The 11 Best Hikes In Chicago
If you're looking for a great city to visit in the Midwest, Chicago is the perfect destination. There is so much to see and do in this vibrant city, from exploring the world-renowned museums to enjoying the delicious food scene. And, of course, no trip to Chicago would be complete without taking in a game or two at Wrigley Field.
Once you've seen your top sights in Chicago, there are plenty of reasons to get out and hike. The city is home to some of the most beautiful parks and trails in the country, and hiking is a great way to get some exercise while enjoying the outdoors. The area around Chicago is full of stunning forest preserves, state parks, and scenic waterfront hiking trails along the Illinois River and Des Plaines River. Whether you're looking for an easy trail to stroll on a summer day or a challenging hike that will test your endurance, there's sure to be a trail perfect for you in Chicago.
Hiking around Chicago can be tough work, and you certainly don't want to carry more than you need to. Before you hit the trails, head to a Bounce luggage locker in Chicago. Drop your bags off for peace of mind; just don't forget to take out your hiking boots and a water bottle because our hikes don't include running the bases at Wrigley Field! Here are our picks for the best hikes in Chicago:
While not technically a hiking trail, the Riverwalk is a great option for getting outside and enjoying the city. The path runs along the banks of the Chicago River, providing stunning skyline views as you walk. The trail is perfect for a leisurely stroll or a vigorous workout, and it stretches from Lake Street all the way to Lake Michigan. This walk is ideal for beginners due to its paved trail, and it spans just 1.25 miles. To kick your exercise up a notch, jog or bike the trail instead.
The urban trail is generally full of locals getting their steps in, but it's wide enough not to feel too crowded. It's the perfect place to start your hiking in Chicago since it's right in the city. Get your bearing for the rest of your trip here, and consult our guide if you need any help figuring out how to get around Chicago.
The 606 Trail
This popular trail runs along an old elevated railway line, providing stunning views of the city skyline. In all, it's a 2.7-mile elevated trail that runs east to west through the city. It runs along the Bloomington Trail and is completely paved. There is a divided line for each direction, and make sure you watch out for joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers.
The 606 Trail will take you from Logan Park to Wicker Park, with multiple access points along the way. You can exit the trail for some of the best brunch in Chicago and hop back on when you feel like it. This is an excellent way to see more of the city.
Lincoln Park features a glimpse of the outdoors in the heart of the city. There are miles of trails to explore, including a scenic lakeshore path. You'll also find plenty of other activities to enjoy in Lincoln Park, such as picnicking and bird watching.
For a family-friendly walk, head to the Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Once just a man-made pond, this paved meandering walking area is full of lush plant life and wildlife. From frogs to turtles, the kids will love spending an hour here. You can even get a free guided tour to learn more about the prairie-style garden featured here. The zoo itself doesn't charge an entry fee either, so this is always one of the best free things to do in Chicago.
Illinois Beach State Park
About an hour from the city in Zion, Illinois Beach State Park is another location for some of the great hikes near Chicago. Perched on the shores of Lake Michigan, this scenic trail system should not be missed. There is both a north and south section, and you can enjoy swimming, boating, picnicking, and fishing after you've finished your hike.
The two-mile Dune Trail should be your starting point since it's quite easy and covers about two miles. If you need to move onto to a more moderate trail, check out the Illinois Beach Multi-Use Path. It's also two miles, but the terrain is more challenging.
Des Plaines River Trail
About 20 minutes northwest of Chicago, the Des Plaines River hiking trails are some of the best in the Chicago area. There are many different trails to choose from, so you can find one that’s perfect for your fitness level and interests. In all, the trail system spans over 30 miles and is part of the Lake County Forest Preserves.
The Des Plaines River Trail is a great option for those who want a challenge, mostly due to its length. Instead of doing the whole thing, pick up the trail at Wadsworth on the edge of the namesake river and go until you feel like stopping. You have to come out along the gravel paths the way you came, so make sure you save some energy.
North Branch Trail System
Aptly named after its route along the north branch of the Chicago River, North Branch offers 20 miles of hiking. There are both paved and unpaved trails, depending on your preference. Catch a glimpse of some of the native wildlife as you travel from Chicago to the Glencoe Botanic Gardens. Watch out for cyclists and horseback riders as well as you travel the well-marked trails.
We recommend the paved loop around Skokie Lagoons. Pick up the hiking trails at Tower Road and travel the 4.4-mile loop that meanders over rolling hills past several pools and channels that connect Winnetka to Glencoe. This is another chance to experience the majestic scenery of the Cook County Forest Preserves.
Indiana Dunes National Park
About 40 minutes by car from Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park is heaven for hikers. To give you an idea of the scenery here (and to paraphrase), a poet once called Indiana Dunes National Park the Midwest's Grand Canyon. In this one park, you get everything from sand dunes to wetlands to savannas combined with a backdrop of Lake Michigan.
A highlight of the hiking trails here is the Cowles Bog Trail. The 4.25 loop trail is considered moderate, with a gravel path that has a few inclines. Bring your towel and reward yourself with a refreshing dip while you're here.
Ryerson Woods Conservation Area
The wooded area of Ryerson Woods Conservation Area is an Illinois nature preserve and forms part of the Lake County Forest Preserves. Named for a businessman who built a cabin here in the 1920s, the forest offers lovely paved hiking trails totaling over 6.5 miles. The trails are relatively flat and, in the winter, are open for cross-country skiing.
If you're traveling with kids, Ryerson Woods is ideal. They offer education programs, a small farm, and lots of native wildlife viewing. Who doesn't want to get their steps in and learn a little something on a nature preserve?
Moraine Hills State Park
About an hour north and just west of Chicago, Moraine Hills State Park is one of the hiking gems of Illinois. It's the perfect opportunity to explore the surrounding woodland and get views of the stunning Lake Defiance.
In terms of trails in Moraine Hills State Park, the Lake Defiance and Fox River Trail Loop is generally considered easy to moderate. The terrain isn't difficult, but the trail is a little long at 6.25 miles. The state park's mixed-use trails have sections that are paved and some with gravel, but there is no significant elevation gain.
Kettle Moraine State Forest
About two hours north of Chicago, you'll find the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin. It's divided into two units - north and south. Either way, you'll enjoy this quiet forested park, but if you can only visit one part of the park, we suggest the southern one. It contains varying trails, and one of the highlights is the John Muir Trail System, with a hike for every ability.
Start with the Brown Loop Trail for an easy 1.25-mile walk. There are a couple of moderate inclines and slight hills, but otherwise, it's ideal for a leisurely stroll. The White Loop will intrigue hikers comfortable with moderate trails. It has rocky sections and steep downhill sections over its 4.25 miles before joining up with the Brown Loop. Experienced hikers should head to the seven-mile Green Loop Trail. It has steep inclines, sharp descents, and both sandy and rocky sections.
Also in the southern unit, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is always a hit. With 30 miles of ice age trails that span the entire state forest, you can opt for a quick hike or a longer one.
Matthiessen State Park
Another beautiful state park that is about two hours away from Chicago, Matthiessen State Park has dramatic scenery that will make you feel even further away from the city. Steep drop-offs, interesting rock formations, and gorgeous waterfalls are scattered throughout the park.
This state park is ideal for those who don't need epic long hikes to challenge themselves. The park has a total of five miles of trails that are well-surfaced, and you can combine routes to customize your hike. The bluff tops are where you'll find the easy hiking paths, and if you need a challenge, head to the interior trails to the dells and marvel at the steep cliffs, expansive canyons, and other natural wonders.
Easy Hikes in Chicago
Since Illinois isn't exactly known for its mountains, many of the hikes near Chicago are rated easy. If you like to stay right in the city, go for the Chicago Riverwalk or to Lincoln Park. To experience some of the best nature in the area and challenge yourself a little, head to the Lake Defiance and Fox River Trail Loop in Moraine Hills State Park.
Ryerson Woods is another great family-friendly option, and the Dune Trail at Illinois Beach State Park is easy and offers water access for even more outdoor activities.
Moderate Hikes in Chicago
For a little middle ground when it comes to hiking in and around Chicago, your best bet is either Kettle Moraine State Forest or Indiana Dunes National Park. Both have their merits, but if you only have time for one, the diverse scenery and wildlife at Indiana Dunes will win out.
Difficult Hikes in Chicago
Difficult hikes in Chicago can be somewhat hard to come by due to the lack of elevation gain on many of the trails that surround the city. The Green Loop Trail in Kettle Moraine will offer a good challenge, as will the Des Plaines River Trail. The Des Plaines River trail is rated as difficult simply due to its length, but those with the stamina can enjoy lovely views and solitude along much of the path.
The forest preserves, state parks, and national parks in and near Chicago offer seemingly endless opportunities to explore the outdoors. The larger parks have trails for every fitness level, and if you want to stay within the city limits, you can still enjoy walking in nature. The next time you visit Chicago, don't limit yourself to the city's museums and other indoor attractions. Get outside and explore your surroundings; you'll be glad you did!