City Hiking Guides

A Guide to The Best Hikes Near Chicago

POSTED ON November 1, 2023 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Welcome to a guide to the best hikes near Chicago, through the stunning natural landscapes and well-marked trails that this vibrant city and its greater metropolitan area have to offer.

Within a short drive from the bustling streets of Chicago, you’ll discover an extensive network of miles of trails waiting to be explored. From the serene Cowles Bog Trail in Indiana Dunes National Park to the picturesque paved trails that wind along the Canal Trail, we’ll take you on an expedition through some of the most scenic and well-marked trails in the region.

If you’re a cross-country ski enthusiast, you’ll find plenty of options to enjoy the winter wonderland on cross-country ski trails. For hikers who crave solitude and unspoiled natural beauty, our guide includes information on interior trails that offer a tranquil escape from the urban hustle and bustle.

We’ve also compiled a comprehensive list of mapped trails to find the perfect hike in the greater metropolitan Chicago distance.

So, lace up your hiking boots and get ready to embark on a memorable journey through the region’s state parks, mixed-use trails, and outdoor wonders.

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Distance: 18.5 miles (30 kilometers)

Hiking duration: Approximately 6–8 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Trail type: Point to point

The Chicago Lakefront Trail is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and casual hikers alike. Located in the heart of Chicago, this trail stretches for 18.5 miles (30 kilometers) along the shores of Lake Michigan and offers breathtaking views of the city’s skyline. The trail is well-maintained and easily accessible, making it a perfect option for individuals or families looking for an outdoor adventure.

The trail is divided into different sections, with options for hikers and mountain bikers to explore both urban areas and more secluded natural landscapes. One notable section is located in Lake County, offering a peaceful route for those looking to escape the bustling city. Hikers will also have the opportunity to pass by various landmarks, such as Navy Pier and Grant Park.

For hikers interested in exploring other miles of trails, there are plenty of options along the Chicago Lakefront Trail. Also, the paved route is suitable for all levels of experience and is a great option for those looking for a leisurely hike with beautiful views of the lake. With easy access to trailheads and ample parking, the Chicago Lakefront Trail is a must-visit destination for cross-country skiers during the winter months of December to February.

The 606 Trail (The Bloomingdale Trail)

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Distance: 2.7 miles (4.3 kilometers)

Hiking duration: Approximately 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Type: Point to point

The 606 Trail, also known as the Bloomingdale Trail, is a popular urban oasis located in Chicago, Illinois. This 2.7-mile-long (4.3 km) paved road stretches through four different neighborhoods and offers a unique perspective of the city from an elevated trail. It is easily accessible by public transportation and offers plenty of street parking for those arriving by car.

The trail itself was formerly an old railroad line that has been transformed into a pedestrian and bike path, making it a perfect option for both walkers and cyclists. Along the way, hikers can enjoy beautiful views of the city’s skyline and pass by local street art and sculptures. There are also several access points to enter and exit the trail, allowing for flexibility in hiking distance.

The North Branch Trail

Morton Arboretum

Location: Illinois (from Chicago to Morton Grove)

Distance: Approximately 21 miles (34 kilometers)

Hiking Duration: Approximately 6 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Type: Point to point trail

The North Branch Trail is a popular paved path with a well-maintained and easy-to-navigate system in Illinois. Stretching from Gompers Park to Glencoe, at a distance of approximately 21 miles (34 kilometers).

It offers a beautiful, easy-to-navigate escape from the city with lush green space and serene surroundings. Bike riders can expect to pass through various parks, including Gompers Park, which offers picnic areas and sports fields for a quick break or lunch stop. The trail also passes through Morton Grove, a charming village with quaint shops and restaurants to explore.

The difficulty level of this trail is rated as easy to moderate, making it suitable for everyone. The trail type consists of a paved path with some wooded trails, providing a mix of both urban and natural environments to discover.

Here is the Trail map, with all the important details.

Des Plaines River Trail

Des Plaines River

Location: Lake County, Illinois, USA

Distance: Approximately 31 miles (49.9 km)

Hiking Duration: Varies, but typically a full-day adventure

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Trail Type: Out and back trail

Nestled in the picturesque Lake County of Illinois, the Des Plaines River Trail is a hidden gem for outdoor adventuring enthusiasts. Stretching approximately 31 miles, this scenic trail closely follows the river’s north, inviting visitors to explore a rich tapestry of nature, history, and adventure. The trail is named after its namesake river, the Des Plaines River, and its serene waters wind through wooded trails, providing a peaceful backdrop for your journey.

Mountain bikers and hikers can enjoy a diverse range of landscapes along the trail, from the tranquility of forested sections in Illinois Nature Preserve to the historic buildings that offer a glimpse into the area’s past.

For those who love to explore, you’ll find the trail access points well-marked, making it easy to plan your adventure. This trail offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the natural beauty and outdoor recreation just a stone’s throw away from the bustling cityscape of Lincoln Park, Chicago, and the charming town of Lake Forest.

Here is the Des Plaines Trail Map.

Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park Open Space

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Distance: 1.2 miles (1.9 km)

Hiking Duration: Approximately 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Trail Type: Loop

The Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. There is a 1.2-mile-long (1.9 km) loop trail offering visitors a quick and easy escape from the bustling city while providing stunning views of the surrounding skyline. It is conveniently located near Chinatown, making it easily accessible by public transportation or car.

This small but mighty nature reserve boasts a diverse range of flora and fauna, making it a perfect spot for nature enthusiasts and wildlife viewing. While on the trail, take in the beautiful vistas of the park’s 27 acres (109,265 m2) of prairie and wetland habitats. Visitors can also explore the area’s unique geological features, such as the ancient quarry that has been transformed into a picturesque pond.

Chicago Riverview Trail

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Distance: Approximately 7.2 miles (11.6 km)

Hiking Duration: Approximately 3 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Type: Loop

The Chicago Riverview Trail is a popular hiking destination located in the bustling city of Chicago. With a distance of approximately 7.2 miles (11.6 km), hikers can expect to spend around 3 hours exploring this urban trail.

The trail is rated as moderately difficult, making it a great option for those looking for a bit of a challenge without being too strenuous. As the name suggests, the Chicago Riverview Trail offers breathtaking views of the city’s iconic skyline, providing a unique perspective of the urban environment. However, it also offers a refreshing escape from the city’s hustle and bustle with its lush green spaces and peaceful surroundings.

The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, making it a great option for both beginners and experienced hikers.

LaBagh Woods Nature Preserve

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Distance: About 20 miles (35 km)

Hiking Duration: Approximately 7-8 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Trail Type: Loop

Nestled in the bustling city of Chicago lies a hidden gem for nature lovers: the LaBagh Woods Nature Preserve. With a distance of approximately 20 miles (35 km), these loop trails offer a peaceful oasis away from the city’s hustle and bustle, making them the perfect escape for a full-day hike.

The trails are rated as easy to moderate, with some hilly sections that may offer a bit of a challenge for beginners. However, the diverse wildlife and lush green surroundings make it a rewarding hike for all levels. Birdwatchers will also appreciate the abundance of bird species that can be spotted throughout the preserve.

The trails take hikers through some dense woodland trails, providing a serene backdrop for a relaxing hike. It’s also a popular spot for families and dog walkers, offering plenty of space to explore and enjoy nature.

Other Hiking Trails and Spots Near Chicago

In addition to the trails mentioned above, there are plenty of other options for hiking near Chicago.

One of the top destinations is the Kettle Moraine State Forest (location). About an hour and a half away from the city, this scenic forest offers over 50 miles (80 km) of hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. Hikers can enjoy stunning views of rolling hills, glacial landscapes, and several lakes along the way.

Two popular trails within the Kettle Moraine State Forest are the John Muir Trail System and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail passing through.

  • The John Muir Trail System is a 40-mile loop (64 km) trail that takes hikers through some of the most diverse landscapes in the forest, including forests, prairies, and wetlands. It’s also a great spot for birdwatching and wildlife spotting. Trail map [PDF]
  • The Ice Age National Scenic Trail has a 30-mile (48 km) section that goes from the southernmost end to the northernmost point of the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit.

For those looking for a shorter hike near Chicago, the Lake Geneva Shore Path is a must-visit destination. This 21-mile (34 km) trail spans the entire circumference of Lake Geneva and offers breathtaking views of grand mansions, quaint towns, and the crystal-clear waters of the lake. It’s a great option for a day trip outside of the city.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, consider hiking along the Kankakee River in Wilmington (location), about an hour and a half from Chicago. This 10-mile (16 km) trail runs alongside the river and offers stunning views of limestone cliffs and deep canyons.

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park

Located about 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Chicago, Starved Rock State Park offers 13 miles of trails (21 km) of waterfall hikes and scenic canyons.

The park also has several lookout points with stunning views of the Illinois River. Some of the most popular hikes include the St. Louis Canyon, Wildcat Canyon, and the French Canyon.

Devil’s Lake State Park

Devil's Lake State Park

Located about 3.5 hours northwest of Chicago, Devil’s Lake State Park is a popular spot for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The park offers 29 miles (47 km) of hiking trails with stunning views of the lake and surrounding bluffs.

Hikers can also explore unique geological features such as Balanced Rock and the Devil’s Doorway or take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters of the lake after a day of hiking.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Just 23 miles (37 km) southwest of Chicago, the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve features 9.5 miles (15 km) of trails that loop around the preserve’s lake and waterfall.

The park is also perfect for nature lovers, as it’s home to a variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer and coyotes.

Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State Park

Located about an hour east of Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park boasts 15 distinct trail systems covering more than 50 miles (80 km) of trails that lead hikers through dunes, wetlands, and forests.

The park also has several beaches along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Matthiessen State Park

Matthiessen State Park

About 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Chicago, Matthiessen State Park is home to several waterfalls, canyons, and unique rock formations. The park offers over five miles (8 km) of hiking trails, including the popular Dells Canyon and Waterfall Canyon.

Moraine Hills State Park

Located about an hour northwest of Chicago, Moraine Hills State Park offers over 10 miles (16 km) of hiking trails that wind around glacial lakes, wetlands, and prairies. The park is also home to several species of birds, making it a perfect place for birdwatchers.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, there’s a trail near Chicago that’s perfect for you.

From the scenic canyons of Starved Rock State Park to the sandy shores of Indiana Dunes National Park, these hikes offer a much-needed break from city life. So grab your hiking shoes, pack some snacks, and hit the trails to explore the beauty of the Midwest.

Check out more trails in our Hikes and Trails guide.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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