The 7 Best Spots for Hiking Near Chicago

It’s finally, FINALLY summer in Chicago (we all survived June, right?) and it’s time to get outside. While we love Chicago Botanic Garden and the Riverwalk, sometimes you just want a little bit more Mother Nature. That’s why we compiled seven of the best hikes that are easily accessible from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Don’t forget your bug spray (and hat, and sunscreen, and sunglasses, and water, and snacks…). 

The 606 Trail (aka the Bloomingdale Trail)

Length: 5.7 mile loop

Dogs: Yes, leashed

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Downtown, near Walsh Park

Technically, this is still in the city of Chicago, and it’s more of a walk than a hike. But hey, we don’t judge — if this is where you start, this is where you start! This trail was built on an abandoned train line, so it gives you incredible city views as you wind your way around the 5.7-mile loop. It’s a great spot for both walkers and runners, and even features a rubberized running surface. There are a number of access points for the trail, and the fun city views and easy trail make it perfect for a family outing or just a quick walk.


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Des Plaines River Trail

Length: 15.4 miles, point to point

Dogs: Yes, leashed

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Trailheads at Allison Woods Trail (Northfield) and Sunset Bridge Meadow Trail (River Grove)

This section of trail is actually part of the far larger Des Plaines River Trail (56.2 miles), but it’s the most easily accessible from the burbs and downtown — you can even take public transportation (either the bus or the Blue Line) to get to the trailheads. This gentle trail is very flat and wide, making it perfect for running or biking if plain old walking isn’t your thing. Enjoy the forest preserves and natural wetlands that surround the trail, and say aahhhh.

Starved Rock Loop

Length: 5.1 mile loop

Dogs: Yes, leashed

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location: Deer Park

Starved Rock is no secret among the outdoorsy set in Chicago. This gorgeous little loop features rolling hills, a river, a waterfall, and gorgeous canyons and rock formations. This hike is a little bit more challenging (you’ll have to actually walk up a hill — a rarity in Illinois) and there are some rocky sections of the trail where you’ll need to walk carefully, especially in wet weather. But hey, you wanted to go hiking. Pro tip: Bring some binoculars — Starved Rock State Park is home to several bald eagle families.

Ryerson Conservation Park

Length: 6.5 miles

Dogs: Yes, leashed

Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate

Location: Riverwoods

I grew up walking through Ryerson Woods and have a number of fond memories of this pretty little escape. It feels surprisingly removed from city life, and sections of the trail wind right alongside the banks of the Des Plaines river. You can make your own route through 561 acres of land and it’s easy to make new paths for yourself with the variety of options available to you. Trails can get muddy and sloppy after wet weather, though, so don’t wear your white sneakers.


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Matthiessen State Park

Length: 5.8 miles

Dogs: Yes, leashed

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location: Utica

This is a little bit further afield, but it’s worth it to see the variety of canyons, streams, and untouched forest area in this enormous state park. Stick around for gorgeous lookout points over the Vermillion River and waterfalls. The best part of the trail is arguably the sandstone canyon, which you can reach on the 5.8-mile hike in question (it’s a little hilly and can get muddy, but it’s not overly challenging). Feel free to cool off under the chilly cascades of water if you get heated from the hike.


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Hollows Conservation Area

Length: 3.6 mile loop

Dogs: Yes, leashed

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Cary

This is a pretty darn easy trail, but what really stands out about it is the opportunity for more than just hiking — those among us who enjoy kayaking and fishing will love Lake Atwood, which is stocked every year with bluegill, largemouth bass, and rainbow trout (you can also go ice fishing here in the winter months if that’s your jam). The trail itself is gently rolling and alternates between crushed limestone and a dirt track; spend a pleasant day wending your way through open, grassy areas and into wetlands and forests.


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Indiana Dunes State Park

Length: Varied

Dogs: Yes, leashed

Difficulty: Intermediate/Challenging

Location: Chesterton, Indiana

This is why I said the best hikes AROUND Chicago — because even though this is out in Indiana, it is not to be missed. Try the West Beach 3-Loop, a 3.5-mile round trip that offers stunning views of the Chicago skyline as you traverse enormous sand dunes. Or, try one of the park’s other offerings, including the West Beach Trail, Ridge Hollow Loop, Cowles Bog Loop (the most difficult of the three), or the Ly-co-ki-we Trail. You can see everything from the skyline to the dunes to boggy wetlands and a wide variety of waterfowl and other animal life.


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Jessica Suss is a native Chicagoan residing in Washington, D.C. She is currently getting her master’s degree in secondary English education at the University of Maryland. She enjoys petting other people’s dogs and is faithful to Lou Malnati’s alone. Jessica is also a supporter of MAZON and No Kid Hungry



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