Take a Hike: Best Hiking Trails Near the North Shore

Chicago’s gorgeous summer weather makes this the perfect time to take advantage of the numerous hiking trails in the area.

From nature preserves to state parks, each offers an escape from the crush of big buildings and suburban life and an opportunity for some much-needed fresh air. Hike these routes with the family for a day of bonding, or go solo for a little time for reflection.

Don’t forget to pack water bottles, granola bars and first aid gear—there’s no quicker way to ruin a hike than a throbbing blister or growling stomach.

Illinois Beach
Driving time: 45 minutes

Too hot to think about walking in a forest? The Illinois Beach offers more than 6 miles of uninterrupted beach walking where you can catch a cool breeze off the lake. (Plus, it’s the only beach ridge shoreline left in the state!) The southern part of the park features 5 miles of trails, including a 2.2-mile loop trail with a gravel surface. Perfect for a leisurely afternoon away and some excellent opportunities to spot wildlife, the Illinois Beach State Park is a great destination for a sticky summer day. Wadsworth Rd., Zion, IL 60099

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Volo Bog
Driving time: 1 hour

Even though the word “bog” may bring unsightly images to mind, Volo Bog pushes all of those away with gorgeous views of wetland areas, prairies and fields. Bring the kids on the guided hikes every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and be sure to look out for turtles, frogs and muskrats. Volo Bog is full of easy hiking through wetland, wooded and prairie areas. The interpretive trail for hikers only is a half-mile loop that leads visitors through each stage of bog succession—and it’s constructed of small bridges and woodchip paths, making it perfect for younger ones. The Tamarack View Trail is 2.75-miles long and travels through woods, wetlands, field and prairie. From higher elevations on the trail, the tamarack trees and Volo Bog basin are clearly visible—they’re especially beautiful in the fall. 28478 W. Brandenburg Rd., Ingleside, IL 60041 

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Moraine Hills
Driving time: 1 hour

With nearly half of the park’s 2,200 acres made up of lakes and wetlands, Moraine Hills is the perfect place to go and see a huge variety of plants and wildlife. The park offers trails of varying lengths, from just under a mile through a dedicated nature preserve to almost 4 miles along the edge of one of the last glacial lakes left in Illinois. Keep an eye out for deer, mink, migrating sandhill cranes, waterfowl and occasionally great blue herons. 1510 S. River Rd., McHenry, IL 60051

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Illinois and Michigan Canal
Driving time: 1.5 hours

Once a towpath connecting Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, the Canal has been revamped into more than 60 miles of hiking and biking. Great for the casual hiking enthusiast, the smooth trail lets you see a range of wildlife, including egrets and great blue herons. The trail also accesses Channahon Park, Gebhard Woods, William G. Stratton and Buffalo Rock State Parks. If you get tired of strolling, break out your fishing gear and settle down along the canal to catch carp, bluegills and freshwater catfish. 401 Ottawa St., Morris, IL 60450

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Goose Lake Prairie State Park
Driving time: 1.5 hours

Goose Lake offers 7 miles of hiking trails, offering plenty of opportunities to discover why Illinois is called the Prairie State. The Tall Grass Nature trail is self-guided and will wind you through the prairie’s trademark bluestem and Indian grasses, which can grow to 8 feet in height. Other trails offer views of different habitats, including marshy and restoration areas and even farmland. According to the Illinois Department of Parks and Recreation, one of the reasons why Goose Lake Prairie survived was because it was too wet to plant crops, making it home to all kinds of wetland wildlife. 5010 N. Jugtown Rd., Morris, IL 60450

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Kankakee River
Driving time: 1.5 hours

If you like having options, Kankakee River state park is the place for you, with more than 30 miles of trails to choose from. Included among these is a 7-mile handicap-accessible asphalt trail that runs along the river and across a 50-foot suspension bridge over Rock Creek Canyon. Other trails include the quiet Rock Creek Canyon Trail, stretching 1.5 miles along the canyon itself with striking views of the limestone bluffs. Other ends of the park offer trails through forests, prairie and nature preserve. Kids will flip for the self-guided nature trail, also 1.5 miles with 20 interpretive stations, including Potawatomi Chief Shawanassee’s burial site. Don’t miss out on the guided hikes offered there, including spring wildflower tours, summer nature walks and fall color hikes. 5314 West Rt. 102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914

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For a weekend away:

Clinton Lake
Driving time: 3 hours

A great option for a full day of hiking (and then some), Clinton Lake offers 23 miles of trails that take you past a prairie restoration area, along the shoreline and across a few streams. There are plenty of pines and hardwood areas for gorgeous summer and fall walks, and eagles, ospreys and turkey vultures can be seen as you hike. The North Fork Trail (9.3-miles long) is perfect for experienced hikers, with very steep slopes, while other trails are perfect for casual hikers who are just looking for a little peace and some beautiful countryside. 7251 Ranger Rd., DeWitt, IL 61735 (also pictured top right)

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Devil’s Lake State Park
Driving time: 3.5 hours

Though it’s a bit of a drive from the North Shore, Devil’s Lake is perfect for a weekend of real hiking and outdoor rock climbing. The park is known for its bluffs made from quartzite stone, which gives them their pretty purple hue. Kids will love crawling across the huge boulders and rock climbing in a fun, challenging outdoor setting. If you’re not an experienced rock climber, there are plenty of licensed operations that will outfit you with gear and anything else you might need. As far as hiking goes, there’s a wide range of trails, most of which feature actual hills (unlike the majority of the Midwest) and vary in difficulty. All offer gorgeous views of the surrounding area, so don’t forget the camera! S5975 Park Rd., Baraboo, WI 53913-9299

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Editor’s note: Driving time is based on Winnetka, a central North Shore location. Depending on your address, you may need to add or subtract a few minutes.