipped trails. In the summer and fall, Morton Arboretum is also a frequent venue for Theatre-Hikes, which offers ambulatory outdoor performances.

Travel time: 30min drive, 90min via Amtrak

Hours: 7am to sunset

Entry fee: $14 adults, $12 seniors, $9 ages 2–17

 

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7
Photograph: Flickr/CC/trippchicago

Matthiessen State Park

Nestled just south of Starved Rock, this 1,700-acre tract boasts forest, prairie, canyons and other rock formations. It’s centered on the Vermillion River and features five miles of hiking trails plus nine miles of biking and equestrian trails. Originally known as Deer Park, this reserve remains home to a large population of white-tailed deer thanks to its mineral springs that create salt licks for the fauna.

Travel time: 90min drive

Hours: 7am–8pm

Entry fee: Free

8
North Branch Trail
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Jasenlee

North Branch Trail

Beginning in Gompers Park at Foster and Kostner Avenues on the city’s Northwest Side, this trail follows the north branch of the Chicago River 22 miles up through the LaBagh Woods and Skokie Lagoons to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, where it connects to the Green Bay Trail to continue up the North Shore. The fully paved trail attracts many bicyclists in addition to hikers and runners, so be aware of your surroundings.

Travel time: 30min drive

Hours: Sunrise–Sunset

Entry fee: Free

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9
Deer Grove
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Sebastian Sierotnik

Deer Grove

Acquired in 1916, the Cook County Forest Preserve District's oldest property includes wetlands and prairies in the eastern half and denser woodlands in the west. The parcel in northwest suburban Palatine has four miles of paved trails and 10 more unpaved, the latter popular with both hikers and mountain bikers.

Travel time: 1hr drive

Hours: 6am–8pm

Entry fee: Free

10
Des Plaines River Trail
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Dave Piasecki

Des Plaines River Trail

A plan that began in 1980 was finally completed in 2015, when the last leg of this trail was opened to make a continuous 31.5-mile dirt and gravel path, traversing Lake County from north to south along the namesake river. The northern half of the trail offers a little more visual interest, crossing through a series of forest preserves.

Travel time: 30min drive

Hours: 6:30am–sunset

Entry fee: Free

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