The Seven Hiking Trails Every Chicagoan Should Know

Waterfalls! Dunes! All moderately easy!

By Michael Nolledo

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09 August 2016

This is Chicago.

The only kind of hikes we know tend to be property tax-related.

But look a little deeper and you’ll find some wild parts through which to ramble.

From waterfall walkabouts to the one beach hike worth getting sandy for, we went ahead and rounded up our favorite trails for your outdoor pleasure.

All within 100 miles of Chicago. All worthy of the drive. All perfect for summer and fall.

Enjoy.


Photo: Waterfall Glen Forest/Flickr
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
Darien, IL

Drive time: 45 minutes (map)
Hike distance: 9.6 miles

If you’re looking for a long meandering walk, consider Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, which surrounds the University of Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory. The main trail is an 11-mile flat loop that crosses through rolling woodlands and marshes, with nary the laboratory in sight. The 5-foot waterfall — which comes about 4 miles in — may not be grandiose, but it’s picturesque nonetheless.

Kankakee River State Park
Bourbonnais, IL

Drive time: 1 hour 30 minutes (map)
Hike distance: 5 miles

This 5-mile river hike located in the Kankakee State Park is easy enough to do with your eyes closed, but you’ll wanna keep your peepers peeled for the dramatic limestone canyon along Rock Creek.


Photo: Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Reserve/Flickr
Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Reserve
Wilmington, IL

Drive time: 1 hour 20 minutes (map)
Hike distance: 6 miles

Opened in 1996, Midewin is the country’s first national tallgrass prairie reserve, and at 20,000 acres of native tallgrass, it has been a massive undertaking since. We’ve already endorsed this hike as a summer bucket list must-do, but only because you should get there sooner rather than later. Why? Because they’ve reintroduced bison to the land, and it’s a lovely sight. You also don’t wanna miss the bunker field (the Midewin site was once the largest ammunition-production plant in the world), which features more than 60 grass-covered shelters.


Photo: Moraine Hills State Park/Flickr
Moraine Hills State Park
McHenry, IL

Drive time: 1 hour and 20 minutes (map)
Hike distance: 8 miles

One of our favorite hikes in the state, Moraine Hills State Park gives you marshes and lakes, quiet backwoods and rolling hills — it’s a surprising ecosystem that’s worthy of a full day trip. Geologically speaking, you’ll wanna take note of two things on your hike: Pike Marsh, a 115-acre area in the southeast corner of the park. And the Leatherleaf Bog — another conservation area that shows off the area’s dynamic topography.


Photo: Matthiessen State Park/Flickr
Matthiessen State Park
North Utica, IL

Drive time: 2 hours (map)
Hike distance: 3 miles

We love Matthiessen State Park because it’s a peaceful alternative to Starved Rock’s busy tourist trails. On its scenic three-mile hike, you’ll saunter through limestone canyons and waterfalls in the shadows of cedars and oaks that tower from wooded bluffs overhead.

Photo: Morton Arboretum/Flickr
Morton Arboretum
Lisle, IL

Drive time: 45 minutes (map)
Hike distance: 5 miles

You’ll wanna choose your side when it comes to this 17,000 acre arboretum located in Lisle, IL. We prefer the east side, but you’d do well for either. Both are incredibly peaceful and serene; easy and family-friendly. Pro tip: no car? No problem. Just take the Metra to the Lisle station.

Indiana Dunes State Park
Chesterton, IN

Drive time: 1 hour (map)
Hike distance: 3.5iles

Because what's a discussion about hikes near Chicago without some dunes? Especially these ones. You will climb them. And trust you will run down them. The Ridge Hollow Loop will treat you to a nice mix of wooded area and sandy shoreline beach. 

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