Best Places to Hike Near Chicago (2024)

Looking for the best places to hike near Chicago?  While Illinois is quite flat, there are several trails within 30 minutes to a couple of hours that make sure you can get your hiking fix while in Chicago.

Are you yearning for an adventure that takes you away from the hustle and bustle of city life without having to venture too far from Chicago?

Consider the iconic 606 Trail Chicago, an elevated trail offering stunning urban views and artwork, perfect for a leisurely hike or a vigorous run.

For a more immersive nature experience, Starved Rock State Park, located just a couple of hours from Chicago, boasts breathtaking waterfalls, canyons, and over 13 miles of trails to explore.

Or perhaps you’re drawn to the rugged beauty of Devils Lake State Park, with its spectacular bluffs overlooking a pristine glacial lake, offering diverse trails that cater to both beginners and experienced hikers.

These destinations are just a few of the best places to hike near Chicago.

Chicago Trails

606 Trail Chicago

Starting Point: Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, Bucktown, or Logan Square

The 606 Trail, stretching for 2.7 miles, offers a unique urban escape for hikers, walkers, and bikers alike. Ideal for a quick nature fix, most visitors spend about 1 to 2 hours exploring this elevated path. 

It’s one of my favorite ways to experience the city on a Chicago itinerary.  

The 606 trail connects four vibrant Chicago neighborhoods, making it a great way to experience the city from a different perspective. 

Along the way, you’ll encounter art installations, beautifully landscaped gardens, and spots to rest and people-watch. 

Remember, the trail is open from 6 AM to 11 PM daily, providing a safe and well-maintained path for your outdoor activities.

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Starting Point: Ardmore Ave on Northside

Stretching for 18 miles along the edge of Lake Michigan, the Chicago Lakefront Trail provides a scenic route for hiking, walking, or biking.

Ideal for both leisurely strolls and vigorous workouts, visitors usually spend anywhere from an hour to a full day exploring the trail, depending on their pace and interest in the numerous beaches, parks, and cultural attractions along the way.

The trail is accessible year-round, with separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians to ensure safety. Key points of interest include Lincoln Park, Navy Pier, and the Museum Campus.

The panoramic views of the Chicago skyline and the tranquil waters of Lake Michigan make it a must-visit for locals and tourists alike.

Chicago Riverwalk

Starting Point: Sets of stairs along major intersections through Lake Michigan West to Lake Street.

The Chicago Riverwalk extends for 1.25 miles along the south bank of the Chicago River, offering a unique pedestrian pathway right in the heart of downtown Chicago.

A leisurely walk along this path can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, allowing visitors to enjoy urban views, public art installations, and access to waterfront cafes and restaurants.

The Riverwalk is also known for its guided tours, boat rentals, and seasonal activities, providing both locals and tourists with a dynamic way to experience the city.

Open year-round, it’s a versatile attraction that adeptly combines recreation with Chicago’s urban culture.

Bonus: Chicago Riverwalk is filled with tons of photo opps, something I recommend on the ultimate girls weekend in Chicago.  

Trails Near Chicago

Indiana Dunes National Park

Distance from Chicago: 1 hour

Visiting Indiana Dunes National Park from Chicago is a straightforward trip. By car, it’s roughly a one-hour drive via I-94 East.

Public transportation is an option! The South Shore Line runs from Downtown Chicago to the Dunes Park Station, just a short distance from the park’s entrance.

The park features over 50 miles of trails, with The 3 Dune Challenge being among the most popular for its spectacular views.

Trails like Trail 9 offer a more moderate hike with stunning vistas of the dunes and Lake Michigan. Plan to spend at least half a day exploring various trails and enjoying the natural beauty of the area.

Bonus: Indiana Dunes is also an amazing place to see Midwest fall foliage

Illinois Beach State Park

Distance from Chicago: 1.5 hours

Illinois Beach State Park is approximately 1.5 hours from Chicago, accessible by car via I-94 W. For those preferring public transportation, options include taking a train from Union Station to Zion, followed by a short taxi or bike ride to the park.

This natural reserve spans over 4,000 acres along Lake Michigan’s shore, offering a serene escape from city life.

Noteworthy trails include the Dunes Nature Preserve Trail, which winds through delicate dune landscapes, and the Dead River Trail, perfect for bird watching and peaceful walks.

Plan to spend at least half a day to fully immerse in the scenic views and explore the diverse habitats the park offers.

Starved Rock State Park

Distance from Chicago: 2 hours

Visiting Starved Rock State Park from Chicago is a straightforward trip, taking roughly 2 hours by car via I-55 S and I-80 W. 

Although public transportation options are limited, renting a car or joining a tour from Chicago are viable alternatives to reach the park. 

Once there, hikers shouldn’t miss the chance to explore trails leading to the stunning French Canyon, Wildcat Canyon with its seasonal waterfall, and the Lover’s Leap Overlook for panoramic views. 

Allocate at least a half-day to fully enjoy the hiking experience, though a full day allows for a more relaxed pace to explore the park’s natural beauty.

Starved Rock also makes for a lowkey Spring Break or Summer Vacation getaway.  

Matthiessen State Park

Stepping stones lead to a wooden staircase beside a small waterfall at Matthiessen State Park. The lush greenery and serene water create a perfect hiking backdrop.

Distance from Chicago: 2 hours

Visiting Matthiessen State Park from Chicago is an easy road trip, requiring about a 2-hour drive to the southwest, mainly via I-55 S and IL-178 S. There is no direct public transportation option. 

The park is renowned for its fascinating rock formations and cascading waterfalls, with trails like the Dells Area and River Area being particularly noteworthy for their scenic beauty and moderate difficulty.

To fully Enjoy Matthiessen, I recommend at least a half day or full day trip.

Tip: It’s SUPER easy to combine with Starved Rock, only a 10-minute drive away!  This makes it one of the easiest Midwest road trips.  

Devils Lake State Park

Devils Lake by Missy Stroh via Unsplash

Distance from Chicago: 3.5 Hours

Visiting Devils Lake State Park from Chicago involves a roughly 3.5-hour drive, primarily via I-90 and US-12 W.  Renting a car is the most viable way to access the park. 

Among the must-visit trails, the East Bluff Trail offers stunning views of the lake and is perfect for capturing picturesque moments, while the West Bluff Trail provides a more challenging hike with rewarding vistas.

Allocate at least a full day to explore, though Devils Lake makes for a perfect Midwest Weekend Trip to fully experience the natural beauty and serenity of Devils Lake State Park.

Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest by Kevin Wright via Unsplash

Distance from Chicago: 5 Hours

Venturing from Chicago to Shawnee National Forest is an excursion into the wilderness that spans approximately 5 hours by car.  There are no direct public transportation options, so plan to rent a car. 

Within Shawnee National Forest, hikers can explore renowned trails like the Garden of the Gods with its dramatic rock formations and breathtaking vistas, and the Rim Rock Recreational Trail, which offers a more secluded hiking experience.

Given the extensive array of trails and the sheer size of the park, planning a stay of at least 2-3 days is advisable to fully appreciate the natural beauty and diverse landscapes this forest has to offer.  

Shawnee National Forest is known for some of the best Midwest hiking trails

FAQ

Q: Do I need any special equipment for hiking these trails near Chicago? 

A: For most trails mentioned, standard hiking gear is sufficient. This includes comfortable hiking shoes, water, snacks, and weather-appropriate clothing.

For more rugged trails like those in Devils Lake State Park or Starved Rock State Park, a hiking stick or trekking poles might be helpful. Always check trail conditions and recommendations before heading out.

Q: Are pets allowed on these trails? 

A: Pets are allowed in most outdoor areas, but they must be kept on a leash at all times. It’s important to check the specific regulations of each park before you go, as policies can vary. Always remember to bring supplies to clean up after your pet.

Q: What is the best time of year to go hiking near Chicago? 

A: The best time for hiking near Chicago is from late spring to early fall when the weather is milder and the trails are less muddy. However, many of the trails offer unique beauty in winter, provided you are prepared for the cold and potentially snow-covered paths.

Q: Are there any entry fees for these hiking locations? 

A: Some parks and nature reserves may charge entry fees or have parking charges. It’s advisable to check the official website or contact the park’s management before your visit for the most current information regarding fees.

Q: Is wild camping allowed in any of these areas? 

A: Wild camping is generally not permitted in most of these parks, but several offer designated camping areas with varying levels of amenities. Always check regulations and obtain any necessary permits in advance.

Conclusion

From the 606 Trail’s urban charm to the natural wonders of Starved Rock State Park, there are more hiking options near Chicago than you might think at first!

Whether you’re seeking a short day trip or a weekend getaway, these hiking destinations near Chicago are sure to provide a scenic experience.

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Alyssa
Alyssa

As a full time employee who loves her job, learn how I honor my wanderlust while working a 9:00-5:00 (because I want to!) This blog welcomes all, and specifically provides resources for those seeking travel intertwined into a busy schedule (3 days to 5 weeks).