Best places to hike around Chicago

Best places to hike around Chicago
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Imagine wandering through meandering paths that lead to breathtaking views, stumbling upon wildlife in their natural habitats, and discovering the diverse topography that lies just beyond the hustle and bustle of Chicago. Did you know there are over 350 miles of trails in Cook County that surround Chicago’s urban landscape? From rail-to-trail paved paths to winding wooded routes, there’s a trail for explorers of all levels.

From the leafy canopies of the North Shore to the sprawling wetlands south of the Loop, these trails offer a fun place to work out or a much-needed respite in nature for residents and visitors alike. These are a few of the top hiking spots where you can trade the sound of traffic for the rustling of leaves, proving that you don’t need to venture far from Chicago to connect with the great outdoors.

Hiking in parks and nature preserves around Chicago

Harms Woods

Located in Skokie, Harms Woods is an expansive nature preserve that offers a peaceful retreat from the urban rush. With a network of trails weaving through dense woodlands and alongside the North Branch Chicago River, it’s a haven for hikers, cyclists, and nature enthusiasts. The preserve’s diverse habitats support an array of wildlife, so keep an eye out for curious creatures along your hike.

Palos Trail System

The Palos Trail System, located in the expansive Palos Forest Preserve near Chicago, is a sprawling network of trails renowned for its hilly terrain and diverse natural features. With over 50 miles of trails, the Palos Trail System accommodates hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians, with paths ranging from wide, easy-going multi-use trails to narrow, challenging single-track routes.

If you’re looking for a unique intermediate hike, start at Country Lane Woods for an unpaved hike through rolling hills and around the Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve, one of the only peat bogs in Illinois. This trail network provides outdoor enthusiasts with a wide variety of outdoor adventures and an opportunity to explore one of the most ecologically rich areas in the Chicagoland region.

Blue Star Memorial Woods

A peaceful haven that honors the nation’s armed forces while also providing a place to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, Blue Star Memorial Woods, is a favorite among hikers and bird watchers. Located on the North Shore of Cook County, this wooded trail is an extension of Harms Woods that winds through shady groves and meadows. It’s a beautiful place for an easy hike or run. It’s also dog and bike-friendly. If you follow the trail to the end, explore what’s in bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

For a unique and dog-friendly hike, check out the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park. Wander paved paths dotted with one-of-a-kind sculptures alongside the north channel of the Chicago River. This park is perfect for explorers of all ages. While you’re in the area, head north to Winnetka and check out the Skokie Lagoons for a leisurely paddle through seven connected lagoons.

Discover more places to paddle a kayak near Chicago

Easy trails around Chicago for hikers of all levels

Des Plaines River Trail System

Venture just beyond the city limits of Chicago in Oak Park, and you’ll find yourself amidst the tranquil beauty of Fullerton Woods, a key highlight of the Des Plaines River Trail. Here, hikers can explore at their own pace, with the Des Plaines River as a gentle companion, and discover a diverse ecosystem teeming with life. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful stroll or an invigorating hike, Fullerton Woods offers a convenient escape into nature.

Green Bay Trail

The Green Bay Trail invites outdoor enthusiasts to experience the charm of the Village of Winnetka on a scenic 2.24-mile rail-to-trail journey stretching from Kenilworth to Glencoe. This paved path offers a smooth trail for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. As you hike the trail, you’ll find thoughtful amenities like mile markers, benches, bike racks, picnic tables, and beautiful wildflower gardens.

Cal-Sag Trail

Stretching 26 miles along the Calumet-Sag Channel, the Cal-Sag Trail connects communities from Lemont to the Burnham Greenway near the Indiana border. The route offers a picturesque path for new and experienced hikers, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts near Chicago. Along the journey, hikers can enjoy stunning views of the waterway, encounter diverse wildlife habitats, and take advantage of the trail’s connectivity to nature and forest preserves like Swallow Cliff Woods, Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Garden, and more.

Old Plank Road Trail

The Old Plank Road Trail is a 22-mile recreational trail that carves a path through the southern suburbs of Chicago, offering a serene and accessible escape for hikers, joggers, and cyclists. This paved trail, built on the former Penn Central railroad line, seamlessly blends historical charm and natural beauty, featuring stretches lined with native wildflowers, towering trees, and quaint towns like historic Frankfort. When you’re finished with your hike, grab a craft beer at Trailside Brewing Company or dinner at Fat Rosie’s Taco Bar. Win. Win.

If you’re looking for even more trailside adventures, discover an endless array of outdoor activities near Chicago.