13 Jaw-Dropping Hikes In & Around Chicago

Chicago on Lake Michigan, in Illinois, is one of the most popular cities in the U.S.

Famed for its bold architecture and beautiful skyline many people flock to the city to explore the bustling streets, check out the magnificent museums, and of course take a bite of the famous Chicago deep-dish pizza.

13 Jaw-Dropping Hikes In & Around Chicago

There is one thing however that a lot of people seem to forget about Chicago.

That’s why we have put together this guide. In this guide, we will take you through 13 of the best hiking locations in or near Chicago that you could visit right now.

Some of the hikes on our list are long but easy, some short but difficult but one thing is certain, there is a hike on this list that you will love.

Let’s not waste any more time, let’s dive into the list!

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Chicago Lakefront Trail

  • Trail Length: 18 miles
  • Location: Lake Michigan (Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Easy

For the first hike on our list, you don’t even have to leave the city. The Lakefront Trail combines the best of Chicago’s city life with outdoor adventure.

Though the whole hike is 18 miles long it is worth noting that you can do as much or as little as you like as this route is a flat paved trail that almost runs in a straight line.

This trail is perfect for any level of a hiker with the trail being shared by runners, walkers, dog walkers, and bikers.

This trail is loved by locals because it is one of the easiest ways to enjoy the beautiful scenery without leaving the city.

Along the trail, you can expect to see a variety of cool beach hangouts, romantic restaurants, and busy bars.

On this leisurely trail, you will also pass the iconic Navy Pier, the Museum District, Monroe Harbor, and of course a good chunk of the impressive city skyline.

Pros

  • A hike for everyone – Anybody can enjoy this hike thanks to its flat, paved path.
  • Plenty of sights – Along this trail, you will be able to enjoy a number of famous sights.
  • Choose your distance – You can walk as much or as little of this route as you want.

Cons

  • Not challenging – If you’re after a more challenging hike then this trail isn’t the one for you.
The 606

The 606

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

Another fantastic hike found in the city is the unique 606 trail.

This elevated trail was once an abandoned rail line but now it’s an urban hiking, running, and biking trail that runs through plenty of green spaces, lovely neighborhoods, and historic sites in Chicago.

The 606 trail is a great place to take a hike if you want to explore some of the neighborhoods and green spaces outside of downtown.

Starting at Walsh Park and ending at North Ridgeway Ave, this walk is only 2.7 miles long. As a result of this, you can easily fit it into your busy schedule.

Like the Lakefront Trail, this hike is paved and flat, making it a great trail for any level of hiker. Thanks to the multiple access points you can start or leave this hike at your leisure.

Pros

  • Easy – This hike isn’t hard on your legs.
  • Sights – On this trail, you get to explore some of Chicago’s charming neighborhoods.
  • Unique – There aren’t many hikes that take you along an abandoned rail line.

Cons

Short – This hike is only short so if you want a longer hike you might want to look at another hike on the list.

Chicago Riverwalk

Chicago Riverwalk

  • Trail Length: 2.7 miles
  • Location: Downtown Chicago, Chicago River
  • Difficulty: Easy

Explore downtown Chicago along this relaxed river trail that takes you along the famous Chicago River.

A good walk for any level of walker, this trail is primarily used by walkers, cyclists, and tourists wanting to get a good look at the city’s skyline.

With great views of the city’s impressive architecture, this walk is the one to take if you want an easier walk that lets you take in some beautiful sights.

As well as checking out the historic buildings you can take a moment to enjoy some delicious food in one of the many restaurants whilst watching the boats go by.

Marked with waypoints you can easily access this trail at any time of day. We recommend you check the trail out in the evening because the skyline looks magnificent when lit up at night.

Pros

  • Beautiful walk – This city walk is simply lovely.
  • Family-friendly – The Riverwalk is suitable for families with young children.
  • Waypoint shows you where to go – This trail has handy waypoints that lead you in the right direction.

Cons

  • Busy at the weekends – The Riverwalk can get very busy at the weekends due to its popularity.
West Ridge Nature Park
Source: DNA Info

The West Ridge Nature Preserve

  • Trail Length: 1 mile
  • Location: West Ridge Nature Park (Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Easy

You may be surprised to hear that just outside the main city area of Chicago sits a 40-acre nature park that strives to protect and enhance Chicago’s native biodiversity.

This park is the perfect place to take your family if you want a leisurely stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.

With plenty of greenery and a large lake full of wildlife, this hike is both enjoyable and interesting.

Along the walk, you will see a variety of beautiful birds, resident deer, and if you are lucky even some turtles.

For children, there is also a fun story walk they can follow to keep them engaged as you walk. In terms of difficulty, this trail is by far the easiest on this list with it being just 1 mile in length along a flat path.

Pros

  • Escape the busy city – Thanks to this hike you can take yourself away from busy city life.
  • Activities for children – The story walk is a nice touch for your children.
  • Plenty of wildlife – It’s always nice to see some wildlife on your hike.

Cons

  • Too short – If anything this hike isn’t long enough.
Lincoln Park (Chicago)

Lincoln Park Trail

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

Lincoln Park is one of the most loved residential areas in Chicago. In the middle of it sits a large, green park home to many walking trails, a lake, and the hugely popular Chicago Zoo.

This trail weaves through the park’s wooded landscape perfect for a day hike in the city.

The park contains 1200 acres of open green space so you can imagine how pleasant and enjoyable the trail is.

As well as plenty of lush green space you will also be able to admire the stunning Victorian architecture in the neighborhood. You could also make a stop off at the zoo or the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

If you want to extend your walk this trail leads to the North Avenue Beach stretch of the Lakefront Trail.

Pros

  • Family-friendly – This is another family-friendly walk.
  • Plenty of open space – Exploring the open space is a refreshing change from battling your way through the busy city.
  • Architecture – The architecture along this trail is wonderful.

Cons

  • Not great for extreme adventurers – This hike isn’t very suitable for those seeking a more thrilling hike.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

  • Trail Length: 11 miles
  • Location: Willowbrook, Illinois (25 miles from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: All levels

The next hike on our list takes us about an hour away from Chicago. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is an absolute beauty, perfect for hikers, and outdoor lovers.

The park has a number of picturesque waterfalls and awesome views that can be seen at Sawmill Creek.

There are an array of routes you can take in this preserve depending on your hiking level. Some trails are tough and long whilst others are shorter and a lot easier.

Whichever route you take you can rest assured that you will see some amazing sights. With gentle slopes, gravel paths, forested areas, and plenty of local wildlife this trail really is every hiker’s dream.

Pros

  • Year-round destination – The preserve can be hiked in no matter the time of year.
  • Activities – As well as hiking you can also bike and even cross-country ski along the trail.
  • Natural beauty – This trail is full of beautiful natural sights and wildlife.

Cons

  • Limited parking – You might need to arrive at the preserve early if you want to guarantee a parking spot.
Oglesby Illinois

Starved Rock State Park

  • Trail Length: 13 miles
  • Location: Oglesby, Illinois (90 miles from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: All levels

Starved Rock State Park is an excellent place to hike found approximately 90 minutes away from Chicago on the Illinois River.

With 13 miles of well-established trails, there is a walk here for all levels of hiker. With trails running through 18 different canyons you can expect to see some breathtaking views.

There are many gorgeous waterfalls and interesting rock formations.

One rock formation you should check out is the 125-foot butte that overlooks the river. The views from here are mind-blowing.

One perk of this park that we love is the free guided tours that are available all year round. If you don’t want to hit the trails at your own pace a friendly guide will happily take you on a memorable adventure, showing you all the best trails.

Pros

  • Free tours – Free guided tours are perfect for those of you who don’t want to hike on your own.
  • Vast landscape – You simply won’t be able to explore all of this huge area.
  • Variety of trails – There are trails on offer for experienced and inexperienced walkers.

Cons

  • 90 miles away – You will, unfortunately, have to travel a fair distance to get to the park.
Devil’s Lake State Park

Devil’s Lake State Park

  • Trail Length: Up to 13.7 miles
  • Location: Sauk County, Wisconsin (190 miles away from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to hard

If you’re looking for a more challenging hike why not visit Devil’s Lake State Park. This park pairs natural beauty with intense trails that are sure to get your blood pumping.

Despite it being about 3hrs 50 minutes away from Chicago it is still a place well worth visiting.

This truly spectacular park is part of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve. As a result of this, you can expect to see one-of-a-kind rock formations that were formed by glaciers during the ice age.

There are several trails with the Ice Age trail being the toughest. This trail is 13.7 miles long, challenging you right till the end. It’s totally worth it though when you see the views.

Pros

  • Challenging – This park offers awesome hikes for experienced walkers.
  • Unique – The rock formations found here are very unique.
  • Views – You will be blown away by the views at this park.

Cons

  • Far away – This park is 190 miles away from Chicago.
Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State Park

  • Trail Length: 5.5 miles
  • Location: Chesterton, Indiana (50 miles away from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Less than an hour’s drive away from Chicago is the picturesque Indiana Dunes State Park. Nestled on the northwest shore of Indiana, this park offers unrivaled views of Lake Michigan.

Encompassing over 2,000 acres of shoreline the park offers a variety of exciting trails that will take you up and over sand dunes to give you spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Also accessible via train this park is the perfect location for a good walk and a relax. After your moderate hike which could leave you 200m above Lake Michigan, take some time to enjoy the views and fresh breeze on your face.

We strongly recommend you take a picnic with you because you will most definitely want to stay at the top for a while.

Pros

  • Easily accessible – You can access the park via car or train.
  • Variety of trails – Here you will find a variety of short and long trails varying in difficulty.
  • Great picnic spot – The views in Indian Dunes State Park make it the ideal place to spend an afternoon with your family and some delicious food.

Cons

  • Entry fee – Unlike other hiking locations this park does have an entry fee.
Glacial Park Conservational Area
Source: BusinessYab

Glacial Park Conservational Area

  • Trail Length: 8 miles
  • Location: McHenry County, Illinois (60 miles away from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Easy

If it’s a photogenic, tranquil hiking location you’re after then you are definitely going to want to explore Glacial Park.

With nearly 500 acres of undisturbed natural beauty, Glacial Park is a lovely place to experience local wildlife during a leisurely hike.

Most of the 8 miles of trail here consist of open prairie, taking you through marshy wetlands and green spaces that are relatively easy to navigate.

During your hike, you might be lucky enough to spot migratory birds or even some resident turtles. Don’t forget your camera for this hike, you’re going to need it.

Pros

  • Paradise – We have to say this park is simply wonderful. It’s quiet, beautiful, and peaceful, what more could you ask for.
  • Only an hour away – You can be at the park in an hour so get your shoes on!
  • Picturesque – This is the perfect hiking location if you’re a keen photographer.

Cons

  • No tougher hikes for adventurers – The park doesn’t have any tough trails.
Ned Brown Forest Preserve

Ned Brown Forest Preserve

  • Trail Length: 12.9 miles
  • Location: Elk Grove Village, Illinois (20 miles away from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: All levels

With over 3,000 acres of woodlands, the Ned Brown Forest Preserve is full of things to see and do.

Known locally as Busse Woods, this marsh area and the forest is home to an abundance of wildlife and picturesque locations. Less than 30 minutes away from Chicago it would be rude not to visit this hiking location.

As well as a variety of easy and difficult hikes this forest preserve also has a beautiful lake you can kayak on or go for a refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day.

The hiking trails in this preserve give you a high chance of seeing some incredible wildlife as well as unparalleled views of the lake. In fall the trails look wonderful with the leaves beginning to change color.

Pros

  • Only 20 miles away – It only takes roughly 30 minutes to get to the preserve.
  • Variety of trails – There is a wide range of trails.
  • Something for everyone – This forest has a hike everybody can complete with a smile on their face.

Cons

  • Busy during summer months – Ned Brown Forest Preserve is easily accessible so it does get very busy in the summer.

Morton Arboretum

  • Trail Length: 0.25-1.5 miles
  • Location: DuPage County, Illinois (25 miles away from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: Easy

If it’s a more relaxed, peaceful walk you’re after Morton Arboretum could be the location for you. This easy hiking trail runs through a gorgeous nature area near Chicago.

As one of the shortest hiking trails on our list, the arboretum is a brilliant place to spend a leisurely afternoon walking with your family or friends.

Along the trail, you also have the chance to learn about the protected tree and plant species that grow here. This gives you a great opportunity to educate yourself or your children.

Pros

  • Distance from Chicago – It will only take you 30 minutes to get to this trail.
  • Scenery – The scenery here is beautiful.
  • Easy – This is the perfect location for a relaxed stroll.

Cons

  • Pricey – Morton Arboretum comes with quite an expensive entry fee.
Kankakee River State Park

Kankakee River State Park

  • Trail Length: 3-12 miles
  • Location: Kankakee County, Illinois (60 miles away from Chicago)
  • Difficulty: All levels

This state park only an hour’s drive away from Chicago offers hikers of all levels the opportunity to explore both difficult and easy trails.

If you want to enjoy the crisp cold air and beautiful natural scenery of fall then be sure to hike in Kankakee County State Park.

The historic forest is lush and rugged with a beautiful river. Parts of this park are tranquil and perfect for an easy walk. Other trails in the park are packed with adventure and challenges that expert hikers love.

The best way to explore the park is to start with the 3-mile Rock Creek Trail. This is one of the most scenic trails near Chicago complete with rocky canyons and amazing views of the river and its waterfalls.

Pros

  • Variety of trails – There are trails suitable for all at this park.
  • Scenic – The scenery here is breathtaking.
  • Perfect for thrill seekers – Kankakee River has some pretty awesome hiking trails for adventurers.

Cons

  • Need specialized hiking gear – For the tougher hikes you have to own specialized hiking equipment such as suitable hiking boots.

A Guide To Hiking

Before you get going on your first hike from our list it is worth considering some of the things from this guide to make sure you are hiking safely.

Water

No matter how long your hike is, always make sure you have enough water to keep you well hydrated. If you don’t drink enough water you could face some serious health implications.

Consider how long you will be hiking. If you are only walking for a mile you will be okay but if you are hiking for 12 miles you will need at least 2 liters of water.

Hiking Gear

When planning your walk you need to think about what gear you need. If you’re walking along the Chicago Lakefront a good pair of trainers will be fine because the paved trail is flat and easily navigated.

If you’re walking through dense forest and rugged terrain for 10 miles you will need more specialized equipment.

This could include a good solid pair of walking boots that provide your feet with comfort and support.

You may also need breathable hiking clothes to help you stay cool and some hiking poles to help you navigate trickier terrain.

First Aid Kit

Carrying a first aid kit on a hike is always a good idea. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

A good first aid kit should include at least plasters, bandages, sterilized gloves, tweezers, gauze dressings, and safety pins.

A Durable Backpack

Do you need to carry a backpack during your hike? This is something you need to ask yourself when going hiking. On longer hikes, you will need to carry a first aid kit, water bottles, and food for the journey.

You can’t carry all of this in your hands so a strong, waterproof backpack is a great solution. This makes it easier for you to walk and still take essential items with you.

Tell Someone Where You’re Going

When you go on a serious hike in unpredictable, rugged terrain it is important to tell somebody beforehand where you are going.

This is a safety measure that could save your life because if you don’t return on time due to an accident at least somebody knows where to look for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Mountains Near Chicago?

There are actually no mountains within 100 miles of Chicago. This isn’t an issue for hikers though because there are still plenty of forested areas and large hills to hike up.

The closest mountain range to Chicago is the Great Smokey Mountains National Park nearly 600 miles away.

What Are The Benefits Of Hiking?

Hiking has many benefits that relate to our health and general mental wellbeing. Below are just some of those benefits.

  • Improved blood flow and blood sugar levels
  • Improved general fitness
  • Stronger bone density
  • Increased strength in your muscles
  • Increased strength in your core

Is Hiking Harder Than Normal Walking?

Hiking tends to be more strenuous than walking. Hiking offers a tougher form of exercise that often consists of longer trails with rugged terrain and steep hills or mountains.

By hiking instead of walking you will get fitter quicker and burn more calories.

Takeaway

As you can see from our list there are a huge variety of incredible places to hike in and around Chicago. In fact, our list only just scratches the surface.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxed hike with your family or a seriously challenging hike through rugged terrain, there is a hike for you.

Most hiking locations offer a variety of different trails varying in difficulty to ensure everybody has something they can do.

Hiking in or near Chicago is a great way to explore the city or its surrounding sights. There is plenty of beautiful scenery, views, and impressive landscapes on offer so be sure to check some out.

Now you have this list at your fingertips, we hope you are already planning your next hike. We know you will love whichever location you choose.

Emily Winters