Best Spots for Hiking Around Chicago

The Chicago Metro area may not be known for its geography but taking a trip outside the city can offer a vast amount of opportunities to enjoy the open air and see some spectacular scenery. Whether you’re the rugged outdoorsy type or you’re just looking for a peaceful walk, there are plenty of opportunities in and around Chicago. Here is a list of our hand-picked hiking paths and there is surely something enjoyable for everyone.

Geneva Lake Shore Path

Geneva Lake Shore Path TreesGeneva Lake Shore Path WalkwayGeneva Lake Shore Path Water

Address: 201 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva, WI 53147

Distance from Chicago: 83 miles, ~1.5-hour drive.

Length: about 8.5 miles of trails, 26 miles of “Shore Path”.

Trail Surfaces: cement, bricks, wood, stepping stones, gravel

Reservation needed: No for Shore Path and yes for trail. If you are planning to stay at the site reservations can be booked on the website.

Price: Free for Shore Path. Trail pass ½ day, $10. Full day, $15. 2 days, $25.

Hills: range from easy to expert

Pets allowed: Yes, as long as they are leashed and picked up after. There is also a pet-friendly resort and spa.

Amenities: Equipment rental, group tours, family fun.

Description: Geneva Lake’s popular Shore Path is filled with historic estates featuring well-kept gardens and lawns, antique wooden boats and excursion boats, and sailboats on the lake. The path is almost 26 miles along the shoreline weaving in and out of the woods. Sturdy shoes are recommended as the terrains range from cement, bricks, wood, stepping stones, and gravel. There are areas that are very close to the shoreline or are narrow in path so walk with care; bikes and strollers are not recommended for this reason. Walking in sections is a good idea as it would take about 8 to 10 hours for the average person to walk the entire path. An insider tip from Geneva Lake: Park a car at the end of one section and drive a car to where you’d like to start, that way you can drive back! The easiest walk on the path starts at the Lake Geneva Library and heading in either direction, more challenging parts of the path are on the south side rather than the north side. The path has beautiful scenery to offer during all seasons and serves as a great spot for a peaceful getaway or family fun.

Moraine Hills State Park

Moraine Hills State Park AerialMoraine Hills State Park PathMoraine Hills State Park  Walkway

Address: 1510 S. River Rd, McHenry IL 60051

Distance from Chicago: 56 miles, ~1.5-hour drive.

Length: Total= 11.4 miles. Fox River Trail, 2 miles. Leatherleaf Bog trail, 3.2 miles. Lake Defiance Trail, 3.7 miles. River Road Trail (paved), 1.7 miles.

Trail Surfaces: Asphalt, crushed limestone

Pets allowed: Yes

Amenities: Nature center, parking, picnic area, viewing platform/ overlook, hiking trails, restrooms.

Description: Moraine Hills offers more than 10 miles of trails that are used for more than just hiking. The trails are opened for skiers and cyclists as well and it serves as the parks most popular recreational features. Hikers interested in geology and nature are in for a wonderful experience. The park is located 3 miles south of McHenry in McHenry County. The park in total is about 2,200 acres and about half of the land consists of wetlands and lakes. There is an abundance of wildlife to see on your hike including more than 200 species of birds.

Deer Grove Forest Preserve

Deer Grove TreesDeer Grove CreekDeer Grove Water

Address: W Dundee Rd, Palatine, IL 60067

Distance from Chicago: 11 miles, ~30- minute drive.

Length: 16.1 miles

Trail Surfaces: Paved & unpaved

Reservation needed: No

Pets allowed: Pets must be leashed at all times, except in designated “Dog-Friendly Areas.”

Pets, with the exception of service animals, are prohibited from certain locations, including trails near Nature Centers and state-designated Illinois Nature Preserves. Horses may not be hitched to trees.

Description: Deer Grove offers over 200 miles of paved trails, over 100 miles of unpaved trails. The forest preserve is a total of 1,800 acres and the significant and varied acreage is a great fit for an abundance of activities from hiking to horseback riding to bird watching to cross-country skiing. A vast looping trail system in Deer Grove gives access to the preserve’s diverse habitats. There are small wetlands to come across on your hike where you can find small animals such as turtles, frogs, and salamanders. The woodlands in the spring offer cover and food for the birds in migration and the summer offers jewelweed along the ravines and beneath the trees for hikers to see.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

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Address:  Lemont, IL 60439

Distance from Chicago: 28 miles, ~1-hour drive.

Length: 9.5 miles

Trail Surface: Crushed limestone, grass,  turf

Pets allowed: Yes, dogs must be on leashes under 10 feet long.

Description: Waterfall Glen offers trails that are open to hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers. There are four mapped trails that contain almost 11 miles of turf and limestone-covered routes. Hikers can explore the unmarked and narrow footpaths that weave through Waterfall Glen. Just remember that those paths are not mapped and may no connect to mapped trails! The park is 2,503-acres total and is one of the most ecologically impressive open spaces in Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. It is known for its Sawmill Creek bluff overlook, Rocky Glen waterfall, and extensive trail systems.

Mississippi Palisades

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Address: 16327A IL-84, Savanna, IL 61074

Distance from Chicago: 153 miles, ~2-hour 44-minute drive.

Length: 15 miles, 5 trails. The North System includes: High Point Trail, 3.5 miles. Aspen, 1.9 miles, Sentinel Trail, 1.2 miles.

Trail Surface: Asphalt, Dirt

Pets allowed: Yes

Amenities: showers, picnic areas, restrooms, hiking trails, drinking water

Description: The Mississippi Palisades offers a rugged 15-mile trail system that includes an impressive assortment of plant and animal life. There are five trails in the northern part of the park and five trails in the south. The northern trails are known to be less strenuous than the southern trails because the southern trails tend to be narrow and extremely close to the bluff. The southern trails are also hazardous when wet. The North System includes Sentinel Trail (1.2 miles), Aspen Trail (1.9 miles), and High Point Trail (3.5 miles). Developed overlooks include Ozzie’s point, Louis’ Point, and Lookout point which are accessible by short walks. Oak Point offers a trail surface suitable for the physically challenged. During the park’s three-day firearm deer season (the 3-day weekend before Thanksgiving Day weekend) the trails are closed. The park is 2,500 acres in total and is rich in Native American History.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve walkwayOpenlands Lakeshore Preserve treeOpenlands Lakeshore Preserve grass

Address: Patten Rd, Highland Park, IL 60035

Distance from Chicago: 29 miles, ~49-minutes.

Length: 3 miles total

Trail Surface: Paved, grassy

Pets allowed: Leashed dogs are welcome on all paved trails, but not along the Lakefront due to sensitive wildlife communities found there. Dog bags are provided along the trails — please use them.

Description: The steep ravines of the Openlands Lakeshore preserve were formed by glacial meltwater after the last Ice Age (10,000 to 15,000 years ago) and erratic lake levels resulting in high gravel and clay bluffs. The trail system allows access to nature, art installations, and interpretive opportunities as well as offering a tangible and unique experience with nature. Visitors with disabilities can experience the Openlands through ADA access to the beach provided via the Bartlett Ravine Trail that has a ⅔ continuous slope under 5%. There are 3 trails systems at the preserve. Bartlett Ravine Trail, as previously mentioned, is 0.7 miles and sloped gently to the lakefront. Hamill Family Upland Trail is 1.1 miles long and there are two trailheads for the upland trail. Beach Trail is also 1.1 miles long and extends from the Preserve’s northern boundary to southern boundary.  

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass PrairieMidewin National Tallgrass PrairieMidewin National Tallgrass Prairie trail

Address: 30239 IL-53, Wilmington, IL 60481

Distance from Chicago: 54.6 miles, ~1-hour drive.

Length: about 22 miles of trails

Trail Surface: Mowed Grass, dirt road, crushed rock, crushed limestone

Pets allowed: Bicycles, horses, and leashed dogs are restricted to designated trails at all times.

Description: There are about 22 miles of trails in Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie broken down into 7 trails. Bailey Bridge Trail is about 2.5-miles and unlike other hikes at Midewin, this trail intersects with other trails, it is not a loop. Bailey Bridge Trail gives hikers the opportunity to extend their hikes and create their own path back to the trailhead. Blodgett Marsh Trail is about 4.5 miles long and consists of fields of grasses. This trail crosses over two creeks, first Prairie Creek followed by Grant Creek. Both creek destinations offer wading birds, fish, snakes, and turtles. Group 63 Interim Trail is a 3.6-mile dirt road that loops around former bunkers. Many of the bunkers are sealed and not open to visitors, however, Bunker Group 63-1 is open. Bunker Group 63-1 visitors will see some of the many “bunkerglyphs” discovered in the 392 buildings. Newton Loop Trail is a 1.6-mile crushed rock trail that is named after George Newton, whose grave sits along the trail. For an extended walk, Newton Loop Trail crosses paths with Henslow Loop Trail which can add an additional 1.5-mile trail to their journey. Prairies Creek Woods Trail allows visitors to see an array of wildlife and native plants on their walk. Hikers will enter a forested area of widely spaced hickories and oaks. Route 53 Trail is made up of crushed limestone and runs parallel to Route 53. From the trailhead, hikers can walk 1.5-miles to an overlook with two scopes. Lastly, Twin Oak Trail is a 6 mile loop that follows a dirt road. The 6-mile trail starts at the southwest corner of Group 63 Interim Trail looping to the east of the prairie.

Morton Arboretum

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Address: 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL 60532

Distance from Chicago: 26.2 miles, ~35-minute drive

Length: 16 miles

Trail Surface: Paved trail, mowed path

Pets allowed: Please leave pets at home. (Pets aren't allowed in vehicles or on the grounds, except for on specially designated days.)

Description: Morton Arboretum offers 16 miles of pedestrian-only trails that are well-tended and mulched. Trails allow hikers to wander safely among wetlands, prairies, scenic vistas, deep woods. Meadow Lake is a great view with a leisurely paved path surrounding. There are various trails that lead through the east side and west side. Heritage trail starts at parking lot 13 and leads to Big Rock which is a 14-ton granite boulder. Trails include the Northern Illinois Trail, Main Trail Loop I, II, and III, IV, Woodland Trail, and Heritage Trail. The land in total is 1,700 acres and holds more than 222,000 live plants. Also offered on the grounds are the Ginkgo Restaurant and Cafe, one-acre maze garden, Sterling Morton Library, four-acre Children’s Garden, the Arboretum Store, and a plant clinic.

North Branch Trail

North Branch Trail TreeNorth Branch Trail PathNorth Branch Trail Water

Address: U.S. Bicycle Rte 37, New Trier Township, IL

Distance from Chicago: 24.3 miles, ~35-minute drive

Length: 33.5 miles

Trail Surface: Paved & unpaved

Pets allowed: Yes as long as they are leashed and picked up after

Amenities: Parking lots, bathrooms, picnic areas

Description: The North Branch Trail follows the Chicago River for over 20 miles and is a popular spot for hikers and bikers. The Chicago Botanic Garden is at the north end of the trail and includes 385 acres and over two dozen gardens. The North Branch trail crosses with the Green Bay Trail which is a community route that offers restaurants, shops, parks, and neighborhoods near the Lake Michigan Shoreline. The north end also offers a 4.4-mile loop around Erickson Woods and Skokie Lagoons. The west side of the loop is loud with traffic from I-94 but the east side is much more peaceful. The south end travels for more than a dozen miles and there are wooded areas and lagoons to see an abundance of wildlife.

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Chicago Lakefront Trail bikeChicago Lakefront Trail pathChicago Lakefront Trail city

Address: 5800 N Sheridan Rd Chicago, IL (North End) to 7100 S South Shore Drive Chicago, IL (South End)

Length: 19 miles

Trail Surface: Asphalt, concrete

Pets allowed: Yes, as long as they are leashed and cleaned up after.

Amenities: Restrooms, water fountains, concessions

Description: Chicago Lakefront Trail travels along the shore of Lake Michigan for 19 miles and travels through downtown Chicago. The South Shore Cultural Center is the start of the trail at the south end and runs for about 9.5 miles south of downtown Chicago. There are a few harbors and nature sanctuaries in Burnham park along the way. The trail also passes Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park, and North Avenue Beach. This trail is a great spot for bikers, walkers, and tourists.

Cuba Marsh Tour

Cuba Marsh TourCuba Marsh TourCuba Marsh Tour tree

Address: 24205 W Cuba Rd, Deer Park, IL 60010

Distance from Chicago: 38 miles, ~52-minute drive.

Length: 3 miles

Trail Surface: Gravel

Pets Allowed: Yes, as long as they are leashed and cleaned up after.

Description: Cuba Marsh trails are available for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing featuring views of the marsh and scattered groves. There is a 0.9-mile gravel trail at the southern loop of the main trail that includes a boardwalk and a 50-foot-long timber bridge. One of the most attractive parts of Cuba Marsh is the diverse combination of marsh and prairie, with woodland and savanna. There are many species and it is a great spot for viewing waterfowl. The prairie on the preserve’s southeast side is a unique dry-hill that supports rare plants and major restoration of over 80,000 trees has taken place.

Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes greenIndiana Dunes WaterIndiana Dunes Beach

Address: 1600 N. 25 East, Chesterton, IN 46304-1142

Distance from Chicago: 52 miles, ~1.5-hour drive

Length: almost 17 miles total

Trail Surface:

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash no longer than 6ft. East beaches are open to pets.

Amenities: Toilets pit/vault, bathhouse, grocery store, handicap access, grills, picnicking, nature center, volleyball nets, biking.  

Description: Indiana Dunes offers 15,000 acres of outdoor adventure and hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. This campground is known for being very social and active which is something to be considered if you are looking for a private, quiet getaway. Indiana Dunes requests that hikers stay on the marked trails. There are 7 marked trails ranging from easy to moderate to rugged. Trails at the dunes are marked by numbers. Trail 2 is good for seeing early spring flowers, cross-country skiing in the winter, and is an easy 3 miles trail. Trail 3 provides a view of the dune area and is a moderate .75 mile trail. Trail 4 and 7 are similar to each other because they do through dunes covered in black oak forest. Trail 7 is 1.1 miles and is the most direct route from the Nature Center to the beach. Trail 8 is the only rugged trail because it goes over the tops of the three highest dunes of the Indiana Dunes for 1.5 miles. Trails 9 and 10 are 3.75 miles and 5.5 miles respectively and they offer great views of the dunes and the lake as well as white pine trees.

Starved Rock State Park

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Address: 2668 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348

Distance from Chicago: 102 miles, ~1-hour 45-minute drive

Pets allowed: Yes, pets are allowed in the park, on the trails, and in the campground. They must be kept on a leash and you must pick up after them.

Amenities: Bathhouse, showers, restrooms, water access, fire rings, grills, dining, waterfall, boat ramp, parking, recycling station

Description: Starved Rock State Park has 13 miles of trails to explore and spectacular sights. The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone which was laid down in a shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface. The best time to see the waterfalls are in the spring after the winter ice melts but the icefalls in the winter are just as spectacular. The freezing and melting that happens during the winter create amazing ice sculptures in the canyons. A more natural and rugged experience is offered on the trails further away from the Visitor Center and Lodge like the interior canyon trails of Tonty and LaSalle. There are 10  trails that lead to canyons. Trail to Aurora Canyon (0.3 miles), to Illinois Canyon (4.7 miles), to Kaskaskia (4 miles), to LaSalle Canyon (2 miles), to Lover’s Leap Overlook (0.7 miles), to Ottawa Canyon (3.9 miles), to St. Louis Canyon (1.5 miles), to Starved Rock (0.3 miles), to Tonty Canyon (1.9 miles), Wildcat Canyon (1 mile).

Kankakee River State Park

Kankakee River State Park pathKankakee River State Park waterKankakee River State Park water

Address: 5314 W State Route 102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914

Distance from Chicago: 60 miles, ~1-hour 7-minutes

Pets allowed: Dogs are allowed throughout the park, on the trails, and in the campground for no additional fee. Dogs must be leashed and cleaned up after.

Amenities: Bathhouse, boat ramp, grills, canoes, nature center, showers, water access, handicap sites.

Description: 4,000 acre Kankakee River State Park extends along both sides of the Kankakee River for about 11 miles. This park offers scenic bluffs and woods surrounded by an abundance of other unspoiled settings.  Trails stretch along both sides of the Kankakee River. There is a 3-mile route along Rock Creek offers hikers a frothy waterfall and limestone canyons. There is a bicycle trail begins at Davis Creek Area and travels 10.5 miles along the river and loops in the west end of the park. A 12-mile equestrian trail in the wildlife management area along Route 113.

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