Things to do in Chicago

Hiking Trails near Chicago

From urban trails to secluded forests, there's a Chicago hiking trail for your wanderlust.

Hiking near Chicago is an exciting way to discover hidden treasures and escape in nature. Whether you want a leisurely stroll or a challenging hike, these trails are just a part of the many things to do in Chicago. Here are 20 hiking getaways to explore near the Windy City.

1. Starved Rock State Park

Distance From Downtown: 1 hour and 33 minutes

If you long to escape the hustle and bustle, it's hard to beat the dramatic scenery of Starved Rock State Park. This beloved park is one of the top destinations for hiking near Chicago. It features 18 canyons (French, LaSalle, Ottawa, and St. Louis Canyons, to name a few) flanked by imposing sandstone cliffs.

Here, 13 miles of hiking trails wind through wow-worthy woodland past St. Louis Canyon with its waterfall and chorus of croaking frogs. Clambering up the steps and following the southern path reveals Wildcat Canyon. Here, you can marvel at its impressive 90-foot waterfall. History buffs can hop aboard a trolley tour to soak up the park's rich cultural heritage.

Photographer: Nejdet Duzen

2. Indiana Dunes National Park

Distance From Downtown: 45 minutes

Indiana Dunes National Park is Indiana's only national park. Offering over 50 miles of scenic trails, hikers can traverse through towering sand dunes and unspoiled woodlands. After a day of exploring, you can unwind with one of the many shows in Chicago. Less than an hour's drive away, these performances will provide a perfect end to an active day.

The park is a haven for birdwatchers, thanks to its Lake County location on Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Visitors can watch migrating species arrive and depart on their fall journeys. Or you can spot wetland birds in the Great Marsh.

Around the shoreline, you'll find 15 miles of sandy beaches. Each is perfect for soaking up some rays and taking in panoramic views of Lake Michigan.

3. Matthiessen State Park

Distance From Downtown: 1 hour and 36 minutes

Matthiessen State Park is a hidden treasure located just a hop, skip, and jump from Starved Rock. The park is home to curious natural rock formations, where minerals from the groundwater stain the sandstone canyon in a kaleidoscope of colors.

The upper hiking paths are ideal for beginners, leading visitors past large canyons and waterfalls. However, we love heading off the beaten track to the lesser-known trails. The lower trails are more challenging, venturing deeper into the canyons for an intimate glimpse of the area's geological features.

4. Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wisconsin

Distance From Downtown: 2 hours and 4 minutes

Though it’s several hours from Chicago, this next hiking trail is worth the distance. Journeying north along the banks of Lake Michigan reveals the Kettle Moraine State Forest, just north of Milwaukee in neighboring Wisconsin.

The forest offers diverse hiking trails through hill, forest, and grassland landscapes. Explore the Ice Age Trail to see winding eskers and moraines revealing the forest's glacial origins. For an easier hike, follow the Butler Lake Loop for gorgeous views of the lake and Flynn's Spring.

hotographer: Gottography

5. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Distance From Downtown: 25 minutes

The Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve sits just beyond the city limits. The preserve boasts miles of limestone and turf trails encircling the Argonne National Laboratory. The location transports visitors on adventures through scenic savannas and prairies. Don't forget to visit the Rocky Glen waterfall, which offers stunning panoramas across the landscape and freezes solid in winter.

The Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is one of the best places to observe native flora and fauna. The preserve provides a protective haven for 740 plant species and over 300 animals, including vibrant monarch butterflies and majestic bald eagles.

6. Illinois Beach State Park

Distance From Downtown: 1 hour and 3 minutes

While its popularity with sun worshippers is undeniable, Illinois Beach State Park's landscape also makes it a Chicago hiking hotspot. The park features the state's only beach ridge shoreline with over 6 miles of sandy beaches surrounded by dunes, forests, and marshes.

Nature lovers will enjoy exploring the 5 miles of trails. You can see over 650 species of wildflowers, cacti, and black oak trees. It's also the perfect destination for birding. Native songbird calls fill the black oak woods — keep an eye on the skies for hunting raptors. During spring and fall, you can watch shorebirds migrate. With so much to do and see, we recommend bringing a picnic to refuel in the park's picturesque picnic grounds.

Photographer: Jacob Boomsma

7. Moraine Hills State Park

Distance From Downtown: 1 hour

You don't have to travel far for hiking in Chicago. The city boasts incredible green spaces right on your doorstep. Moraine Hills State Park sits nestled and relatively hidden in the northeast suburbs. This astonishing glacial landscape encompasses beautiful wetland and lake habitats across a sprawling 2,200-acre site.

Unlike many urban hiking areas, the Moraine Hills State Park remains undeveloped. Lake Defiance Trail transports visitors back in time to presettlement Chicago. You can also explore 10 miles of hiking trails for the chance to spot over 200 bird species. Or you can enjoy abundant fishing opportunities by the lake and along the Fox River.

8. North Branch Trail

Distance From Downtown: 18 minutes

There's no better way to enjoy breathtaking views of the North Branch of the Chicago River than traveling the North Branch Trail by foot or bike. This 20-mile trail snakes along the riverbank. It winds through beautiful wooded conservation sites teeming with diverse bird species and other wildlife.

Combine your hike with a trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. Homegrown produce and landscaped gardens will capture your attention and taste buds all day. 

9. Deer Grove 

Distance From Downtown: 41 minutes

As you wander through the woodlands of Deer Grove, you'd barely guess you were in Chicago's northwest suburbs. This hidden gem sits between the Barrington and Deer Park neighborhoods. It showcases diverse habitats, from prairies to wetlands.

The 2,000-acre site includes hundreds of miles of paved and unpaved hiking trails, suitable for all stamina and ability levels. Don't forget to check out Deer Grove's events for regular family-friendly themed walks, educational sessions, and birding extravaganzas.

Photographer: Rajesh Vijayakumar

10. Des Plaines River Trail

Distance From Downtown: 23 minutes

The Des Plaines River Trail leads visitors through shady sugar maple and oak woods. You can enter and exit the unpaved trail from any of the 20 preserves along the route. It's ideal for both short lunchtime strolls and longer adventures. Follow the 11-mile route between Big Bend Lake and Dam No. 4 Woods-East for arresting views across Axehead Lake. If you're lucky, you may even spot beavers hard at work felling trees to build their dams.

Photographer: John Ruberry

11. Chicago Outerbelt

Distance From Downtown: 10 minutes

The extraordinary Chicago Outerbelt hiking trail allows you to circle the entire city through the beautiful Forest Preserves of Cook County. Hiking Chicago estimates you can complete the entire 210-mile route in 20 days, walking by day and camping beneath the stars at night.

However, you don't need to splurge all your vacation days to appreciate this lesser-known urban trail. Simply join the path at any well-marked waypoints to discover hidden spots, experience the Windy City's famous parks, and explore urban areas off the beaten track. We recommend using the Chicago Outerbelt map for directions to a close entry point.

12. Armour Square Paths and Trails

Distance From Downtown: 9 minutes

The Armour Square neighborhood is the home of the White Sox, with Armour Square Park at its heart. The park itself is 10 acres, but it packs 0.5 miles of gentle walking trails and a whole lot of history into a compact space.

Soldiers used the park for training exercises during the World Wars. And a cannon and monument pay testament to its military past. It's perfect for a local stroll as you walk off a slice of Chicago's renowned deep-dish pizza. Alternatively, bring the whole family to enjoy its spray pool and a calendar of cultural events, including the Chinese New Year Parade.

13. Austin Paths and Trails 

Distance From Downtown: 16 minutes

Most locals in the Austin community will mention the excellent shopping facilities. However, it's also an excellent place for a spot of easygoing urban hiking. Austin Park is a green oasis amongst the retail centers. It features a paved trail spanning the entire length.

The Austin Park trail is mainly shaded by trees, ideal for cooling off in warm weather. We love grabbing a coffee or light lunch and sitting on a picnic bench to watch the world go by or heading westward to the center of the action. Here, you'll find a wealth of family-friendly amenities, including a water playground for kids to let off steam.

14. Avalon Paths and Trails

Distance From Downtown: 13 minutes

If you're looking for local nature spots for exploration, the Avalon Park neighborhood provides easy, accessible walking trails for all ages and abilities. The neighborhood's namesake park has a manageable 1.5 miles of looping trails snaking through 28 acres of idyllic woodland. As you walk, you'll pass by children's play facilities, sports fields, and beautiful picnic groves for meals on the go. The trails are paved with gentle inclines, perfect for adventures with furry friends and small kids.

15. Big Marsh Bike Park

Distance From Downtown: 21 minutes

Big Marsh in the South Deering Community Area is one of the newest public spaces in the Chicago Park District and was once a waste dumping site. Now a beacon of urban ecological recovery, it's a prime example of the diverse outdoor activities in Chicago that cater to both recreational and environmental enthusiasts.

You won't see any signs of its inauspicious past as you wander through. These days, Big Marsh is a thriving community park and an example of eco-recreation in the Windy City. The park offers six trails of varying difficulties for hiking and mountain biking, and the Park District has exciting plans for its future expansion.

For now, biking enthusiasts can test their mettle on two thrilling pump tracks, three challenging jump lines, and a dirt singletrack trail packed with fun obstacles. Meanwhile, the hiking trails lead you through the park's expansive urban wetlands, where you can spot beavers, white-tailed deer, and over 150 bird species.

16. Canalport Riverwalk Path & Trails

Distance From Downtown: 12 minutes

Discover a fresh perspective on Chicago's industrial heartland as you wander along the Canalport Riverwalk Trail. The path hugs the banks of the South Branch Chicago River and Santa Fe Slip for a flat, easy walk in less than half an hour. It follows the route traveled by cargo boats in the 1880s as they carried their wares between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, helping Chicago earn its stripes as a major American trade hub. 

After ambling along the trails, we recommend kicking back and relaxing in the Canalport Riverwalk park. This lush, green space provides a shady chillout spot against an urban backdrop and offers stunning views of the cityscape. Keen anglers can also reel in a catch at the dedicated fishing station along the route.

17. Cotton Tail Path and Trail 

Distance From Downtown: 7 minutes

Thought hiking in Chicago couldn't get any better? Try hiking with bunnies. As the name suggests, Cotton Tail Park in the South Loop neighborhood is home to an adorable community of cottontail rabbits. You can catch a glimpse of the park's cute inhabitants by walking the looping trail around the center. Each loop takes around 10 minutes, making it suitable for a quick escape from the busy streets. 

Cotton Tail Park offers peaceful surroundings, with beautiful wildflowers and sparkling fountains adding to the sense of serenity. Benches dotted along the trail provide a great vantage point for people-watching, while younger family members will enjoy running wild in the open, grassy spaces within the path loop.

18. Garfield Paths and Trails

Distance From Downtown: 3 minutes

The expansive Garfield Park transports visitors from an urban landscape to a rural idyll filled with whimsical bridges, delightful picnic groves, and a beautiful lagoon. For those who appreciate the juxtaposition of nature and architecture, a glance at the tallest buildings in Chicago from this vantage point offers a unique perspective.

The park is home to one of the most impressive networks of hiking trails in Chicago, allowing you to lose yourself in its varied landscapes. The northern trails are the perfect spot for incredible lakeside views and discovering hidden playgrounds and fishing spots along the way.

Heading southward takes you around the recreational fields, where you can wander in open spaces or explore the lesser-known trails forking from the main path. The Garfield Park Fieldhouse is the jewel in the crown, where visitors can marvel at its vibrant terrazzo floor, sculptural features, and magnificent gold-leaf dome.  

19. Humboldt Path & Trails

Distance From Downtown: 14 minutes

Humboldt Park is the beating heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican community, and there's no better way to explore the neighborhood than trekking the Humboldt hiking trails. The Humboldt Park Lagoon and Beach Loop is a firm favorite, winding along the peaceful lagoon and across the city's only inland beach.

Enjoy the stunning scenery from the water by renting a paddle boat or taking a dip at the lakeside swimming area. The Humboldt Lagoon was briefly the home of an alligator known as Chance the Snapper — but don't worry, no alligators are in the waters anymore. However, it's a great place to spot migrant songbirds, herons, and wood ducks.

Discover the Natural Wonders of the Windy City

Hopefully, you're inspired to grab your walking boots and explore all the outdoor and natural wonders Chicago offers. Whether you're craving a gentle lakeside walk or a challenging journey through diverse habitats, Chicago's incredible geography provides myriad places to enjoy the great outdoors.

Before you leave the Windy City, experience another awe-inspiring journey at one of our shows in Chicago to experience a world of surreal acrobatics and limitless imagination.

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