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Hiking near Chicago: 22 great hikes you shouldn’t miss

If you’re looking for a retreat into nature from the bustling metropolis, you’ll find the best hiking near Chicago is just outside the city, waiting to be explored.

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

General hiking tips

Overview of the best hiking near Chicago

Here’s a comparison table of the best places to hike near Chicago that we cover in this post.

Read on for a short description of all the trails.

Hiking trails in Chicago you shouldn’t miss

Where Distance Difficulty Route type Highlights
Lincoln Park Lincoln Park Trail

Lincoln Park

5 miles

Easy

Loop A family friendly attraction in the city with numerous cultural events and free activities.
Humboldt Park near the 606 in Chicago The 606

Chicago

2.7 miles (one-way)

Easy

Point to point (can exit on either end) or out & back What was once an abandoned railway is now a bustling trail on Chicago’s Westside.
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
Skokie lagoons in winter Skokie Lagoons Inner Trail

Glencoe, Illinois

4.1 miles

Moderate

Loop Enjoy lake and island views on this famousy muddy 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
Hikers on the Sag Valley Trail near Palos Park Sag Valley Yellow Trail Loop

Palos Park, Illinois

8.1 miles

Moderate

Loop 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 sled down the hill.
Busse Woods Loop Trail

Ned Brown Forest Preserve

7.2 miles

Easy

Loop The gentle long trail includes beautiful sights as well as the possibility of seeing elk as you walk!
LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park

Several distances

Easy-Moderate

Several types Voted the number one attraction in Illinois, you shouldn’t miss Starved Rock while visiting the area.
Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park Matthiessen State park

Several trails

Matthiessen State park

Several distances

Several types Features a great variety of local flora and fauna with many local wildlife species calling the park home.
Rocky Glen waterfall at Waterfall Glen Waterfall Glen Trail

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

9.5 miles

Moderate

Loop The man-made waterfall made in the 1930s
Illinois Beach State Park Several trails in Illinois Beach State Park

Illinois Beach State Park

Several distances

Easy-moderate

Several types It is a stunning place to enjoy forests of oak trees, expansive dunes, and sprawling marshes.
Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall Several hiking trails in Apple Canyon River State Park

Apple Canyon River State Park

Several distances

Easy-Moderate

Several types Although being small it offers numerous ativities including hiking, fishing and more.
Rock Cut State Park, Illinois Several hiking trails in Rock Cut state Park

Rock Cut state Park

Several distances

Easy-Moderate

Several types With more than 40 miles of hiking trails, there is definitely a trail you will like
Several hiking trails in Kettle Moraine State Forest

Kettle Moraine State Forest

Several distances

Easy-Moderate

Several types This 22,000-acre park offers more than 100 miles of trails
Kettle Moraine State Forest More difficult hikes in Kettle Moraine State Forest

Kettle Moraine State Forest (Southern Unit)

Several distances

Moderate

Several types Great place for everyone that is looking for more difficult hikes
Mt. Baldy in Indiana Dunes National Park Several hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park

Several distances

Easy-Moderate

Several types A huge variety of terrains –beaches, sand dunes, wetlands, bogs and ancient forests
Devil's Doorway in Devil's Lake State Park 14 different hiking trails in Devil’s Lake State Park

Devil’s Lake State Park

Several distances

Difficult

Several types Perfect for the adventurous at heart, featuring 500-foot quartzite bluffs, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, fishing, and even scuba diving.
A fairytale landscape in the Morton Arboretum Several hiking trails in Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum

Several hiking trails of several distances of which 2 are cleared during winter

Easy

Loop Perfect for those that are looking for a great winter hike near Chicago
A snow-covered staircase in Starved Rock State Park Several winter hiking trails in Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park

Several distances

Easy-Moderate

Several types Its winter wonderland with frozen waterfalls and the possibilty to see bald eagles
Castle Rock State Park Illinois 6 miles of hiking trails in Castle Rock State Park

Castle Rock State Park

Several distances

Easy-Moderate

Several types Enjoy beautiful snow-covered trails that are perfect for hiking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing
Pierce Lake Trail

Rock Cut State Park

3.6 miles

Moderate

Loop This is a great trail to hike with your dog
Buffalo Viewing Trail

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

3.6 miles

Easy

Loop The flat wide-open prairies are perfect to hike with your dog
Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park

Hiking in Illinois near Chicago

You won’t have to travel far for these Chicago nature trails located right in the heart of the city.

Lincoln Park Trail

  • Location: Lincoln Park
  • Travel distance from Chicago: Located on the North side of Chicago.
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Time needed: 2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 85 feet
  • Route Type: Loop
  • When to go: Year round
  • Dog-Friendly: Yes, but dogs must remain leashed.
  • Highlights: A family friendly attraction in the city with numerous cultural events and free activities.

Short description of the trail

This trail is located in the famous Lincoln Park. This wooded green space is a peaceful sanctuary shielding hikers from the noise and chaos of the urban lifestyle.

The path itself is wide, paved, and provides the perfect setting for a casual stroll with the family, or a chance to get some outdoor exercise.

Along the way, make sure to stop and explore the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Nature Museum, and of course, Lake Michigan’s North Avenue Beach.

Where to start the Lincoln Park Trail

There are multiple points of entry to Lincoln Park Trail. The simplest way is to take the CTA’s Red Line or Brown Line to Fullerton Street.

The whole trail is navigable for wheelchair users and there are designated accessible parking spots at the parking lot at North Clark Street.  This is on the southwest end of the trail.

What people are saying about this hike

Fantastic loop! It really gives you a nice taste of Chicago while providing great scenery and tons of activities.

This trail is so scenic, especially the lake and pops of art along the way.

Conclusion

Lincoln Park Trail is one of the best hikes in Chicago because of its greenery, abundance of free attractions, and scenic views fit for all ability levels. For an overview of more free things to do in Illinois, click here.

Humboldt Park near the 606 in Chicago
Humboldt Park near the 606 in Chicago

The 606 (also known as the Bloomingdale Trail)

  • Location: Chicago – the trail runs east to west on the northwest side of the city
  • Travel distance from Chicago: A 20 minute commute from central Chicago.
  • Distance: 2.7 miles (one-way)
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 1 -2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 13 feet
  • Route type: Point to point (can exit on either end) or out & back
  • When to go: Enjoy this well-maintained trail in every season.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome if they are leashed.
  • Highlights: What was once an abandoned railway is now a bustling trail on Chicago’s Westside.

Short description of the trail

The 606, also commonly referred to as the Bloomingdale Trail, is the longest greenway project of a former rail line in the US and the second-longest in the world.

The ten-foot-wide path hosts families, walkers, runners, and bikers looking to spend time outdoors and enjoy one of the quietest walking trails Chicago has to offer.  

Not only is the 606 filled with active locals, but the trail also hosts community and cultural events ranging from public outdoor art exhibits, fitness classes, neighborhood bonfires, astronomy events, and some of the best sunset views in Chicago.

Where to start the 606 hike

This loop is accessible through 13 entrances and exits throughout Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park.

The Western and Damen stops of the CTA Blue Line are both close to one of the entrances of the trail.

What people are saying about this trail

Absolutely beautiful. The art and plants work together so spectacularly that you don’t even feel like you’re in the city anymore. Stunning!

I love this oasis in the middle of the city. The perfect trail to get outdoors and the scenery is beautiful.

Conclusion

Of all the hiking trails Chicago has to offer, the 606 is one of the most unique and scenic you’ll find.

Enjoy the elevated views, spacious trails, and beautiful art displays the trail has to offer.

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

Best hiking trails near Chicago

There are tons of places to hike near Chicago with beautiful features that are under an hour away.

Des Plaines River Trail Loop

  • Location: Robinson Woods South Forest Preserve
  • Distance from Chicago: From downtown Chicago, this trail is about 18 miles via 1-90 W or about 30 minute drive (40 if you take I-290).
  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Time needed: 2-2.5 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 conditions weather
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: Enjoy riverbank views and a low traffic trail

The Des Plaines Loop Trail is a fantastic option for day hikes near Chicago because of its close proximity to the city and accessibility for all skill levels.

The smooth terrain and easily navigable pathway provide a chance to have a relaxed, enjoyable walk in a peaceful setting. The trail winds through woodlands, alongside the river, and past an abundance of flora, fauna, and wildlife.

Skokie lagoons in winter
Skokie Lagoons in winter (photo credits: Sara B)

Skokie Lagoons Inner Trail

  • Location: Glencoe, Illinois
  • Travel Distance from Chicago: 22 miles from downtown, about a 25-minute drive.
  • Distance: 4.1 miles (not to be confused with the larger, 11.4 mile Skokie loop)
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Time needed: about 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 55 ft
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: The best time to go is from May until November
  • Dog friendly: Yes but dogs must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: Enjoy lake and island views on this famousy muddy trail

Short description of the trail

If you’re looking to feel as far removed from the city as possible, the Skokie Lagoons Inner Trail is the hike for you. This is one of the trails near Chicago that is more moderate due to the unpaved and overgrown nature of the path.

Not only are many parts muddy and uneven, but beginners and less experienced hikers may have trouble navigating the poorly marked trails. The benefit of the natural terrain is that the trail provides a great sense of solitude and stunning views of the vast lagoon waterway system.

Where to start the Skokie Lagoons Inner Trail:

The trailhead can be found on Forestway Drive inside the Forest Preserve. It is located next to the Forest Way Grove Picnic Shelter.

What people are saying about this trail

I really enjoyed the great mix of water views and a woodsy feel.

This is an awesome trail but you will have to watch where you step as it can be uneven, overgrown, and muddy.

Conclusion

If you love to rough it and don’t mind a bit of a challenge, one of the more adventurous hiking trails near Chicago. 

Hiking near Chicago? Why not in the Deer Grove Forest Preserve
Deer Grove Forest Preserve (photo credits: Jeremy Riel)

Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail

  • Location: Deer Grove Forest Preserve
  • Travel distance from Chicago:  about 34 miles, or a 40-minute drive
  • 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

Meander through the Yellow Loop’s diverse terrain past wetlands, lush woodlands, vibrant wildflowers, and even savanna.

While the Deer Grove Forest Preserve offers numerous trails, this elevated and varied landscape is unique in its beauty and serves as a prime location for birdwatching and spotting wildlife.

For more information on the Deer Grove Yellow Loop Trail, make sure to check out our previous post with everything you need to know about this hike.

Hikers on the Sag Valley Trail near Palos Park
Hikers on the Sag Valley Trail

Sag Valley Yellow Trail Loop

  • Location:  Palos Park, Illinois
  • Travel distance from Chicago: This 25-mile drive usually takes just over 30 minutes by car
  • 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 sled down the hill.

If you’re planning on hiking in Illinois near Chicago, Sag Valley Yellow Trail Loop is one of the most remote trails you can choose.

From ravines and bluffs to untouched meadows and an encompassing canopy of forestry, this trail is a stunning oasis. At eight miles, the hike may be a strenuous hike for those that are less experienced.

For more information on this hike, check out our post on Sag Valley Yellow Trail Loop.

There’s a good chance to spot wildlife along the Busse Woods Loop Trail

Best day hikes near Chicago

If you’re looking for a simple day hike, these are some of the best places to hike near Chicago.

Busse Woods Loop Trail

  • Location: Ned Brown Forest Preserve
  • Travel distance from Chicago: This 24-mile drive usually takes about 35-45 minutes.  
  • 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!

Busse Woods Loop Trail may be long (7 miles!) but it is truly one of the best hiking trails near Chicago for the whole family. The trail hugs the shore of the Busse reservoir and is known for elk sightings and community-oriented activities.

The trail is smooth, flat, and paved which is perfect for wheelchairs and strollers.

Not to mention, if you don’t want to do the whole 7-mile hike, no problem! There are several parking lots from where you can do a part of the trail as an out and back. 

You can also stop to rent a canoe, set up a picnic, or let the kids run and explore.

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

Best waterfall hikes near Chicago

Starved Rock State Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: About 93 miles away and a 1.5-hour drive

Starved Rock State Park is one of the most visited and well-known parks in the state of Illinois. The park is widely known for its towering limestone bluffs, wildlife viewing, and numerous waterfalls.

If you’re interested in the history, animals, and practical information regarding the park, we’ve got an extensive guide that you can find here.

As for waterfalls and hiking, many would argue that Starved Rock offers the best hikes near Chicago, and likely in the entire state. There are 14 waterfalls and 13 miles of scenic trails.

In our guide, we describe 8 beautiful waterfalls you can find in the park and  12 different hikes to uncover them.

Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park
Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park

Matthiessen State Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 96 miles – a 1.5-hour drive

Another Illinois waterfall site is at Matthiessen State Park, another one of the best parks in the state.

Because it is located so close to Starved Rock, the landscapes are strikingly similar, but Matthiessen is smaller and generally less heavily trafficked.

As for trails, there are just five miles of trail system but you’ll find gorgeous waterfalls like Cascade Falls, a 45-foot waterfall located in the main canyon where a huge natural amphitheater has been carved out.

The park is also home to Giant’s Bathtub Falls which is slightly smaller but is still a highlight of the Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail that leads to it.

Here is a list of more fun state parks in northern Illinois. 

Rocky Glen waterfall at Waterfall Glen
The Rocky Glen waterfall (Photo credits: Bryan Wysoglad)

Waterfall Glen Trail

  • Location: Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
  • Travel distance from Chicago: 23 miles – a 25 minute drive
  • 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

If you want to go hiking around Chicago to see waterfall views but don’t want to travel far to do it, this is the best option.

The Waterfall Glen Trail is quite long at 9 miles but is of moderate ability and very easy to follow.

Illinois Beach State Park
Illinois Beach State Park

Best hiking near Chicago with swimming

Illinois Beach State Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: About 48 miles which will take about an hour and ten minutes by car.

Illinois Beach State Park is a stunning place to enjoy forests of oak trees, expansive dunes, and sprawling marshes.

Its 6.5 miles of Lake Michigan Beach were created by massive glacial forces that are now the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state.

There are numerous hikes within the park like the Dune Trail Loop, an easy 1.8-mile trek with beautiful surroundings like the lake, dunes, and sandhill cranes.

The Illinois Beach Marsh Trail is another option featuring the lake that is easy enough for all skill levels but offers a bit more distance at 3.1 miles.

Here is an overview of more wonderful Illinois beaches.

Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall
Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall (Photo credits: Joseph Gage)

Apple Canyon River State Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 145 miles – about 2.5 hour drive away

Apple Canyon used to be a small park at 297 acres but has grown to 1,907 acres since it was bought by the State of Illinois. 

It is still relatively small compared to other parks but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in amenities.

It offers five different hiking trails: Pine Ridge, Tower Rock, River Route, Sunset, and Primrose Trail.

But you can also swim in the man-made lake, or enjoy the activity center with a golf course, pool, beach area, and an archery range.

If you’d like to learn about the Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall or find more info on the park, we’ve got the post for you!

Rock Cut State Park, Illinois
Rock Cut State Park

Rock Cut State Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 85 miles – a 1 hour and 20 minute drive

Rock Cut State Park has over 3,092 acres of protected land and 40 miles of hiking trails.

There are lots of different hikes to choose from but one of the most famous is the Pierce Lake Trail. It is a 3.6-mile hike around the lake that is known for being tricky to navigate.

Read Also:

If you are looking for more State Parks in Illinois, click here. 

Colorful foliage in Kettle Moraine State Forest

Kettle Moraine State Forest (Northern & Southern Unit)

  • Travel distance from Chicago to the Southern Unit: 107 miles one way which will take around 2 hours
  • Travel distance from Chicago to the Northern Unit: 140 miles one way which will take around 2 hours and 15 minutes
  • Note that the two units are in completely different areas of the state and more than 65 miles apart.

Kettle Moraine Southern Unit is located in Wisconsin and is a fantastic park for those looking for more moderate hikes. There are over 100 miles of trails for hiking, biking, running, and more within the 22,000-acre park.

There are two beaches for swimming: Ottawa Lake and Whitewater Lake. Not only can you swim, but there are grills and picnic areas, and there are even designated sections at both lakes for your dogs to splash in the water as well.

The northern section is at 30,000 acres somewhat smaller but it also has two lakes, Mauthe Lake and Long Lake, that are good for swimming and numerous recreational activities.

An easy trail along the northern sections beaches and recreational areas is the Butler Lake Trail. This 3-mile hike takes you through scenic areas of the park but is also easy enough for the whole family.

The boardwalk at Devil's Lake in Devil's Lake State Park
The boardwalk at Devil’s Lake in Devil’s Lake State Park

Devil’s Lake State Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 191 miles one way which will take around 3 hours

This is another excellent state park that you can head to for a fun combination of hiking, swimming, and other recreational activities.

In the park, you find 2 large sandy beaches, both with a bathhouse, picnic tables, and children’s playgrounds. 

In the next section, we will cover the park and its trails in more depth.  

Kettle Moraine State Forest
Kettle Moraine State Forest

Best difficult hikes near Chicago

Kettle Moraine State Forest (Southern Unit)

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 107 miles one way which will take around 2 hours

The Southern unit of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest, previously mentioned in the last section, is the perfect place for hikers looking for more moderate hikes.

The thousand-mile ice age trail traverses this park.  It takes hikers along some stunning remnants of the ice age including moraines, drumlins, and kettles.  Two out-and-back trails cover parts of this multi-day hike. 

You have the Blue Spring Lake Segment. This lengthy trek is a whopping 14.6 miles out and back. Along the way, you’ll hike through rugged glacial terrain, steep elevation, and fantastic nature scenes. 

There is also the Scuppernong segment that is somewhat shorter at 6.7 miles out and back.  Many find the forests, natural springs, and panoramic views of the hilly pathway to be beautiful, quiet, and secluded.

Those that only want to do a part of the Blue Spring lake Segment can hike the so-called Bald Bluff Trail.  This trail is shorter but still showcases several glacial remains and scenic overlooks.

Mt. Baldy in Indiana Dunes National Park
Mt. Baldy in Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 36 miles or about 44 minutes by car

Rated #37 of all US National Parks, Indiana Dunes National Park has more than 15,000 acres of terrain and more than 50 miles of hiking trails.

The park is in Indiana, but close to Chicago, and is like the windy city located on the shore of Great Lake Michigan. It stretches for 15 miles along the coast of the lake.

Indiana Dunes has a huge variety of terrains –beaches, sand dunes, wetlands, bogs, ancient forests, as well as 14 different trail systems winding through them.

Hiking on Little Calumet River and Mnoke Prairie Trail is one of the more moderate hikes within the park.

The loop is rich in natural diversity and local history as it was once a critical transport route for regional travelers.

Even though the area was worn down by travelers and settlers, today the Mnoke Prairie has been restored to its pre-settlement grasslands. Along the way make sure to explore the historic national landmark, the Bailly Homestead as well as the Chellberg Farm.

The West Beach 3 Loop Trail is not the most difficult trail you’ll find near Chicago but it may be amongst the most sandy. However, when you do make it through the 3.5 miles of hilly beach to the top of Dune Succession Trail stairs, the trek will be worth it for the views.

Not to mention you can relax at the beach when you’re done!

Devil's Doorway in Devil's Lake State Park is a great difficult hikes near Chicago.
The Devil’s Doorway in Devil’s Lake State Park

Devil’s Lake State Park

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 191 miles one way which will take around 3 hours

It is abundantly clear you’ve left the “prairie state” when you reach the rolling hills of Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin.

This 10,000-acre park is for the adventurous at heart, featuring 500-foot quartzite bluffs, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, fishing, and even scuba diving.

There are 14 total trails within the park featuring the most difficult hikes near Chicago you’ll find.

Balanced Rock is one such trail, where hikers must make a rocky ascent up a steep and narrow natural stone staircase to reach the scenic views of Balanced Rock. The loosely marked path is known to be strenuous, slippery, and uneven, especially on windy days.

Another challenging trail is the Devil’s Doorway Loop. While the above trail may be more difficult than the Devil’s Doorway Loop both offer equally stunning views.  In addition, this trail also rewards its hikers with the Devil’s Doorway rock formation.

Another short but hard trail is the CCC trail, so-called because it was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  You will pass by impressive red stone cliffs and if you’re lucky you may see some rock climbers in action.

There are other challenging hikes within the park, including Ice Age National Scenic Trail: Devil’s Lake Segment which is a 14.7-mile journey, however, all of these trails are not recommended in winter unless you are an experienced hiker because the trails are not maintained.

Devil’s Lake State Park is not free.  There is a $16 entrance fee for non-residents that goes toward protecting and maintaining the natural beauty and historical treasures found throughout the park. Residents pay less and National Park Passes are accepted as well)

A fairytale landscape in the Morton Arboretum
A fairytale landscape in the Morton Arboretum

Best winter hikes near Chicago

Morton Arboretum

  • Travel distance from Chicago: 26 miles—about 30 minutes

The Morton Arboretum is gorgeous year-round, but in winter the 1,700-acre preserve transforms into a magical winter wonderland.

Since 1922, the Arboretum has been protecting over 4,000 species through meticulous conservation while remaining open 365 days a year.

While a vast majority of Chicago and greater Illinois trails aren’t cleared during the winter months, the Arboretum offers some of the most well-maintained cold weather trails in the state.

Not all trails are cleared, and no salt is being used in order to protect the trees, but the two main loops that are found in the park are being plowed.

This is ideal for winter hikes and it also attracts athletes, cyclers, and runners who want to continue exercising in the winter.

You’ll find the Arboretum is easily divided into two distinct sections: the east and the west side.

To the east, you’ll find a four-mile trail that loops through dense forest of snow-covered oak, pine, and maple trees, as well as a few imported from China and Japan.

To the west, you’ll find a smaller, 3-mile loop that makes its way past ponds, a lake, and the east ridge of the DuPage River. Here you’ll also find groves of 80-foot spruce trees and evergreens that tower over birch, hemlock, and willow trees. 

There are also an additional 16 miles of hiking trails that are not fully cleared in the winter but which provide ideal conditions for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

A snow-covered staircase in Starved Rock State Park
An atmospheric image of Starved rock in winter

Starved Rock

Enjoy the serenity of Illinois’ famed Starved Rock State Park without the hordes of summer crowds.

The park’s 13 miles of hiking trails transform into a snow-covered scene of frozen waterfalls, bald eagles, and sandstone bluffs layered with white blankets of snow. 

While the trails remain open in winter, not all the paths are cleared.

Snowshoeing is a fun way to navigate uncleared paths, and it also gives you the opportunity to venture off-trail and explore areas of the park you may not explore during the summer months.

Castle Rock State Park Illinois
A trail to a viewpoint in Castle Rock State Park

Castle Rock State Park

Along Rock River is one of the most diverse landscapes you’ll find in Illinois.

Castle rock has over six miles of hiking trails past sandstone cliffs, deep ravines, and the park’s unique rock formations.

In the winter, these snow-covered trails are especially beautiful and easily accessible on foot or by snowshoes or cross-country skis.

For more information about the park, have a look at this article about Castle Rock State Park.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Another previously mentioned option for winter hiking is the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve and its many trails.

Sunset over Pierce Lake

Best dog-friendly hikes near Chicago

For dog-friendly hiking near Chicago, Illinois, these are the best trails.

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

Of the 40 miles of hiking trails found at Rock Cut State Park, Pierce Lake Trail is among the most dog-friendly you’ll find.

The heavily forested terrain is the perfect amount of shade to protect your furry family member from the hot sun, while Pierce Lake offers a place to cool down in the water.

The 3.6-mile trail is unpaved and is sometimes a little tricky to follow. 

Thanks to the lake it is however really hard to get lost.

Mother and calf in the 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. 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

Buffalo Viewing Trail offers the perfect opportunity for dog-friendly hiking near Chicago. The flat, wide-open prairies may be home to the occasional roaming buffalo, but they also offer the opportunity to have a space to play with your dog along the hike.

For hikers with protective dogs, Buffalo Viewing Trail’s low-traffic and somewhat secluded trail offers you a chance to enjoy the outdoors without the added stress of too many unfamiliar people and their pets.

Conclusion

If you take away anything from this guide, it’s that hiking Chicago doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all experience.

From urban trails in close proximity to unique terrains of varying difficulty, there is a trail to suit every hiker of every ability.

Read the web story that accompanies this post.