A Little Time and a Keyboard: 25 Northern Illinois Hiking Trails to Explore

25 Northern Illinois Hiking Trails to Explore

Monday, June 28, 2021

25 Northern Illinois Hiking Trails to Explore
Northern Illinois Hiking Trails to Have on Your List

Northern Illinois presents nature lovers with an incredible range of trails inviting exploration of rocky landscapes, spectacular water views, cascading waterfalls, nature etched canyons, lush woodlands, glacial landscapes and prairies and grasslands ablaze with brilliant blooms. You may even spot bison from some trails! With my list of 25 Northern Illinois hiking trails, you will experience a range of what the region has to offer:

Carroll County

Mississippi Palisades State Park: Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, Illinois challenges hikers to rocky hiking up on bluffs. Views of the Mississippi are magnificent. Rock formations, caves and ravines craft picturesque scenes.

Rock formations awe while weaving through the trails of Mississippi Palisades State Park.
Rock formations awe while weaving through the trails of Mississippi Palisades State Park.

Cook County

Deer Grove: Cook County's first first preserve invites hikers to explore a range of ecosystems enveloped inside of the preserve's astounding 2,000 acres. Wetlands, ravines, prairie and woodlands are all represented.

Crabtree Nature Center: Crabtree Nature Center has long been one of my favorite spots to hike any time of year. The landscape includes prairie, wetlands and woodlands. We seem to always spot wildlife there. Additionally, the nature center provides more context to what you may encounter on your hike.

Harms Woods: Harms Woods is a fairly large forest preserve on the North Branch Trail System following the North Branch of the Chicago River. Our favorite section traces natural paths in the Glenview Woods portion. We enjoy ambling on the rustic paths spotting birds.

DuPage County

Blackwell Forest Preserve: Blackwell Forest Preserve offers sweeping lake views. We enjoy taking a rugged natural path and continuing around the lake. Scenery includes oak and hickory woodlands, prairie, grasslands and wetlands.

Pratt's Wayne Woods County Forest Preserve: Pratt's Wayne Woods delights with a string of ponds and wetlands. This forest preserve has been noted as a fantastic birding area and is one of our favorite spots to spot turtles. Trails are flat here making this a nice preserve for everyone.

A snapping turtle enjoying a pause in the wetlands of Pratt's Wayne Woods.
A snapping turtle enjoying a pause in the wetlands of Pratt's Wayne Woods.

Jo Daviess County

Apple River Canyon State Park: Apple River Canyon State Park features hiking up on bluffs within a lovely dense forest. Apple River provides extra beautiful scenery. 

Kane County

Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve: Perched along the Fox River, Tekakwitha Woods swiftly claimed a piece of my nature-loving heart last year. The dense forest enchants and ravine views captivate. Peeks of the Fox River inspire. While there are not tons of trails here, a visit is worth it!

Fabayan Forest Preserve: Fabayan Forest Preserve is perched on the beautiful Fox River Trail! Wandering trails throughout the preserve unfolds interesting treasures inside the preserve including a windmill, Japanese garden, a home remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright and more. A visit can be extended following the Fox River Trail along the magnificent Fox River!

Kendall County.

Saw Wee Kee: Yorkville's Saw Wee Kee Park features rolling trails guiding adventurers through a dense woodland alongside wetlands. We enjoyed the natural trails and rolls up and down! This is a shared trail with mountain biking but we had no issues with bike traffic.

Rolling natural trails entice at Saw Wee Kee Park.
Rolling natural trails entice at Saw Wee Kee Park.

Lake County

Captain Daniel Wright Woods: Captain Daniel Wright Woods' cache of 4 miles of trails treats hikers to stunning woodlands and pond views. A bridge across the Des Plaines River connects Captain Daniel Wright Woods to nearby preserve Half Day Forest Preserve giving adventurers additional trails to wander.

Ryerson Conservation Area: Ryerson Conservation Area in Deerfield is a noted birding area. Des Plaines River views inspire. Ryerson provides fantastic woodland trails and wetland views.

LaSalle County

Matthiessen State Park: Matthiessen beckons explorers to hike along the canyon floor discovering waterfalls, rock formations and even caves. Waterfalls may depend on rain. This preserve does get pretty busy during summer, so off season visiting may be preferred.

Waterfalls charm while hiking in the canyons of Matthiessen State Park.
Waterfalls charm while hiking in the canyons of Matthiessen State Park.

Starved Rock State Park: Starved Rock State Park earns the place of a favorite by many visitors whether locals or from all over. Rocky landscapes, bluff views, canyon explorations and waterfall sightings quickly captivate. Starved Rock is one of our most popular preserves, so I do recommend visiting in the off season. Just as at Matthiessen, waterfalls may depend on rain.

Lee County 

Nachusa Grasslands: Nachusa Grasslands provides a home to a bison herd. Additionally, the extensive preserve features sandstone rock formations, grasslands, woodlands and wetlands.

McHenry County

Volo Bog: Volo Bog represents the only quaking bog in the state of Illinois. Walking the boardwalk provides an incredibly unique experience and don't forget to take in the prickly and pretty tamarack trees! The preserve holds more treasures in addition to the boardwalk including several viewpoints. We love to hike the perimeter!

Moraine Hills State Park: Moraine Hills State Park represents a fantastic gift from the glaciers! Over 10 miles of trails trek through a glacially formed landscape featuring hills, kames, a lake, a bog and more. Spectacular!

Fox Bluff Conservation Area: While Fox Bluff Conservation Area does border the Fox River, the preserve's rambling brooks and little waterfalls certainly steal the show.  Rolling trails and a dense forest delight at this spectacular preserve.

Quad Cities

Black Hawk State Historic Site: Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island intrigues with a hike along a rocky escarpment on the Rock River. The preserve also has a cool pedestrian bridge and hiking in woodlands.

Sylvan Island reveals remnants of its industrial past while maintaining thriving ecosystems today.

Sylvan Island: Sylvan Island in Moline is a conservation success story and once was the site of a steel mill and limestone quarry. Today, the island is thriving with wildlife. While the trail system isn't among the longest on this list, a hike is well worth it to enjoy the wildlife and lush forest!

Rockford Area

Rock Cut State Park: Rock Cut State Park certainly maintains a spot as an Illinois gem. Rocky terrain and outcrops dazzle. Views of Pierce Lake are stunning. The hiking is rocky which for me adds extra delight. We have spotted bald eagles here!

Kishwaukee Gorge North: We fell in love with Kishwaukee Gorge North during our first hike there. Views of the gorge are spectacular! You can peer down from a platform or hike down to the shore of beautiful Kishwaukee River.

Dolomite cliffs with ferns bravely growing from the crevices amaze at Severson Dells.
Dolomite cliffs with ferns bravely growing from the crevices amaze at Severson Dells.

Severson Dells: Dolomite cliffs at Severson Dells craft an intriguing hiking experience. The entire preserve is a joy to hike through including woodlands, a prairie and a river.

Will County 

Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie: Today, Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie is home to a herd of bison just as it was home to herds before human influence. Midewin also is an example of land that has been restored from an industrial past. The preserve contains a remarkable assemblage of flora and fauna.

Kankakee River State Park: A waterfall cascades along the Rock Creek Trail at Kankakee River State Park! Combining the Rock Creek Trail and Chief Shaw Trails at Kankakee River State Park ushers wanderers through many of the natural treasures of the preserve.

25 Northern Illinois Hiking Trails to Explore

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