21 of the best hiking trails, state parks, and outdoor adventures in Illinois


Looking to explore the great state of Illinois?

There is no better way to do this than to get outside. Below are over 20 of the best outdoor adventures and natural sites The Prairie State has to offer – from state parks to hiking and biking trails, to historic sites. If I missed your favorite, leave it in the comments!

1.Matthiessen State Park

I have personally been to this park and can vouch for its beauty. Located along the Illinois River, Matthiessen State Park offers hiking trails, water views, and forests to explore. Make sure to stop in the canyons and bring water shoes, as you might find yourself wandering through puddles.

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2.Starved Rock State Park

Photo of a waterfall in Starved Rock State Park

There are 18 different canyons, 14 waterfalls, and 13 miles of trails here. With plenty to do, this park is open year round and features an impressive roaring waterfall after a rain storm.

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3.Buffalo Rock State Park

Aerial view of Buffalo Rock State Park

East of Starved Rock, you’ll find Buffalo Rock State Park. There are two trails here – one that explores the forest and the other, which offers great views of the river. A highlight of the area is the Native American inspired sculptures by Michael Heizer.

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4.Kettle Moraine State Forest (South)

Fog view over Kettle Moraine State Forest

There are actually two sections of this park, but the southern end is better known and it’s a shorter ride from Chicago. It offers a variety of hiking options, including (if you’re ready) a 30-mile hike on the National Scenic Ice Age Trail.

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5.Conservation area of ​​the glacier park

Conservation area of ​​the glacier park.

The 5 mile trail includes lightly forested sites and wetlands to explore, while the hills (or kames) in this region were formed by glaciers long ago. It’s an easy hike for a less athletic person (like me), but it still manages to be fun all around.

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6.Kankakee River State Park

View of the Kankakee River State Park Trail

Located in Kankakee and Will counties, Illinois, this state park is made up of 4,000 acres of land. You can hike, bike in the area and, in winter, snowmobile the trails.

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7.North branch trail

Photo of the North Branch Trail in winter

With a paved path perfect for biking or hiking, this place is located in the larger area of ​​Gompers Park. The trail, which winds through beautiful forests, also leads to a 16 mile hike to the Skokie Lagoons.

Andrew S / Shutterstock / Andrew S

8.Moraine Hills State Park

Photo of state park in winter

Named after the stones and boulders deposited here thousands of years ago, this 10-mile park winds around Defiance Lake. Perfect for casual explorers or a family boating day during the summer, the state park is a great place to fish.

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9.Ned Brown Forest Reserve

Photo of & # xa0; Ned Brown Forest Preserve in winter

This reserve offers a magnificent view of Lake Brusse and includes a 13 km path that goes around the park. Take some time to explore the shores of the lake and the woods, and if you’re lucky you might even spot a herd of elk in an enclosed pasture at the east end.

Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock / Nejdet Duzen

ten.Glen Forest Preserve Waterfall

Photo of a waterfall at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

With 11 miles of trails, you are guaranteed to have fun at this unique reserve. The 9.5 mile main loop, with steep inclines that ensure a good workout, shows incredible limestone terrain. Hike, bike and explore the trails, but be careful when venturing off the main path as it can be difficult to get to the loop.

Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock / Nejdet Duzen

11.Shawnee National Forest

Aerial view of the national forest

In addition to numerous hiking opportunities, this vast national forest is also known for its excellent climbs. Make the most of your trip by walking the 4.5-mile Jackson Falls Trail or admire the magnificent 320-million-year-old sandstone formations on the Garden of the Gods Trail.

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12.Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Close up photo of two butterflies on a purple flower

Established in 1996 as the first designated tallgrass prairie, the site works to restore the fragile ecosystem that still exists today. There are 29 miles of hiking trails with plenty to see and explore.

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13.Deer grove

Photo of a deer in a field

Located in Palatine, Illinois, this place is mostly made up of wetlands and grasslands. Along with 4 miles of paved trails, there are also 10 other unpaved trails that you can explore if you are feeling very adventurous.

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14.Apple River Canyon State Park

Photo of a fishing stream at Apple River Canyon State Park

With five different trails to explore, Apple River Canyon State Park proudly features rugged and glorious canyons for you to hike and abundant wildlife. Established in 1932, this park sits close to the Wisconsin border and comprises 1,907 acres in total.

Michael John Maniurski / Shutterstock / Michael John Maniurski

15.Ferne Clyffe State Park

Photo of fall trees at & # xa0; Ferne Clyffe State Park

Surrounded by beautiful woods, this southern Illinois park offers plenty of hiking opportunities, including a 2.1-mile trail that takes you past incredible waterfall views.

Nicholas Boddy / Shutterstock / Nicholas Boddy

16.Morton’s arboretum

Field of Flowers at Morton Arboretum

Be sure to book your tickets before heading to this nature reserve. Known for its immense landscape, there are over 4,000 species of trees and plants as well as 16 miles of paved and jagged trails. In summer and autumn, this park also hosts theaters-hikes, which are active shows in the open air.

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17.Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area

Close up of yellow maple leaves

Well known for its annual themed hikes (like the special maple syrup or Halloween themed hike) and beautiful colorful trees, this area is best explored in the fall. There are 6.5 miles of trails to explore and historic cabins built by early settlers near the Plains River.

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18.Castle Rock State Park

Photo of a rock lookout at Castle Rock State Park

With 6 miles of trails to explore, this park is best known for its impressive natural flora and fauna. See if you can spot the remnants of the distinctive grasslands that once covered the area. There are a few wooden bridge paths that meet along a series of interconnected loop trails.

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19.Illinois Beach State Park

Photo of a trail leading into the water at Illinois Beach State Park

Looking to admire the shores of Lake Michigan but don’t want to travel far? Head to this 6.5 mile state park for some truly stunning views.

Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock / Jacob Boomsma

20.Historic site of the Joliet steel plant

Photo of the historic Joliet Iron Works site

Located on the former site of the Joliet steel plant, this historic district is not a typical hiking trail. Once one of the great steel mills in the United States, it’s now a half-mile trail that winds through the remaining work area.

Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock / Eddie J. Rodriquez

21.I&M Canal Trail

Photo of a trail on Illinois &;  Michigan Canal State Trail

This 7.5 mile trail in Lockport is popular with hikers, joggers, and cyclists. It’s actually part of the largest Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail, which covers a total of 15 miles. An interesting fact is that you can take this trail to get to Romeoville, Illinois.

Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock / Eddie J. Rodriquez

Do you have a favorite hiking spot in Illinois? Tell us in the comments below!