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12 hikes in Illinois that will take your breath away ( +tips)

Are you looking for the best hikes in Illinois? You have come to the right place.

Hiking in Illinois allows you to see the wide variety of natural landscapes found throughout the state.

From rocky bluffs to wooded hills bestowed with waterfalls, there is something to love for everyone. There are quick strolls and all-day treks with plenty in-between to accommodate all skill levels of hikers.

Here we share 12 of the best hiking trails in Illinois for you to explore:

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In a hurry? These are the best hiking trails in Illinois

Overview of the best hiking trails in Illinois

Here’s a comparison table of the best hiking trails in Illinois that we cover in this post.

Read on for a short description of all the trails.

Best places to go hiking in Illinois

Where Distance Difficulty level Route type Highlights
A rockshelter at the Giant City Sate Park in Illinois Giant City Nature Trail

Giant City State Park

0.9 miles

Easy

Loop The series of rock formations along the trail are beautiful to see and fun to explore
Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

Garden of the Gods Wilderness

0.25 mile

Easy

Loop The ancient unique rock formations
Ferne Clyffe waterfall trail

Ferne Clyffe State Park

0.75 miles (1.3 miles as a loop together with the big Rocky Hollow trail)

Moderate

Loop The beautiful waterfall
Matthiessen state park Illinois Dells Canyon and Bluff trail

Matthiessen State Park

1.98 miles

Moderate

Loop Two beautiful waterfalls and several fun creek crossings
Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve Illinois Salt Lick and Johnson Trail Loop

Salt Lick Trails Nature Reserve

2.9 miles

Moderate

Loop Distant views across the plains along with an abundance of wildflowers in spring
Little Grand Canyon Trail

Shawnee National Forest

3.4 miles

Moderate

Loop Walking in this canyon and traversing through creek beds
Buffalo viewing trail

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

3.6 miles

Easy

Loop The opportunity to see buffalo along with some military remains
Pierce Lake Trail

Rock Cut State Park

3.6 miles

Moderate

Loop The views of the lake as well as the beautiful forest are two major highlights of this trail
LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois Starved Rock and Sandstone Point overlook Trail

Starved Rock State Park

4.3 miles

Moderate

Loop The many vistas and the possibility to hike behind the LaSalle waterfalls
A sunset picture taken right before leaving the parking at Deer Grove Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail

Deer Grove Forest Preserve

5.7 miles

Moderate

Loop This is a great place not only to hike but to go bird watching as well
Busse Woods Loop Trail

Ned Brown Forest Preserve

7.2 miles

Easy

Loop or Out&back if you want to make it shorter The gentle long trail includes beautiful sights as well as the possibility of seeing elk as you walk
Rocky Glen waterfall at Waterfall Glen Waterfall Glen Trail

Waterfall Glen Forest Trail

9.5 miles

Moderate

Loop The man-made waterfall made in the 1930s

Best hiking in Illinois

Here you can find more details about the best best hiking spots in Illinois.

A rockshelter at the Giant City Sate Park in Illinois
A rockshelter at the Giant City Sate Park in Illinois

Giant City Nature Trail

  • Location: Giant City State Park
  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 30-45 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 161 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The series of rock formations along the trail are beautiful to see and fun to explore

Short description of the trail

The Giant City Nature Trail is a short and gentle hike with minimal elevation changes that is great for all skill levels.

It is especially great for families with small children as it includes interesting rock features as well as small low-wall mazes.

There are also a series of small tunnels and narrow crevices where you can play hide and seek. You can challenge your co-travelers to sneak through the Fat Man’s Squeeze but don’t attempt this if you’re claustrophobic.

The trail is great for all nature-lovers, the rugged rock formations are sure to impress you. The forest surrounding the rocks is also very rich, you can see many varieties including Native White Oak, Shagbark Hickory, Dogwood, and Maple.

Directions

From Interstate 57, take exit 45 and head north on IL-148. Make a left on Grassy Rd and after 4.4 miles turn left again to stay on this road.

Make another left when you arrive at Giant City Road and follow this road until you arrive at the visitor center.

Where to start the Giant City Nature Trail hike

The Giant City Nature Park Visitors Center – you can find maps and information about the trail before you start.

What people are saying about this hike

This is a really easy but lovely hike! It took us about 35 minutes to complete but we took our time and admired the wildflowers we saw along the way.

My kids LOVED exploring all the rock faces that are near the trail. It was really fun for all of us.

Conclusion

This hiking trail is perfect for all ages and skill levels. It’s also quite short but you can take your time wandering and taking photographs as you go.

Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois
The massive view from the Garden of the Gods overlook

Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

  • Location: Garden of the Gods Wilderness
  • Distance: 0.25 mile
  • Difficulty level: Easy with some steep up and down sections
  • Time needed: 30-45 minutes minutes
  • Elevation gain: 39 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The ancient unique rock formations

Short description of the trail

The Garden of the Gods Observation Trail is a short and sweet hike that takes you through the Garden of the Gods wilderness area and allows you to see the impressive and interesting rock faces without needing to walk too far uphill.

There are 7 rock formations along the route with names like The Squeeze, The Devil’s Smokestack, and Monkey’s Head.

Make sure to also take the small detour to Camel Point for the best view on Camel Rock.

This trail is fairly popular but if you come on a weekday or simply a day that is not extremely hot and sunny, you’ll likely get to enjoy some peaceful moments as you hike.

This trail has plenty of impressive viewpoints.

Make sure you have some buffer time so you can enjoy the views and don’t feel rushed.

Directions

From interstate 24, take exit 16 for IL-146 E (follow signs for Golconda). After 0.2 miles turn left onto IL-147 E and follow this road until it merges with IL-145.

Keep going straight until you arrive at the intersection with IL-34, where you make a right.

Follow this road until you pass Harbison’s country market and a fuel station. Make a left on Karbers Ridge Rd (right after you’ve passed the market).

After 2.8 miles you will arrive at an intersection with Garden of the Gods Rd, make a left, and keep following this road until you arrive at the parking lot.

Where to start the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail hike

The trailhead is located at the parking lot. There are restrooms at the parking. If you follow the road towards the campground it will take you to a picnic area.

What people are saying about this hike

This trail has some very beautiful views of the forest. It is very gorgeous and just breathtaking.

It was a beautiful hike with a ton of photo opportunities!

Beautiful scenery but so busy that you had to wait for your turn to enjoy the views.

Conclusion

The Garden of the Gods trail is best enjoyed in the early morning or off-season when you will have the opportunity to enjoy the serenity of this wilderness area with its ancient rock formations.

The Ferne Clyffe waterfall in Ferne Clyffe State Park
The Ferne Clyffe waterfall in Ferne Clyffe State Park

Ferne Clyffe waterfall trail

  • Location: Ferne Clyffe State Park
  • Distance: 0.75 miles (1.3 miles as a loop together with the Big Rocky Hollow trail)
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 45 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 207 feet
  • Route type: Out and back / or loop if combined with Big Rocky Hollow trail
  • When to go: March to October for the most impressive view of the fall. Come in summer and your kids will be able to play in the pond at the bottom of the falls
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The beautiful waterfall

Short description of the trail

Ferne Clyffe State Park is located within the rich green environment of Shawnee National Forest. It is a fantastic spot for camping and fishing but first and foremost it is a paradise for hikers of all skill levels.

One of the most prominent sights of the park is the Ferne Clyffe waterfall, several trails lead to the fall.

The waterfall trail is slightly rugged and somewhat more difficult but still doable with young kids.

For an easy hike to the falls you can follow the Bick Rocky Hollow Trail.

Once you arrive at the waterfall you can cool down in the pond at the bottom of the fall or you can crawl up to the top.

There are several paths waiting to be explored so you can easily spend some time at this place.

You can go back the way you came or combine the two trails leading to the waterfall in a loop.

To get from the Big Rocky Hollow trailhead to the Waterfall trailhead you should follow the Black Jack Oak trail and deviate from this path once you see the camping on your left.

This path is not very well marked and you may want to use a GPS tracker to make sure you stay on the trail.

Note that between April 30th and November 1st there are horses allowed on the trail. You can ride horses if you have your own to bring but you are still allowed to walk on the trails without horses.

There are no bicycles allowed on the trail at any time.

Directions

From interstate 24, take exit 7 toward Goreville/Tunnel Hill. Follow Tunnel Hill Rd westwards until you arrive at IL-37. Make a left on IL-37 (S Broadway) and follow this road for 0.6 miles.

You will see signs for Ferne Clyffe State Park.

The entrance of the park is on your right.

Depending on which hike you wish to do you will then need to follow the signs for the campground or drive all the way to the end of the Big Rocky Hollow Trail Rd.

Where to start the Ferne Clyffe waterfall trail hike

The trailhead of the Waterfall trail is located at the Ferne Clyffe Campground.

The Big Rocky Hollow trail starts at the end of the eponymous road.

What people are saying about this hike

Great for kids with tons of caves they can explore.

The waterfall was beautiful!

Quick hike with off trail options for those who love a good rock scramble.

Conclusion

The Ferne Clyffe waterfall hike is a perfect option for hikers of all skill levels.

There’s a moderate and easy option.

Both are short and include minimal elevation gain and the waterfall is absolutely amazing.

Matthiessen state park Illinois
Matthiessen State Park features many smaller waterfalls like these ones. (Photo credits: Tripp)

Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail

  • Location: Matthiessen State Park
  • Distance: 1.98 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 45 minutes to an hour
  • Elevation gain: 206 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: Two beautiful waterfalls and several fun creek crossings

Short description of the trail

Located in Northern Illinois, the Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail takes its hikers through the enchanting Matthiessen State Park.

It is a delightful hike through a canyon that features views of the Matthiessen lake and 2 waterfalls.

The loop starts by following the bluff trail until you arrive at the Lake falls where you descend into the canyon.

The water level in the canyon can be high. In summer you will encounter several creek crossings where you can try to jump from one stone to another to keep your feet dry but outside this season, and depending on the weather of the past few days, you may have to wade through the water.

Therefore we recommend wearing waterproof hiking shoes and waterproof hiking leggings. For a complete overview of the best hiking leggings, click here.

It’s possible to continue along the bluff trail but we really recommend descending in the canyon as this is a fun part of the hike. It also offers nice photo ops.

Regardless of whether you will follow the canyon or the bluff trail, you will eventually arrive at the bridge where you started your hike. You can stop here or continue on the trail to explore the lower dells area of the park.

Even if you’re tired we recommend descending the stairs first to take a closer look at the Cascade falls before you cross the bridge to the parking lot.

The remainder of the trail will take you past the Devil’s Paint Box and Strawberry rock before also eventually heading back north to the parking lot.

Note that the trail is periodically closed during hunting season. The exact period varies. Be sure to check the website of the state park for more information.

Directions

From interstate 39 take exit 57 towards La Salle and Peru. Continue on US-6 West and make a left on IL-351. After 2.5 miles make a slight left on IL-71 and keep following this road until the intersection with IL-178. (about 3.5 miles)

Turn right onto IL-178 and after one mile turn right again onto N25th Rd. Keep following this road until the parking lot.

Where to start the Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail hike

The trailhead is located off of the parking lot.

From the parking lot, you will descend into the canyon using a staircase. Although most of the trail does not include much elevation gain, you will see several stairs and steps throughout the trail.

What people are saying about this hike

This trail gets really crowded during holiday weekends so come early if you want to come during those times.

Bring waterproof shoes and maybe even extra socks! It can get a bit muddy at times.

Conclusion

The Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail hike is a beautiful and gentle hike that includes beautiful views of lakes, rivers, and waterfalls throughout.

It has potential to be muddy so make sure you bring waterproof hiking shoes!

Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve Illinois
The beautiful fall colors along the Salt Lick and Johnson Trail Loop (Credits: Joann Fricke)

Salt Lick and Johnson Trail Loop

  • Location: Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve
  • Distance: 2.9 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 452 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year but if you come during the spring and summer you will be able to see more flowers and plants throughout
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: Distant views across the plains along with an abundance of wildflowers in spring

Short description of the trail

The Salt Lick and Johnson Trail Loop hike is a moderately challenging hike located on a former quarry, not too far from Valmeyer in West Central Illinois.

The trail winds through a varied landscape and every once in a while you can spot remainders of its former life.

This loop trail starts with a steep incline which means you will get most of the elevation gain out of the way at the beginning.

A pair of hiking poles would come in handy. If you are looking for budget hiking poles, click here. If you are looking for a pair of lightweight trekking poles click here. If you are looking for women-specific poles, click here.

When you arrive at the top you will be rewarded by flat trails and beautiful distant views.

As you follow the trail you will pass by several overlooks until you start descending the bluff. Once at the bottom you start following the Johnson trail back towards the trailhead.

This trail leads along the edge of the bluff. You can see several impressive rock formations next to the trail and in spring there’s a wildflower galore.

Make sure you stay on the trail as there are many historic mining shafts in the area.  Today they are overgrown and therefore hidden which makes it unsafe to go off of the trail.

Directions

From Interstate 255 take Exit 6 toward IL-3 and then take Palmer Rd exit. Turn right onto Palmer Rd and continue on Bluff Rd for 13.4 miles.

Make a left onto Quarry Rd and left again when you arrive at the mining site.

There is a large parking area near the intersection of Bluff Road and Limestone Lane.

Where to start the Salt Lick and Johnson Trail Loop hike

The trail begins at the kiosk off of the parking lot. We recommend hiking in a counter-clockwise direction.

There are no facilities at the parking except for a portable toilet.

What people are saying about this hike

The views from the top are spectacular. We hiked counterclockwise, and the first half is really steep! However, it is a good idea to complete this section first to get the difficult work out of the way.

Conclusion

The Salt Lick and Johnson Trail Loop hike starts with a challenging climb but the distant views totally make up for it.

The trail is very well maintained.

This may very well be one of the best trails in the St. Louis metro area!

Little Grand Canyon is another great hike in the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois
The Little Grand Canyon Trail in Shawnee National Forest (Photo credits: Kevin)

Little Grand Canyon Trail

  • Location: Shawnee National Forest
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 2 to 4 hours
  • Elevation gain: 508 ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year. Wildflowers will make the trail extra cheerful in spring and the autumn foliage is usually at its best around October
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: Walking in this canyon and traversing through creek beds

Short description of the trail

Most visitors to the Shawnee National forest immediately head to see the garden of the gods and totally miss this hidden gem.

The little grand canyon is a deep box canyon, created by hundreds of years of erosion.

As you hike the trail you’re rewarded by expansive views of the Mississippi River floodplains as well as seasonal waterfalls and impressive sandstone overhangs.

You can do the hike in either direction.

Regardless of how you start, the first part will be a flat and easy hike until you arrive at an overlook where you descend into the canyon.

To descend into the canyon you use steps that are carved into the creek bed. These steps can become extremely slippery so make sure to be cautious.

Lush green vegetation, such as ferns, thrives at the canyon bottom.

Year-round residents of the canyon include raccoon, mink, fox, along with deer and bobcat.

The rock ledges also serve as snake dens for several species of rattlers. Chances are however small that you will spot these.

Mosquitoes also call this place home so be sure to bring bug spray, especially in the hot summer season.

Most of the elevation gain comes from hiking in and out of the canyon. Once you are actually in it the inclines are mild.

The canyon bottom can be muddy and is prone to flooding. It is important to wear waterproof and comfortable footwear.

Directions

From Interstate 57 take exit 54 and keep left following signs for IL-13. Merge onto IL-13W. Stay on IL-13W for 16.7 miles. Turn left onto Old Hwy 13 and after 4.6 miles make another left onto IL-127.

Turn right onto Hoffman Rd. At the end of this road make a left onto Hickory Ridge Rd and keep following this road until you arrive at the intersection with Little Grand Canyon Rd.

Turn right onto this road and continue until you get to the parking lot.

Where to start the Little Grand Canyon Trail hike

The trailhead is located off of the Little Grand Canyon parking lot.

At the parking lot you will find a vault toilet and picnic tables.

What people are saying about this hike

This was such a fun hike! The descent into the canyon was difficult but also so beautiful. It’s slick, but if you take your time, you’ll be fine!

Prepare to get muddy and wet. Enjoy your adventure by wearing non-slip shoes.

Conclusion

This longer hike through the canyon offers beautiful views but can be muddy and slippery at times. The path in and out of the canyon can be a little challenging as well. With appropriate footwear, you can alleviate this problem.

The chance to spot bison makes the buffalo viewing trail such an amazing trail in Illinois
Mother and calf Bison in Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Buffalo viewing Trail

  • Location: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 53feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year, it can be icy in winter
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The opportunity to see buffalo along with some military remains

Short description of the trail

This gentle trail loops through the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

As you may know, Illinois is also called the Prairie State.

This trail will introduce you to the native landscape that covered most of its grounds in the past.

In 2015, as part of a restoration project, the USDA Forest Service has reintroduced 27 bison in the domain. Large populations of these big grazers used to call the state home but they were all hunted down with the last probably being killed in the early 19th century.

If you’re lucky, you might see them really close, but they have a 1,000-acre site where they can freely roam. Despite the relatively flat landscape, they can still be out of sight.

The hike is mostly flat with some rolling topography offering nice distant views.

Before you start the hike you can pass by the Midewin Welcome Center where they will be able to tell you more about the bison, the local vegetation, and the history of the grassland which was once an ammunition plant.

Directions

From I-55, take exit 236 for IL-113. Follow IL-113 East/West for 2.8 miles until the intersection with IL-53. Make a left and follow IL-53 North for 5.1 miles.

Once you pass through the town of Wilmington, it is still 3 more miles to the Visitor Center. The entrance will be on your right.

The start of the hike is located off of Schweitzer Ed, 2.8 miles further north along IL-53.

Where to start the Buffalo viewing trail hike

The trailhead is located just off of the parking lot at Schweitzer Ed.

What people are saying about this hike

This is a pleasant walk. The parking area and the areas close by for viewing buffalo can get crowded but the rest of the trail tends to be far more peaceful.

Conclusion

This long and gentle hike is a fun walk that gives you the opportunity to see buffalo as you explore this protected grassland area.

Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park
Placid Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park

Pierce Lake Trail

  • Location: Rock Cut State Park
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 72 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year. Bring ice cleats in winter and mosquito repellent in summer.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The views of the lake as well as the beautiful forest are two major highlights of this trail

Short description of the trail

The Pierce Lake Trail can be found in Rock Cut State Park.

The park covers over 3,092 acres of forested terrain crossed by 40 miles of hiking trails. Visitors can also bike in the park and there are also some equestrian trails.

Piece Lake is one of two lakes in the park and this path takes you around the perimeter of the lake, providing you a serene journey through the forested area.

This is a great hike for the whole family, including your four-legged friends. If you have a dog and are looking for a trail they’ll love, look no further than this one.

For the most part, the path leads through the trees near the forest, offering lots of shade. This makes it ideal if you’re looking for a hike that is not too sweaty on a sultry summer day.

Rock Cut State Park is one of our favorite parks in Illinois. There’re tons of activities, including boating, fishing, and swimming. If you like to spend more time in the park you can stay at the Hickory Hills campground area.

The campground is located near the lake and the loop passes through it.

Directions

From Interstate 90 take the exit for IL-173 (West Lane Rd) and follow IL-173 West for 0.4 miles until the intersection with Hart Rd. (There will be a sign for Rock Cut State Park)

Make a left and follow Hart Rd, first you will pass the lake at your left, then the concession, and right after that is the parking lot of the boat ramp.

Where to start the Pierce Lake Trail hike

The trailhead is located just off of the parking lot near the Rock Cut State Park Boat Ramp.

Alternative locations, in case this parking is complete, are the Bayview Picnic Are, Red Oak Picnic Area, Lake View Picnic Area, or the Hickory Hills Campground.

Toilets can be found near the start of the trail and at several other locations as you hike around the lake.

What people are saying about this hike

This trail was easy to follow and it was a great workout! It was a mostly packed-dirt trail and was not too tricky.

We really enjoyed being able to see the lake as well as all of the wildlife.

Conclusion

The Pierce Lake Trail is a great option for the whole family as the route is gentle. After you’ve checked off the trail you can take to the lake for some kayaking or head to Olson Beach to relax and swim in the lake.

LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois
The LaSalle waterfall in Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock and Sandstone Point overlook Trail

  • Location: Starved Rock State Park
  • Distance: 4.3 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 2.5 – 3 hours
  • Elevation gain: 338 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: All-year-round. Spring to see the LaSalle Waterfall at its best, or autumn for colorful foliage. Come early in the summer because the park can be super-crowded during this season
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • Highlights: The many vistas and the possibility to hike behind the LaSalle waterfalls

Short description of the trail

The Starved Rock and Sandstone Point Overlook Trail is a moderate trail. It’s ideal for those who are visiting Starved Rock for the first time and it is perfectly doable for beginning hikers.

There are beautiful vistas on the Illinois River as well as the park’s canyons. Starved Rock is noted for its beautiful landscape, including its waterfalls.

The trail begins at the visitor center and winds its way eastward through the woods, following the Bluff trail.

After merging with the river trail, it continues a short distance east to explore the stunning LaSalle canyon and waterfall which you can even hike behind!

On the way back, you’ll pass by several scenic overlooks, including the Beehive and Eagle Cliff.

Just before returning to the visitor center, turn right onto a path that leads to Starved Rock, the rock that gave the park its name.

Starved Rock isn’t just a trail – there’s plenty to do in the area that you can enjoy over the course of a long weekend or even a week-long trip.

Directions

From I-80 take exit #81 for Utica.

Follow Route 178 to the south. After about three miles you will see a sign for the park . Follow the signs and you will arrive at the Visitors Center.

Park at one of the available parking lots and head to the Visitors Center to start your hike.

Where to start the Starved Rock and Sandstone Point overlook trail hike

This trail starts at the Starved Rock State Park Visitors Center.

What people are saying about this hike

This is a beautiful and well-maintained trail that’s good for all skill levels. If you come on the weekend just make sure you come early to avoid the crowds.

We weren’t sure about hiking in the winter but we are SO glad we did. It was so beautiful and calm and we didn’t see any crowds. Just make sure you watch out for slippery patches!

Conclusion

This is a great hike to get a first impression of the park. You can explore this trail year-round, it will never fail to impress you.

A sunset picture taken right before leaving the parking at Deer Grove
Sunset over the sleepy Deer Grove Forest Preserve

Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail

  • Location: Deer Grove Forest Preserve
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Elevation gain: 299 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year. Spring is the best time to spot the wildlife.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: This is a great place not only to hike but to go bird watching as well.

Short description of the trail

The Deer Grove Yellow Loop trail is a long and hilly hike that offers beautiful views of the surrounding nature.

You will pass a variety of habitats such as wetlands, woodland, and savanna.

During spring you can spot many local amphibians such as the blue-spotted salamander.

Deer can be spotted year-round.

Many birds can be observed along the trail including some beautiful cranes. You will also hear veeries and hooded warblers although those may be harder to spot.

Wildflowers color up the trail from spring to summer.

The Yellow Loop is one of many trails in the forest preserve. It is well-marked and mostly shaded. Several shorter variations are possible. It is also possible to extend this trail with an extra loop in the east section of Deer Grove.

Directions

From I-90 take exit 65 for Roselle Rd and follow signs for Palatine, Harper College. At the end of Roselle Rd turn right onto W Baldwin Rd. Next turn left onto US-14W.

After 0.7 miles make a right onto N Doe Rd and at the end of the road turn left onto IL-68 W (W Dundee Rd).

Now take the first right, this street leads to the parking lot of Deer Grove West.

Where to start the Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail hike

The trailhead is located off of the west parking lot.

There is a kiosk with information at this point as well.

What people are saying about this hike

Simple to follow and well-maintained. Beautiful wildflowers. The pathway is also quite wide.

Conclusion

The Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail will lead you through scenic rolling woodlands, across bridges, and provides easy access to other trails and routes. Several birds can be spotted along with other wildlife such as deer, chipmunk, raccoon, and even coyote if you are lucky.

It’s a beautiful well-preserved piece of nature not too far from Chicago.

The Busse Woods Loop is a great hike in Illinois with great opportunities to spot elk.
A female elk spotted from the Busse Woods Loop Trail

Busse woods Loop Trail

  • Location: Ned Brown Forest Preserve
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 62 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The gentle long trail includes beautiful sights as well as the possibility of seeing elk as you walk!

Short description of the trail

This trail circles around the Busse reservoir.

A large number of birds call this place home. Egrets, herons, and terns are the most commonly spotted.

However, most people are even more excited when they see one of the elk that live in the Busse Forest.

They were reintroduced to this area in 1925. Although they have a huge 17-acre enclosed pasture they’re very often spotted by hikers.

The trail is long but it doesn’t include too much elevation gain. Because it is completely paved you might as well bike it, or take your little ones with a stroller.

The path is only partly shaded and can become very hot in summer. If you are here on a hot day and prefer not to do the complete loop you can do part of the trail as an out & back.  There’re several points where you can start the trail.

Bring a hat and plenty of drinking water on hot days.

With several picnic areas along the trail, there’s no need to rush.

You can take the whole day to cover the trail and take a picnic to make it a joyful day out.

Most of the picnic areas also have toilets.

Directions

This are the directions for the Busse Forest Central parking lot.

From Interstate 290 take exit 1B and merge onto IL-72 E (E Higgins Rd). Follow this road for 1.5 miles and you will see the parking lot on your left.

Where to start the Busse woods Loop Trail hike

There several parking lots for the Ned Brown Forest Preserve. The loop touches them all so you are basically free to park and start the trail wherever you want.

If your main interest is seeing the elk you can directly head to the Busse Forest Elk Pasture. There you will find an observation point from where you have a good chance of seeing these beautiful animals.

What people are saying about this hike

This hike is so beautiful but it gets really busy around holiday weekends so if you are going to come on Memorial Day or just a particularly sunny day, just make sure you arrive early.

Conclusion

The Busse Woods Loop Trail is a lovely destination for a family day out from Chicago. It is about a 45-minute drive from Chicago downtown and it offers lots of activities for an exciting day. In addition to this loop you have three accessible fishing areas and there are boat, canoe and kayak rentals.

You will have no problems keeping the whole family entertained and there are plenty of photo opportunities throughout.

Rocky Glen waterfall at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
The Rocky Glen waterfall, a great place to take a break while hiking (photo credits: Bryan Wysoglad)

Waterfall Glen Trail

  • Location: Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
  • Distance: 9.5 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 4 hours
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout most of the year but is closed throughout some of the winter months
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The man-made waterfall made in the 1930s

Short description of the trail

This is another excellent forest preserve in the Chicagoland area.

As long as there is not too much traffic you can be ready to hit the trail in under one hour coming from downtown Chicago.

Still, this park offers everything to make you feel like you’re in the middle of nature, completely away from the urban jungle.

If you hike the complete loop you will come along prairies, woodlands, and savannas. There are about 740 native plant species.

This unique habitat has drawn a variety of wildlife to the park. Lots of amphibians and reptiles live in the park. You also should be able to see several beautiful birds, amongst them hummingbirds, cormorants, and herons.

If you’re lucky you might also spot one of the larger mammals such as deer.

The Waterfall Glen Trail is a long hike but thanks to the wide paths of crushed limestone it is not that challenging. It is even possible to do it with a stroller.

Apart from just beautiful landscapes, you will also come along a model airplane field, a scenic overlook that allows you to see the Des Plaines River, and off-course the Rocky Glenn waterfall.

This is a man-made waterfall, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

If you’re here primarily to see the falls you might be a little disappointed but it still is a feature of the trail that will for sure keep your kids entertained while you take a break from hiking.

Directions

These are the directions towards the main parking lot.

From I-55 take exit 273A towards S Cass Ave. After 0.7 miles you will come at an intersection with Northgate Rd. Make a right and the parking lot will be on your right.

The main parking lot may be full on busy weekends. In that case you can use the following alternative parking lots:

One is located at the Rocky Glenn waterfall. To reach this parking continue driving along S Cass Ave. The name changes to Bluff Rd where the road makes a sharp left turn. The parking lot is 0.3 miles further on your right.

A third parking lot is located 1 mile south of I-55 on the east side of Lemont Road at 101st Street.

Where to start the Waterfall Glen Trail hike

The loop touches all 3 parkings. You can start your hike from either one of them.

What people are saying about this hike

This trail is perfect for those who are looking for a bit of a challenge but it’s not impossible to do. It’s just long but there’s not a huge amount of elevation gain.

Such a beautiful place to escape! The natural beauty and rolling hills are so memorable.

Conclusion

The Waterfall Glen Trail hike is a long and gentle hike that takes you through some beautiful landscape and allows you to see a waterfall that was made by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Conclusion

With over 250 trails around the state, you might find planning a hiking trip overwhelming.

The hikes listed here showcase the diverse scenery within Illinois, from the rocky north to rolling south and everything in between.

If the hikes are simply an excursion on a bigger trip or you are planning to trek your way across the state you are sure to enjoy any or all of these twelve options.

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