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Hiking in northern Illinois: 10 amazing hikes you shouldn’t miss

If you’re planning on hiking in northern Illinois, we’ve got you covered with the ten best trails and everything you’ll need to know before setting out on your trek.

So put on your hiking shoes and let’s go.

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Best hikes in Northern Illinois

Here is an overview of the best northern Illinois trails.

Best places to hike in Northern Illinois

Location Distance Difficulty level Route type Highlights
Hastings Lake Loop Trail

Lake Villa

2 miles

Easy

Loop This paved trail is ideal for hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, and cross-country skiing in winter.
Glacier Park Illinois Glacial Park Loop Trail

Richmond, Illinois in Glacial County Park

2.2 miles

Easy

Loop Great for all skill levels and features a lake
St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Saint Louis Canyon

Starved Rock State Park

3 miles

Easy to moderate

Out & back The St. Louis falls, one of the highest in the park
Buffalo viewing trail

Midewin National Tailgrass Prairie

3.6 miles

Easy

Loop The opportunity to see buffalo along with some military remains
Spike buck in Robinson Woods Forest Preserve Des Plaines River Trail Loop

Robinson Woods South Forest Preserve

3.7 miles

Easy

Loop Enjoy riverbank views and a low traffic trail
Lake Defiance Lake Defiance trail

Moraine Hills State Park

3.8 miles

Easy

Loop Traverse through woods, wetlands, and a glacial lake
Pierce Lake Pierce lake Trail

Rock Cut State park

3.6 miles

Moderate

Loop Enjoy lakeside views and a heavily forested trail
Deer Grove Forest Preserve Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail

Deer Grove Forest Preserve

5.4 miles

Moderate

Loop Unpaved, hilly terrain making for an adventurous and challenging hike
Swallow Cliff Woods Sag Valley Yellow Trail Loop

Palos Park

8.1 miles

Moderate

Loop Features 100-foot-high bluff and challenging stairs
Rocky Glen waterfall at Waterfall Glen Waterfall Glen Trail

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

9.5 miles

Moderate

Loop The man-made waterfall in the 1930s

General hiking tips

Best hiking in northern Illinois area

Here you can find our selection of the best northern Illinois hikes.

A Northern Flicker spotted at the Hastings Lake Forest Preserve
A Northern Flicker spotted at the Hastings Lake Forest Preserve (photo credits: Janet and Phil)

Hastings Lake Loop Trail

  • Location: Lake Villa, Illinois
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Difficulty level: easy
  • Time needed: 45 minutes – 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 79 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: Accessible year-round
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are permitted but must be kept on leash
  • Highlights: This paved trail is ideal for hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, and cross-country skiing

Short description of the hike

Hike around the 80-acre lake past stately trees and lush woodlands.

The short distance and paved paths make this trail accessible to everyone, including wheelchairs and strollers.

In addition to a nice walking trail, there is lots of added entertainment available such as a fishing pier, picnic tables, and a playground.

How to get to Hastings Lake Loop Trail

There is a paved parking lot off of West Gelden Road at the north end of the trail.

What people are saying about this hike

Great place to get on a short hike and be with the kids. Mine loved the playground and running along the trail.

This is a great paved walk with beautiful views of the lake and plenty of shade from the trees.

Conclusion

This is the ideal trail to bring along the whole family. This trail has all the facilities to turn a short hike into a day by the lake, hiking, picnicking, and enjoying the sun and views.

Glacier Park Illinois
Glacial Park State Park

Glacial Park Loop Trail

  • Location: Richmond, Illinois in Glacial County Park
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: +/- 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 187 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: Accessible year-round
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but they must remain leashed.
  • Highlights: Great for all skill levels and usually very calm. The hike loops around two lakes and can easily be shortened or lenghtened with the interconnecting trails.

Short description of the hike

Glacier Park Loop is a winding trail featuring savannas, prairies, marshes, a bog, a creek, and many elevated views.

However, the star attraction is the collection of mounds that are remnants of a receding glacier.

How to get to Glacial Park Loop

This hike starts near the end of Harts Road in Ringwood Illinois. An alternative starting point would be the Lost Valley Visitor Center of the County Park.

What people are saying about this hike

I love this trail because there are never very many people, so it is peaceful and quiet.

Great trail with so many butterflies. I also love that it is interconnected to so many other trails for when I’m inspired to extend my hikes.

Conclusion

Glacier Park Loop is an especially wonderful trail for anyone interested in the history of the area and the fascinating geological sites.

The park visitor center is packed with information about the different glacial elements found throughout the park and on the trail.

St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park
St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park

Saint Louis Canyon

  • Location: Starved Rock State Park
  • Distance: 3 miles (retour)
  • Difficulty level: easy to moderate (one major staircase when entering the Saint Louis canyon)
  • Time needed: 1h45 – 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 232 ft.
  • Route type: Out & back
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash with a maximum length of 10 feet
  • When to go: All-year-round. The St. Louis falls are most beautiful in the spring and when frozen in the winter but they’re one of the few falls in the park to have water all-year-round.
  • Highlights: The St. Louis falls, one of the highest in the park

Short description of the trail

Hikers enjoy this trail because the hike takes you past plenty of smaller canyons, a massive 80-foot waterfall, and the famous St. Louis Canyon which is the highest and westernmost canyon in the park.

Where to start the Saint Louis Canyon hike

You can find the trailhead next to the visitor center.

What people are saying about this hike

I was pleasantly surprised at how tall the canyon is and how lovely the waterfall is. It’s a really peaceful and quiet hike that you definitely need to do if you’re in Starved Rock.

I loved walking over all the bridges and found the hike to be the perfect distance for a short, enjoyable hike through nature.

Conclusion

For views of the best canyon in Starved Rock State Park, make sure to put the Saint Louis Canyon hike at the top of your list.

Read Also:

Here you can find all our Starved Rock posts. 

Mother and calf Bison
Mother and calf Bison

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: 53 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is open and accessible throughout the year, it can be icy in winter. If you are looking for a list of more fun things to do in Illinois in winter, click here.
  • 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 this hike

One of the best places to hike in northern Illinois is the Buffalo Viewing trail, simply for the uniqueness of the landscape and wildlife. The trail winds past grazing buffalos and endless prairies filled with wildflowers.

For more information on the Buffalo and the trail’s history, check out our other post here.

How to get to Buffalo Viewing Trail

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

What people are saying about this hike

This is a beautiful and peaceful trail, but it is very hot with little shade. The perfect time to go is definitely when the weather is a bit more overcast.

This trail was nice and easy, and the wildflowers and monarch butterflies were magical!

Conclusion

You can’t hike the “Prairie State” without making your way through a quintessential Midwest prairie trail such as Buffalo Viewing. The flat landscape is perfect for beginners as well as those hoping to catch a glimpse of the buffalos.

Read Also:

Here is a list of more amazing hiking trails in Chicago. 

Spike buck in Robinson Woods Forest Preserve
A Spike Buck in the Robinson Woods Forest Preserve (photo credits: Raed Mansour)

Des Plaines River Trail Loop

  • Location:  Robinson Woods South Forest Preserve
  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Difficulty level: easy
  • Time needed: 2 to 2.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 72 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This path is open year-round but is subject to seasonal closure due to weather conditions
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: Enjoy riverbank views and a low traffic trail

Short description of the hike

If you’re looking for beginner hiking trails in the Northern Illinois area, Des Plaines River Trail Loop is a fantastic option because it is very flat, has low traffic, and is easy to follow.

Even though you’re very close to Chicago this area gives you a sense of being away. You’re right underneath a flight path to Chicago O’hare though, this means there is usually loads of plane traffic.

Not only will you have the chance to see lots of deer and the winding river, but there are many single-track paths that you can venture to and explore.

How to get to the Des Plaines River Trail Loop

Trail access is found at the picnic grove of the Robinson Woods – South Forest Preserves off of W Lawrence Avenue.

What people are saying about this hike

Great hike but watch where you step, there are lots of tree roots and rocks since it is mostly unpaved.

The north section of the trail can be noisy since it’s close to O’Hare Airport, but the views along the riverside are worth it.

Conclusion

Des Plaines River Loop is a great trail to take the whole family too.

Whether you plan to enjoy a picnic at the trailhead or begin exploring right away, this trail is easy to navigate and fun for everyone.

Lake Defiance
Lake Defiance (photo credits: James Jordan)

Lake Defiance trail

  • Location: Moraine Hills State Park near McHenry Illinois
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: +/- 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 145 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: Enjoy in the summer and cross-country ski in the winter. There are closures during hunting season.
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but they must be leashed
  • Highlights: Traverse through woods and wetlands as you hike around one of the latest undeveloped glacial lakes of the state.

Short description of the trail

The trail is located within the Moraine Hills State Park named after the boulders, and other debris that has been deposited by glaciers that used to cover this area. Lake Defiance was formed when a giant block of ice fell off a glacier and started melting.

This hike offers 360° views of Lake Defiance and its rich wildlife throughout this trail.

This well-maintained trail is a popular location for bird watchers because of the 200 species of birds that can be seen in the park. These include an abundance of orioles, red-wing blackbirds, and waterfowl in the area.

Where to start the Lake Defiance hike

Upon entering Moraine Hills State Park, you’ll follow the signage to Lake defiance where you’ll find a parking lot and the trailhead.

What people are saying about this hike

This trail has really beautiful scenery and is fairly easy with just a few hills.

Lovely hike and great for the family. If you love nature, give this hike a try!

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an easy walking trail, Lake Defiance Trail Loop is one of the best places to walk in northern Illinois.

The accessible trails, wildlife, and surrounding woods are the perfect way to be immersed in nature. For more information about Lake Defiance, check out our post here.

Read Also:

Discover other fantastic State Parks in Illinois

The trail around Pierce lake is one of the best hikes in northern Illinois.
Pierce Lake (photo credits: Lectrician2)

Pierce Lake Trail

  • Location: Rock Cut State Park in Loves Park Illinois
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 72 feet
  • Route type: loop
  • When to go: Accessible year-round
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: Enjoy lakeside views and a heavily forested trail

Short description of this hike

Rock Cut State Park is one of the biggest parks in Northern Illinois with tons of activities for outdoor sports, including hiking on the Pierce Lake Trail. Per the namesake, the trail winds around Pierce Lake with views of the water throughout the hike.

How to get to Pierce Lake Trail

Begin at the Parking Area near the boat ramp inside Rock Cut State Park.

What people are saying about this hike

Lovely area! The trail was really tricky to follow but the lake views were worth it.

The trail has so many picturesque inlets and we loved the variety of terrain.

Conclusion

This is a great lake trail with plenty of shade from the forests and an unlimited opportunity to tailor your hike to your preferences with additional activities and hikes within Rock Cut Park.

Here is an overview of more wonderful northern Illinois state parks.

Deer Grove Forest Preserve
Deer Grove Forest Preserve (photo credits: Jeremy Riel)

Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail

  • Location: Deer Grove Forest Preserve
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: +/- 3 hours
  • Elevation gain: 298 feet
  • Route type: loop
  • When to go: Accessible year-round
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: unpaved, hilly terrain making for an adventurous and challenging hike

Short description of this hike

The Yellow Loop Trail is located in the Deer Grove –a forest preserve with over 2,000 acres of wooded ravines, wetlands, prairie, and upland forest. It is often regarded as one of the best natural areas in Illinois due to the restoration work that has taken place.

How to get to Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail

Enter the parking lot at Deer Grove-West and take the left fork, following the driveway until you get to a third parking area which is where the trail begins.

What people are saying about this hike

Often muddy but love exploring the unmarked side trails.

Such a vast, peaceful prairie trail with lots of ponds and lakes.

Conclusion

If you’d like the chance to experience some of the most natural terrains in the state, Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail guarantees just that.

Swallow Cliff Woods
Swallow Cliff Woods (photo credits: John W. Iwanski)

Sag Valley Yellow Trail Loop

  • Location:  Palos Park, Illinois
  • Distance: 8.1 miles
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: 3 hours
  • Elevation gain: 410 feet
  • Route type: loop
  • When to go: The trail is accessible year-round. It is open for hiking, biking, and equestrian use. Cross-country skiing is possible in winter.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are permitted but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: features woodlands and the opportunity to climb the 100-foot-high bluff at the Swallof Cliff stairs (the stairs are not part of the trail). If there is snow you can sledge down the hill.

Short description of this hike

One of the most remote spots in Cook County, surrounded by undisturbed landscapes. The trail itself winds past bluffs, ravines, wetlands, woods, and prairies. If you’re feeling adventurous, venture off the trail to uncover untouched meadows, wildflowers, and birds.

How to get to the Yellow Trail Loop

The trailhead is located in the Swallow cliff Woods – South parking lot.

What people are saying about this hike

The trail is super well taken care of and very shaded making it a perfect spot to get some exercise in!

Cool trail just outside Chicago with awesome canopy cover and nice wide trails for a variety of activities.

Conclusion

Sag Valley’s Yellow Trail Loop is a great trail for those interested in a more challenging and lengthier hike.

Its various landscapes and remote setting make it the perfect place to connect with nature and enjoy a peaceful hike.

Rocky Glen waterfall at Waterfall Glen
The Rocky Glen waterfall (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

Located just an hour outside of Chicago, Waterfall Glen Trail is the perfect weekend hike to escape the city and enjoy nature.

The gravel paths lead you through a lush forest filled with local wildlife, and past rocky bluffs overlooking Sawmill Creek.

Where to start the Waterfall Glen Trail hike

There are three parking lots surrounding the park and all three provide access to the loop.

What people are saying about this hike

The main trail is long, but it is well-marked, well-maintained, and wide enough to bring along the whole family, even a stroller!

The best part of the trail is the stream and waterfall. My kids loved the area and were even able to get into the water.

Conclusion

If you’d like to learn more about the wildlife, landscape, and species found on the trail, check out our recent post on Waterfall Glen Trail.

Conclusion

The hiking trails in northern Illinois are the perfect way to unwind and connect with nature without having to venture too far out of the city to access them.

Hikers of all ages and abilities will find the variety of trails beautiful and adventurous year-round.

See the web story that accompanies this post.