21 Of The Very Best Hiking Trails, State Parks, And Outdoor Adventures In Illinois

·6 min read

Looking to explore the great state of Illinois?

There's no better way to do that than by getting outdoors. Below you'll find more than 20 of the best outdoor adventures and nature spots that The Prairie State has to offer — from state parks, to hiking and biking trails, to historical sites. If I missed your favorite, leave it in the comments!

1.Matthiessen State Park

Photo of a canyon in Matthiessen State Park

I've been to this park personally and can attest to its beauty. Located along the Illinois River, Matthiessen State Park offers leisurely hiking trails, water views, and forests to explore. Make sure to stop by the canyons, and bring water shoes because you might find yourself wandering through some 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 it shows off an impressive, roaring waterfall after a rainstorm.

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3.Buffalo Rock State Park

Aerial view of Buffalo Rock State Park

To the 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 river views. A highlight of the area is the Native American-inspired sculptures by Michael Heizer.

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4.Kettle Moraine State Forest (South)

View of fog over the Kettle Moraine State Forest

There are actually two sections of this park, but the south end is better known, and it's a shorter drive from Chicago. It boasts a variety of hiking options including (if you're up for it) a 30-mile trek on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

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5.Glacial Park Conservation Area

Glacial Park Conservation Area.

The 5-mile trail includes lightly wooded sites and wetlands to explore, while the hills (or kames) in this area were formed by glaciers long ago. This is an easy hike for a less athletically inclined 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 expansive acres of land. You can hike, bike around the area, and in the winter, snowmobile through 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 spot is located within the larger area of Gompers Park. The trail, which winds through gorgeous forests, also leads to a 16-mile trek to the Skokie Lagoons.

Andrew S / Shutterstock / Andrew S

8.Moraine Hills State Park

Photo of the state park in winter

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

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9.Ned Brown Forest Preserve

Photo of Ned Brown Forest Preserve in winter

This preserve offers a gorgeous view of Brusse Lake and includes an 8-mile trail that loops around the park. Take time to explore the lakeshore and woods, and if you're lucky, you might even spot a herd of elk in an enclosed pasture to the east end.

Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock / Nejdet Duzen

10.Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Photo of a waterfall at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

With 11 miles of trails, you're guaranteed to have fun at this unique preserve. The main 9.5-mile loop, complete with steep inclines that ensure a good workout, shows off incredible limestone terrain. Hike, bike, and explore the trails, but be careful venturing off the main path because it can be hard to rejoin the loop.

Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock / Nejdet Duzen

11.Shawnee National Forest

Aerial view of the national forest

In addition to plenty of hiking options, this expansive national forest is also known for great rock climbing. Make the most of your trip with a walk around the 4.5 mile Jackson Falls Trail, or take in the gorgeous 320-million-year-old sandstone formations on the Garden of the Gods trail.

Richard Hamilton Smith / Getty Images

12.Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Close up photo of two butterflies on a purple flower

Established in 1996 as the first designated tallgrass prarie, the site is working to restore the fragile ecosystem that still exists there 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 spot is mainly comprised of wetlands and prairies. With 4 miles of paved trails, there are also 10 more unpaved trails you can explore if you're feeling extra adventurous.

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14.Apple River Canyon State Park

Photo of a fishing creek at Apple River Canyon State Park

With five different trails to explore, Apple River Canyon State Park proudly includes rugged, glorious canyons you can roam and plenty of wildlife. Established in 1932, this park sits close to the border of Wisconsin and includes 1,907 acres in total.

Michael John Maniurski / Shutterstock / Michael John Maniurski

15.Ferne Clyffe State Park

Photo of fall trees at the Ferne Clyffe State Park

Surrounded by gorgeous woods, this Southern Illinois park offers ample hiking opportunities, including a 2.1-mile trail that leads you past an incredible waterfall vista.

Nicholas Boddy / Shutterstock / Nicholas Boddy

16.The Morton Arboretum

Field of flowers at The Morton Arboretum

Make sure to reserve tickets before you head to this natural preserve. Known for its huge landscape, there are over 4,000 species of trees and plants as well as 16 miles of paved and wood-chipped trails. In the summer and fall, this park also hosts Theatre-Hikes, which are active outdoor performances.

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17.Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area

Close up shot of yellow maple leaves

Well known for annual themed hikes (like the special maple syrup or Halloween-themed hike) and gorgeous, colorful trees, this area is best explored during the fall. There are 6.5 miles of paths to explore and historic cabins built by early settlers near the Des Plaines River.

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18.Castle Rock State Park

Photo of a rocky overlook at the 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 remains of the distinctive prairies 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 to water at the Illinois Beach State Park

Looking to take in the Lake Michigan shoreline but don't want to travel far? Head over to this 6.5-mile state park for a truly magnificent view.

Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock / Jacob Boomsma

20.Joliet Iron Works Historic Site

Photo of the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site

Located in the former Joliet Iron and Steel Works site, this historic area isn't your typical hiking trail. Once one of the large steel mills in the US, it's now a half-mile trail that winds through the leftover work area.

Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock / Eddie J. Rodriquez

21.I&M Canal Trail

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

This 7.5-mile trail in Lockport is frequented by hikers, joggers, and bikers. It actually makes up part of the larger Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail, which covers 15 miles in total. A cool fact is that you can take this trail in order to access Romeoville, Illinois.

Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock / Eddie J. Rodriquez

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

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