Top 40 Hiking Spots in Chicagoland

Here's an exhaustive list of places to hike in Chicagoland. Over time, this blog will feature trail profiles for all of the sites listed below. All of these trails are covered in much greater detail in my book, Best Hikes Near Chicago. The starred (*) locations are the ones I personally consider to be the best.

*Chicago Riverwalk   (official site)   (my guide)
A historic stroll through downtown's greatest steel canyon, along the banks of the Chicago River.

Northerly Island   (official site)   (my guide)
A quiet, man-made prairie island that juts off of Museum Campus.

Northern Lakefront Trail   (official site)   (my guide)
A long lakeside walk through Lincoln Park proper.

Southern Lakefront Trail   (official site)   (my guide)
A continuation of the trail above that winds past Chicago Harbor and Museum Campus.

Jackson Park   (official site)   (my guide)
A wooded loop through the South Side's most beautiful park behind the Museum of Science and Industry.

*Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo   (official site)
A brief but beautiful, educational path around Lincoln Park's newly redeveloped South Pond.

*Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond   (official site)
A tiny, hidden gem of nature right behind the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

*Crabtree Nature Center   (official site)   (my guide)
Explore 3 distinct ecosystems in this beautiful, isolated greenspace in Palatine.

Shoe Factory Road Woods   (official site)   (my guide)
Two haunted structures once stood near this peaceful prairie.

Deer Grove   (official site)   (my guide)
The oldest and most popular forest preserve in Cook County.

Busse Lake and Elk Pasture   (official site)   (my guide)
A huge park in Schaumburg that earned the nickname, "Chicago's backyard".

*Ryerson Woods   (official site)   (my guide)
The lushest forest in Chicagoland, replete with a beautiful, brand-new visitor center.

River Trail Nature Center   (official site)   (my guide)
A small, kid-friendly spot with a few short trails and lots of seasonal events.

*Chicago Botanic Gardens   (official site)   (my guide)
One of the most beautiful natural spaces in the entire state of Illinois.

Skokie Lagoons   (official site)   (my guide)
A web of rough trails just off the popular bike path of North Shore Trail.

Moraine Hills   (official site)
A sprawling wetland wilderness created by retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago.

Illinois Beach State Park   (official site)
Lakeside trails through the dunes and a few more further inland.

Chain O'Lakes State Park   (official site)
A huge water-sports mecca that also features quite a few hiking trails.

*Morton Arboretum   (official site)   (my guide)
An "outdoor museum" of trees from around the world.

Danada Forest Preserve   (official site)   (my guide)
A short hike at a historic equestrian center in Wheaton.

*Fullersburg Woods   (official site)   (my guide)
Gorgeous riverside trails and the best nature center in the area.

Greene Valley   (official site)   (my guide)
A few short hiking paths beneath a 190-foot-tall overlook with views of Chicago.

*Waterfall Glen   (official site)   (my guide)
A lush 9-mile ring of green surrounding the secretive Argonne National Laboratory.

Sag Valley   (official site)   (my guide)
A surprisingly hilly collection of photogenic bluffs.

Messenger Woods   (official site)   (my guide)
A small but edenic forest, famous for its spring wildflowers.

Fermilab Trails   (official site)
A sprawling series of trails, with its own roaming bison herd, surrounding the world-famous particle collider lab.

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center   (official site)
A wonderful brand-new, start of the art nature center surrounded by a few kid-friendly trails.

*Kankakee River State Park   (official site)   (my guide)
Several hiking, biking, and horse trails alongside a raging river and a few dramatic limestone cliffs.

Channahon State Park   (official site)   (my guide)
A historic walk beside the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

McKinley Woods   (official site)   (my guide)
A quiet, wooded bluff that might be the single best place to see wild deer in the collar counties.

*Starved Rock   (official site)   (my guide)
Hands down the most beautiful and geologically dramatic hiking option in all of Chicagoland.

*Matthiessen State Park   (official site)
A gorgeous, steep wooded limestone canyon with a tall waterfall.

Buffalo Rock State Park   (official site)
Bluff trails overlooking the Illinois River, along with a herd of bison and a collection of "earth art".

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie   (official site)
A gigantic, haunting grassland filled with abandoned military bunkers.

Mount Baldy   (official site)   (my guide)
An extremely short trail with a nice Lake Michigan overlook atop a 120-foot sand dune.

*Cowles Bog   (official site)   (my guide)
A challenging but fascinating trek through a beautiful dunescape by the shore of Lake Michigan.

Chellberg Farm and Bailly Homestead   (official site)   (my guide)
A spooky trail system that threads through several nineteenth-century landmarks.

*Indiana Dunes State Park   (official site)   (my guide)
The best place to experience what Carl Sandburg called the "Grand Canyon" of the Midwest.