Where to Find the Chicago Area’s Five Best Running Trails

Run for the hills. Literally.

May 16, 2017 9:00 am

Spring’s here, which means one thing: you can’t hide.

But you can run. In fact, you should. Because it’s probably the only thing between you and a presentable beach body.

Question is where? That lakefront trail every Chicagoan is crazy about? Or the 606? Yeah, they’re great.

But sometimes you need more of a challenge. With prettier views. And fewer tourists.

So we scouted out five great trails complete with hills to climb and downed trees to hop over, each well worth the drive outta the city.

Photo: Flickr
The Palos Trail System
Drive time: 40 minutes • Total length: 38.9 miles
Ask any Chicago trail runner (or regular runner, too) about their favorite routes, and our money’s on them mentioning Palos. The forest preserves in the south suburb offer almost 40 miles of terrain across nine trails, which vary in intensity. Really getting after it? Opt for the 9.2-mile yellow trail. Or stick to the red trail, which clocks in at a more manageable 1.8 miles.

Photo: Flickr
Knoch Knolls Park
Drive time: 50 minutes • Run distance: 5.5 miles
This woodsy Naperville park is part of the DuPage River Trail and sits between the west and east branches of the river, with the confluence of the two branches making up its southernmost border. These trails aren’t as well marked as those in the mammoth Palos system, but there are plenty of off-roading opportunities if you’re down to explore.

Photo: Flickr
Deer Grove Forest Preserve
Drive time: 1 hour • Run distance: 16.1 miles
The woodsy, slightly hilly Deer Grove Forest Preserve in the northern suburb of Palatine has been part of the Cook County system for more than a century. Which means nature has been allowed to do its thing uninterrupted for more than 100 years. Head out there in the next few weeks and you’ll likely catch wildflowers in bloom, along with the odd deer if you hit the trail early or late in the day. The parking lot on Quentin Road is a good starting point. From there, you can choose from a few of the unpaved trails, such as the yellow trail, which loops around the west side of the park for a total of 5.4 miles.

Photo: Flickr
Des Plaines River Trail
Drive time: 25 minutes • Run distance: 27.2 miles
The Des Plaines Trail runs north and south along the Des Plaines River, and though the paths are mainly limestone, you’ll find some more native options if you stay south of Lake-Cook Road. That’s easy to do if you’re coming from the city. Parking is available at stops along the route, the furthest south of which is Evans Field in River Grove.

Photo: Flickr
Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit
Drive time: 2 hours • Run distance: 130 miles
You’ll have to cross the Illinois-Wisconsin border for this one, but it’s well worth the trek if you’re looking for more elevation change than you’ll find in the Prairie State. The State Forest spans 30 miles, and with such a huge distance comes a huge variety of terrain, from prairie paths to heavily wooded ones. If you want to run long distances, the John Muir Trails and Emma Carlin Trails have you covered with their eight- and three-mile loops, respectively. Just keep in mind five miles on flat Illinois dirt translates to more huffing and puffing in the Wisconsin hills. One more warning: your Illinois plates will cost you $10 to park.

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