You don’t have to travel far from Chicago to find hiking trails to connect you with nature. You’ll find plenty of hiking opportunities less than two hours from the city. Pack up the car, make sure you have your auto insurance, and get ready to explore all the trails this area has to offer.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Image via Flickr by iAryeh
You’ll find over 15 miles of undeveloped, protected Lake Michigan shoreline at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The park offers the Cowles Bog Trail, a 4.7-mile route for hiking that will take you through scenery such as black oak savannas, lakes, and marshes as you make your way down to the beach in about four hours. If you’re searching for a route that lets you take in local flora and fauna, Cowles Bog Trail is a great choice.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore offers hikers more than 50 miles of trail overall, so you’re sure to find plenty of paths to explore once you’ve made the trip. Unbeatable views of Lake Michigan highlight these routes.
You can either take a train from downtown Chicago or make the hour-long drive to the park, making it an easy day trip from the city. You’ll have to pay an entry fee of $7 for in-state vehicles or $12 for out-of-state vehicles when you arrive.
Kankakee River State Park
Hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and trail runners can explore an extensive trail system within Kankakee River State Park. Trails run for miles on both sides of the Kankakee River. You’ll also find a wildlife management area there, which means you’ll have plenty of chances to sight raccoons, deer, wild turkeys, and more.
The trails here are fairly easy to walk, and they reward visitors with some great scenery. You’ll pass waterfalls and limestone canyons as you move.
The park stretches for approximately 11 miles around the river, and it takes around two hours to complete. It’s about an hour from Chicago, and entry is free.
You don’t have to leave Chicago’s city limits to enjoy a scenic walk outdoors. Lakefront Trail boasts 18 miles of paved trail to get your daily steps in.
Along the way, you can traverse the shores of Lake Michigan and visit some memorable urban parks. Another bonus? The towering skyline sets this trail’s scenery apart from other less urban trails out there and serves as a backdrop as you walk. Still, you can easily forget you’re in a city while you explore this trail. Whether you’re looking for an easy escape from the daily bustle or seeking out a way to explore the urban setting on foot, Lakefront Trail offers a great option within Chicago.
In addition to being paved, the route is easy to follow, making Lakefront Trail accessible for hikers of any age or level of experience. Keep in mind that it’s a mixed-use trail, so you’ll have to share the space with cyclists and runners.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
Just an hour’s drive from Chicago, this 19,000-acre National Forest Service prairie features one particularly unusual attraction: bison. Bison were reintroduced to the land in 2015, drawing visitors to catch sight of the herd in its natural habitat.
You’ll also find plenty of mixed-used trails here, covering approximately 22 miles. These trails are open to hikers as well as horseback riders and cyclists, and completion time ranges from just over an hour to four hours. If you’d prefer a space where only hikers can go, there are about 12 additional miles of trails reserved for hiking. Entry to the area is free.
There are 16 miles of wood-chipped and paved trails that create a complex landscape for hiking at this nature preserve. Over 4,000 species of plants and trees make this an intriguing site for nature lovers. The Morton Arboretum has three trail options with completion times ranging from a quick 30 minutes to an adventurous two-and-a-half hours. If you plan your trip for the summer or fall, you can also take part in “Theatre-Hikes,” ambulatory outdoor performances offered at the Arboretum.
You can get here via Amtrak or by taking a half-hour drive from Chicago. Adults pay a $14 entry fee, while seniors and kids ages 2 to 17 pay $12 and $9, respectively.
Starved Rock State Park
Pack up the car for a drive when you’re ready to hike through some breathtaking nature. Starved Rock State Park features some breathtaking scenery like waterfalls and rock formations, including the 125-foot butte that overlooks the Illinois River and gave this park its name.
The state park stretches the Illinois River’s south bank and features 13 miles of trails to explore. In addition to waterfalls and rock formations, you’ll also come across 18 canyons along the way. You can opt for a guided hike or just walk the paths at your own rate. Hiking times range from just under 30 minutes to just over three hours.
If you’re up for a challenge, go for the park’s Illinois Canyon Trail. This 4.7-mile route connects with some shorter trails in the park to give hikers a tour of the full area. Illinois Canyon Trail is best suited to those who have experience with backcountry hiking, as you won’t find any stairs or manmade walkways on this path.
Starved Rock State Park is a 90-minute drive from Chicago. Entry to the park is free.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
You’ll find another area with free entry in short driving distance of Chicago at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. This area, in nearby southern DuPage County, is just about a half-hour from the city. With 11 miles of marked, mapped hiking trails and other unmarked routes and footpaths as well, the 2,500-acre preserve has something for everyone. The mapped trails are open to cyclists and horseback riders (and even cross-country skiers in wintry weather) as well as hikers.
Explore scenery such as open prairies, limestone outcroppings, and lush forests. Hills and ridges from glacial formation offer some interesting topography for hiking. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is also popular with those who want to catch sight of area wildlife, as about 300 species of amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and other critters make their home here.
There you have it, American Auto Insurance’s guide to some of the best hiking spots in and around Chicago. Did we miss one of your favorite trails? Let us know so we can plan our next road trip!