While many people flock to Chicago to wander through the city, eat deep dish pizza, and paddle the Chicago River, there’s a lot to do here for outdoor adventure travelers, too. One fact people are surprised to hear is that there are a ton of great places to go hiking near Chicago!

Whether you’re hitting one of the urban Chicago hiking trails, or you’re planning on taking a day trip to some hiking trails near Chicago, there are tons of choices for you to explore. Here’s a comprehensive list of the 13 best places for hikes near Chicago.

Top Places to Go Hiking In Chicago

You might be surprised to learn that there are actually a handful of places to go hiking in Chicago…within the city limits! Here are three of the most unique and popular trails where you can get outdoors without leaving the city.

The Lakefront Trail runs beside the waterfront and along Chicago’s many beaches.

1. Chicago Lakefront Trail

  • Trail Length: 17.6 miles
  • Location: Lake Michigan (Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Lakefront Trail blends the best of Chicago’s urban areas with outdoor adventure, and it’s more or less flat, perfect for any level of hiker. Basically, it’s a paved trail that’s shared with runners, dog walkers, and bikers, so it’s less of your normal hike and more of a place to go for a nice, leisurely walk on a sunny day. However, a hike on the Lakefront Trail is one of the easiest ways to enjoy the outdoors without leaving Chicago’s downtown area.

In total, the Lakefront Trail is 18 whole miles, so you’ll never run out of places to explore while hiking in Chicago. Along it, there are tons of beach hangout areas, cute waterfront restaurants and bars, graffiti-lined underpasses, and plenty of people watching. You’ll also pass by the iconic Navy Pier, Monroe Harbor, the Museum District, and of course, the city skyline itself.

The best time to enjoy the Lakefront Trail is at sunrise, when the sun hangs low over the water and you can catch the coolest, crispest summer air in Chicago.

You can run, hike, or bike on the 606! Photo Credit: Daniel Lobo

2. The 606

  • Trail Length: 2.7 miles
  • Location: Humboldt Park (Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Easy

Another one of the most unique Chicago hiking trails is the 606, an elevated trail that runs over former railroad tracks. Today, it’s an urban hiking, running, and biking trail that runs through green spaces, charming neighborhoods, and historic areas of Chicago. The 606 is a great place to go hiking in Chicago while exploring some of the neighborhoods outside of downtown.

The entire 606 trail spans 2.7 miles, beginning at Walsh Park and ending at North Ridgeway Ave. If you don’t want to hike the whole thing, there are multiple access points along the trail where you can enter and exit at your leisure. Because it’s paved and mostly flat, it’s one of the best hikes in Chicago and the surrounding areas for all levels of hikers.

3. Lincoln Park Trail

  • Trail Length: 5.5 miles
  • Location: Lincoln Park (Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Easy

Lincoln Park is one of the most beloved residential areas of Chicago, and in the middle of it lies a large, green park area that houses many walking trails, a lake, and the Chicago Zoo. The Lincoln Park Trail winds through the park’s wooded areas provide an easy, leisurely, family-friendly area to go for a day hike in the city.

Within the park, you’ll find 1200 acres of green spaces and recreation areas to enjoy. Along your hike, you can admire the gorgeous Victorian architecture in the neighborhood, and you can stop by the zoo or the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Nearby, the Lincoln Park trails lead to the North Avenue Beach stretch of the Lakefront Trail, perfect for an extra-long urban hike if you’re wanting to extend your adventure.

Top Places to Go Hiking Near Chicago

Once you leave Chicago’s bustling downtown area, you’ll start to find more traditional hiking opportunities along gravel trails, forested areas, and rocky terrain. These incredible spots for hiking near Chicago boast sand dunes, gorgeous waterfalls, stunning rock formations, unique wildlife, and more.

4. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

  • Trail Length: 11 miles
  • Location: Willowbrook, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 25 miles (~1 hour)
  • Difficulty: All Levels

Located about an hour outside of Chicago, Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is a gem of a park for hikers, bikers, and outdoor lovers. The park features a few picturesque waterfalls, and a rocky bluff overlook at Sawmill Creek. Although it’s not far from Chicago, the park features gravel paths, forested areas, and tons of local wildlife and plant species.

One of the perks of Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is that it’ a year-round destination. In the summer, visitors can hike, bike, and bird-watch, and in the winter, people use the area for cross-country skiing. With gentle slopes and beautiful sights, it’s one of the most fun and family-friendly areas for hikes near Chicago.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

5. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

  • Length: 3.6 miles
  • Location: Will County, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 50 miles (~1.5 hours)
  • Difficulty: Easy

If it’s prairie life you’re looking for, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the perfect place to go hiking near Chicago. This nationally protected prairie area is a popular place to go biking, hiking, and bison-watching. Yup, you heard that right: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is home to a bison herd that you can observe with your own two eyes.

People often forget that the prairie is the landscape of the Midwest, and that it can be beautiful in its own way. While you won’t see ton of topography here, Midewin is home to lots of trails that pass through wildflower fields, grazing pastures, and tons of places for bird watching.

Note: As of July 2021, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Welcome Center is closed, except for the vestibule. For more information, visit here.

6. Kankakee River State Park

  • Length: 3-12 miles
  • Location: Kankakee County, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 60 miles (~1.5 hours)
  • Difficulty: All Levels

To admire the fall colors and enjoy the crisp, cool weather, there are few better places to go hiking near Chicago than Kankakee River State Park. A historic area that was once home to Native American settlements, this lush, forested river area is equal parts tranquil and full of adventure opportunities.

To explore the park, the best place to start is with the 3-mile Rock Creek Trail. This is one of the most scenic Chicago hiking trails as it twists through rocky canyons, along the flowing river, and past a bubbling waterfall, all with the beautiful forest canopy overhead.

Photo Credit: pedrik (Flickr CC)

7. Morton Arboretum

  • Length: 0.25-1.5 miles
  • Location: DuPage County, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 25 miles (~1 hour)
  • Difficulty: Easy

For a peaceful, easy hike through a gorgeous nature area, Morton Arboretum is a great option for hikes near Chicago. As one of the shorter trails on our list, the arboretum is a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon walking around and learning about the protected tree and plant species that grow on the property.

Note that there is a $15 entrance fee for Morton Arboretum that helps to cover the costs of maintaining and caring for the plants.

Photo Credit: Brady Wieland (Flickr CC)

8. Starved Rock State Park

  • Length: 13 miles (trails ranging from 0.3-4.7 miles)
  • Location: LaSalle County, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 100 miles (~2 hours)
  • Difficulty: All Levels

Perhaps the most popular place to go hiking near Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is a stunning, family-friendly nature area that boasts several miles of forested hiking trails for all levels of hikers. While here, you can see caves, rock formations, canyons, waterfalls, and more as you tackle some of the most famous hikes near Chicago and in Illinois. It does get pretty crowded here in the warmer months of the year, but when you visit, you can easily see why!

Within the park’s grounds, there are over 18 canyons to explore and marvel at. Many of the trails lead through and above these many canyons. Some of the most popular hikes in the park are the Saint Louis Canyon Trail and the LaSalle Canyon Trail. Additionally, the park offers free guided hikes on weekends through late November. We recommend going there in the fall to experience the breathtaking foliage colors.

9. Matthiessen State Park

  • Length: 5 miles
  • Location: LaSalle County, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 100 miles (~2 hours)
  • Difficulty: All Levels

If it’s more diverse hikes you’re after, Matthiessen State Park is a great Chicago hiking area to start. With caves, canyons, and gorgeous rock formations, this state park is definitely a hidden gem amidst the Midwest prairie. Think of Matthiessen State Park as Starved Rock’s smaller sister – it’s still got beautiful, forested rock canyons but only a fraction of the visitors.

Suitable for all levels of hikers, there are easy hikes along the bluffs and upper areas of the park. For more of a challenge, the more difficult adventures include the Dells Canyon and Bluff Trails, which bring you along steep drop-offs and through deep, picturesque canyons. It’s definitely the kind of place you don’t expect to be located just a few hours outside of Chicago!

Note: In the summer months (May – October), the Matthiessen Dells area and Vermillion River Area close when they reach max capacity, typically from 10 am – 3 pm.

Photo Credit: Sajith T S (Flickr CC)

10. Ned Brown Forest Preserve

  • Length: 12.9 miles of paved trails
  • Location: Elk Grove Village, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 20 miles (~45 minutes)
  • Difficulty: All Levels

With over 3,000 acres of woodlands to hike through, there’s no shortage of things to see and do at Ned Brown Forest Preserve. Also known locally as Busse Woods, this forest and marsh area is home to lots of local wildlife and picturesque wooded areas to hike and unwind, including an elk pasture! At under an hour from the city, Ned Brown Forest Preserve is one of the most accessible nature areas from the city.

With a beautiful lake area and lots of wildlife, Busse Woods is also a popular place to go kayaking in the Chicago area. Hiking it on foot gives you the unique advantage of pristine lake views, which are especially beautiful in the fall when the leaves begin to change colors.

11. Glacial Park Conservation Area

  • Length: 8 miles
  • Location: McHenry County, IL
  • Distance from Chicago: 60 miles (~1.5 hours)
  • Difficulty: Easy

If you’re seeking a super photogenic, tranquil hiking trails near Chicago, Glacial Park Conservation Area in McHenry County is a perfect option. With nearly 500 acres of nature preserve, it’s a lovely place to experience local protected species without straying too far from Chicago. It’s also a popular spot for birders in the area, as it’s a common place for migratory wetland birds to pass through.

Most of the 8 miles of trails here consist of open prairie, passing through marshy wetlands and grassy areas. You can spot local wildflowers, birds, and turtles in the area, and visit the visitor’s center to learn more about the species that inhabit the preserve.

One of the most beloved places to go hiking near Chicago - Devil's Lake State Park.
Devil’s Doorway, one of the many trails near Devil’s Lake. Photo Credit: Tom Gill (Flickr CC – also used as feature image)

12. Devil’s Lake State Park

  • Length: Up to 13.7 miles
  • Location: Sauk County, WI
  • Distance from Chicago: 190 miles (~3.5 hours)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

For hikers looking for natural beauty paired with challenging trails, Devil’s Lake is one of the few places near Chicago that offers both. While it’s admittedly not that close to the city (~3.5 hours, depending on traffic), we’ve chosen to include it on here because Devil’s Lake is truly a spectacular place to go hiking near Chicago.

As part of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, Devil’s Lake is full of striking rock formations that were carved by glaciers during the Ice Age. While it’s popular for outdoor rock climbing near Chicago, it’s also a fantastic place for hiking. One of the most popular trails is the challenging 13.7-mile Ice Age Trail, but there are several trail options of various lengths and difficulties for intrepid hikers.

Note: There is a $16 entrance fee to help protect and maintain the park.

Indiana Dunes National and State Park is one of the best places to go hiking near Chicago.

13. Indiana Dunes National and State Parks

  • Length: 0.5-6.8 miles (21 trails in total)
  • Location: Chesterton, IN
  • Distance from Chicago: 50 miles (~1 hour)
  • Difficulty: All Levels

As one of the newest official national parks, Indiana Dunes is nothing to sneeze at. While this lakefront state and national park area is known for its golden sand dunes and gorgeous location next to Lake Michigan, there are lots of great hikes to enjoy here, too!

The park contains a variety of terrain, from wetlands to savannas, and, of course, the sandy beach. During the warmer months of the year, you’ll find tons of beachgoers here enjoying the sand and sun.

For hikers, there are 21 trails total – 7 in the state park and 14 in the national park. Some of the most popular trails include the West Beach Trail (in the national park) and Trail 10 (in the state park).

Note: As of July 2021, the Little Calumet River Trail and portions of the Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk Trail will be temporarily closed due to renovations. For updates on park closures, check here.

Additional Resources for Hiking Near Chicago

What to Bring

  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to wear a sweat-wicking shirt and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women (a must for hiking in Seattle). And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – Sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.

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