Best Hiking Trails Near Chicago

Hiking is a great way to be physically active and be out in nature.   It provides both physical and mental health benefits.  For example, research shows that hiking provides cardiovascular benefits, strengthens your core, and improves balance.  And, there have also been studies that show being in nature or green space can lower stress.  If you live in the Chicagoland area or are visiting and are looking for some scenic hikes, you do not have to go far.  There are many great places for hiking around the city of Chicago and even great walking paths within the city.  So, here are the 10 Best Hiking Trails Near Chicago!

The Best Hiking Trails Near Chicago: Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is one of the best hiking trails near Chicago.  It is located 100 miles from downtown Chicago and is a popular destination because of its great trails, steep sandstone canyons, and waterfalls.  Also, this is a great place to come with the family for some outdoor fun.  The trails open at 6:30 am and the parking lots typically fill up by 11 am on the weekends but open around 3 pm.  So, it is recommended to get here early to beat the crowds or come later in the afternoon when the crowds have dissipated. For the latest information, click here.

Located: 2678 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, Illinois 61348

Views of the best hiking trails and canyons at Starved Rock
Beautiful trails and canyons at Starved Rock

Matthiessen State Park

Matthiessen State Park is located a few miles away from Starved Rock State Park.  This is also a great option because it is not as busy as Starved Rock.  And, this state park still has beautiful canyons and trails similar to Starved Rock. This state park opens at 7 am and closes at sunset.  For up-to-date information, click here. 

Located: 2500 IL-178, Oglesby, Illinois 61348

Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park has been a popular destination for families for years because of the beach and dunes.  This is also one of the best hiking trails near Chicago because it is only about 1 hour away from downtown and is a wonderful place to spend the day.  The Cowles Bog Trail is 4.4 miles and has challenging steep dunes and beautiful views.

Located: 1050 N Mineral Springs Rd, Chesterton, Indiana 46304

Lush prairies, trees, and creek at Cowles Bog Trail at Indiana Dunes
Nature views of Cowles Bog Trail at Indiana Dunes
Trail, prairie and trees at Indiana Dunes National Park
View of the trail at Indiana Dunes National Park

Morton Arboretum offers some of the best hiking trails near Chicago for nature lovers

Morton Arboretum is a public garden, herbarium, and has a tree research program.  It is about 30 miles from downtown Chicago.  It is an amazing option for nature lovers because it has over 222,000 different types of plants.  Also, the Morton Arboretum has 16 miles of pedestrian-only trails that offer scenic vistas, woods, prairies, and wetlands, making it another one of the best hiking trails near Chicago.

Located: 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, Illinois 60532

Best hiking trails near Chicago at Morton Arboretum
A scenic trail at Morton Arboretum | Photo credit: Dulcey Lima, Unsplash

One of my favorites and best hiking trails near Chicago: Swallow Cliff Woods

Swallow Cliff Woods has some of the best hiking trails near Chicago and is one of my favorites because of the proximity to the city and scenic views.  Swallow Cliff Woods is about 30 minutes away from downtown Chicago, making it accessible if you live in the city or suburbs.  It is a part of the Palos Trail System which has 42.1 miles of unpaved trails.  Swallow Cliff is a great destination for exercise because of the 100-foot bluff that people climb for a great stair workout.  Once you climb the stairs, you can come down on the other side or you can hike the numerous trails at the top of the bluff.

Located: Calumet Sag Rd/Route 83, west of La Grange Rd/96th Ave

Cook County, IL 60464

(near Palos Park)

People walking up and down stairs at Swallow Cliff
View of Swallow Cliff Stairs
People walking up and down stairs for exercise at Swallow Cliff Woods
Stairs at Swallow Cliff, a great option for exercise with 125 steps to the top!
Best hiking trails near Chicago, a view at the top of the Swallow Cliff stairs looking down.
Views from the top of the stairs at Swallow Cliff Woods
Walking in Swallow Cliff Woods in the Fall
Fall colors at Swallow Cliff Woods

North Branch Trail

The North Branch Trail system runs along the north branch of the Chicago River, starting on the north side of Chicago and continuing to the northern suburbs. It offers several paved and unpaved trails to explore for a total of 36.7 miles not only making it one of the best hiking trails near Chicago, but it is also a popular biking route.  One of the popular routes takes you from Chicago to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.  You can access the trail at several forest preserve locations. For specific trail access locations, click here. 

Located: Chicago, Glenview, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Skokie & Winnetka

Waterfall Glen

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is in DuPage County and has 2503 acres of prairies, savannas, and oak-maple woodlands.  It is about 30 miles from Chicago. This is one of the most popular forest preserves in DuPage County because there are 11 miles worth of trails for hiking, biking, cross country skiing, and horseback riding.  And, it is known for the Rocky Glen waterfall and Sawmill Creek bluff overlook.

Located: Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Lemont, Illinois 60439

Kankakee River State Park

This state park is located about 65 miles from Chicago. It has a 3-mile trail along Rock Creek that offers views of limestone canyons and a waterfall.  Hiking is only one of the many activities available at Kankakee River State Park.  In addition to hiking, there is also biking, fishing, camping, canoeing, hunting, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing.

Located: 5314 W, IL-102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914

Chicago Lakefront Trail

The Chicago Lakefront Trail is a great trail for urban hiking and is in the city of Chicago! It is 18.5 miles long and runs north to south.  It has beautiful views of Lake Michigan, beaches, the Chicago skyline, parks, and gardens.  And, not only is this a popular walking trail with Chicagoans and visitors, but it is also used for biking, rollerblading, and running.  Because of its popularity, it can get quite crowded in the warmer months.  However, the southern portion of the trail is quieter and even more scenic!

Located: Chicago, Illinois along Lake Michigan

View of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan from the Chicago Lakefront Path
View of the Chicago Lakefront Trail and skyline
View of murals and entrance to the Chicago Lakefront Trail from Michigan Avenue
Murals and entrance to the Chicago Lakefront Trail from Michigan Avenue

The Bloomingdale Trail (The 606)

The Bloomingdale Trail, or also known as The 606, is a former elevated train route that was transformed into an elevated park and trail in 2015. This is another great option for a walking trail located within the city limits. The length of the trail is 2.7 miles long running east to west from Ashland Ave to Ridgeway Ave in Chicago.  It is a popular trail because it provides outdoor access for the people in the neighborhood and city.  Also, it provides unique views of the city neighborhoods due to it being above street level.

Located: W Bloomingdale Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Urban hiking trail at the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago
The Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago
Views of a bridge and direction signs at the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago
Trail signs leading you in the right direction on The 606 Trail in Chicago

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