A Little Time and a Keyboard: Chicago Suburbs Hiking

Chicago Suburbs Hiking

Forest preserves in the Chicago suburbs

Our list of places to hike in the Chicago suburbs grows every year. We are always exploring new trails--but also love to revisit the old favorites! Here is a list of our favorites. Feel free to add some of your ideas in the comments as well! There are always new treasures to be found!

**Please always confirm condition of trails before going out. Also, check for any special rules of the forest preserve and for closures.

Crabtree Nature Center: Crabtree in Barrington is easily one of our favorite places to hike. There are many paths, each picturesque and serene. There are several lakes and an outdoor exploration area for kids. The Nature Center has exhibits, live animals and hands on experience. Plus, kids can pick up scavenger hunts to enjoy when hiking. The preserve is free!

Chicago Botanic Garden: The Chicago Botanic Garden has long been one of our favorites. The garden includes quite a variety of plant collections--each providing a new experience. The Japanese garden in particular provides amazing views. The garden also has an outdoor train garden in the summer where trains buzz around famous landmarks. There is so much to explore--every visit is different. Evenings are particularly peaceful in the summer! Parking costs $30 per car, admission is free but there is an additional fee for the train garden.

Elk Pasture: The Elk Pasture in Elk Grove Village is one of those treasures just hiding in the suburbs. In fact, it is across the street from a car dealership. However, you will easily find it a peaceful place to walk--and you can even bring along Fido! There are elk in the preserve--which kids will dig. Additionally, you will get some great views of airplanes. Free, fun and healthy!

Volo BogThe Volo Bog is a National Natural Landmark and is the only quaking bog in Illinois. Quite the natural wonder! There are a surprising amount of landscapes to explore at the bog and you can actually walk on a boardwalk through a section of the bog! Free fun!

River Trail Nature Center: River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook is a peaceful place to hike right off of Milwaukee! The preserve is heavily wooded and beautiful! In the fall, the trees are exceptionally gorgeous! Another free find!

Flint Creek Savanna: Flint Creek Savanna is a rare gem. The preserve is an amazing example of what conservation efforts can do to bring native plant and animal species to Illinois. The savanna is rarely open but will have free self guided walks the first Sunday of each month this summer. Check with the Citizens for Conservation for more details.

Trailside Museum of Natural History: Trailside is located in River Forest and has a museum housed in a lovely historic home. We love the rustic and quiet trails. My daughter enjoyed exploring the museum. Another free and fun preserve!

Red Oak Nature Center: The Red Oak Nature Center in Batavia sits above the Fox River, affording some truly gorgeous views and perches from which to spot water fowl. There is a small cave and a Nature Center to explore. This is another free gem! 

Spring Valley Nature Center and Volkening Heritage Farm: Spring Valley Nature Center is one of our favorite suburban treasures. The farm is a functioning farm from the 1800's so pretty interesting for the family. The preserve is mainly prairie and particularly gorgeous in the summer. If you go, be sure to check the hours for the farm. Visiting the preserve is free, however some of the events have  admission costs.

Morton Arboretum: The Morton Arboretum is easily one of our favorites especially the sensational Children's Garden! The Tree House Tales is an additional fun area for kids to run around and learn about trees while exploring engaging treehouses! We buy the yearly family membership which covers admission, parking at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and even includes discounts to special events. Check the website for further admission details and more.

Cantigny Park: Cantigny Park is one of our more recent finds and has quickly emerged as a favorite. There are delightful trails through various gardens and landscapes. Plus, there is a tank garden where kids can climb on tanks. Additionally, you can enjoy the First Division Museum and the McCormick Mansion. Admission is free--even to the museums--and parking is only $5. 

The Grove: The Grove in Glenview is another hidden treasure. The Nature Center is fun for kids. It houses many animals for them to see and there often is a craft to do as well. The trails are peaceful. There are some historical buildings in the preserve. Their open hours vary, so check with The Grove for details.

Twin Lakes: Twin Lakes in Palatine has two small lakes to walk around making it the perfect size for a nice walk with the family. The playgrounds are fairly large. In the warmer months, there are paddle boats for a fee. Walking and enjoying the playground are free! Plus, it is a good place to see the Fourth of July fireworks!

Village Green: The Village Green in Northbrook is one of those places we head to when we have a spare afternoon and need a change of scenery! There is a large play area that the kids will love! Plus, you are near a few eateries including ice cream and frozen yogurt shops--a little extra treat!

Gallery Park: Gallery Park in Glenview is another of our quick go-tos. There is a lovely lake to walk around. Plus, there is a free splash pad area and playground for kids. It is near the Glen, so a visit opens you up to a nice family day.

Lake Katherine: Beautiful and serene Lake Katherine in Palos Heights has a picturesque lake and waterfall. There are several gardens to enjoy including a vegetable garden and a butterfly garden. Lake Katherine is free and you can bring your pooch! Nice!

Independence Grove: Independence Grove in Libertyville has quite a range of options for family fun in nature. Hiking trails, paddle boats for rent, places to fish, a large playground and a beach will keep you busy. There is an admission fee. However, the beach is ideal for little ones--very shallow, good number of life guards, no real waves.

Peck Farm: Peck Farm in Geneva boasts wonderful surroundings perfect for a hike, a Butterfly House in the summer, a silo to climb and a museum. An amazing place to visit for free. (A donation is suggested to enter the Butterfly House.)

Deer Grove: Deer Grove is in Palatine is fairly large with many trails and beautiful spots for picnics. There is a tranquil lake that will have you quickly forgetting the busy suburbs! There also are bike trails for a little family bike ride!

Waterfall Glen: Waterfall Glen is a sizable preserve in Darien, so each visit can be quite unique! The waterfall in the preserve is quite beautiful and many-a-hiker will take time to observe is glory! The preserve is free. 

Veteran Acres Woods: Located in Crystal Lake, Veteran Acres Woods contains various ecosystems including woods, prairie and wetland. There is a large picnic area for gatherings and even a playground. A very peaceful place to walk with some extra fun for the kids.

Ryerson Conservation Area: A stunning preserve in Deerfield! The preserve features a magnificent melding of wooded areas and wetland. We were largely in the shade during our walk making it quite pleasant on a warm day. Boardwalks help you navigate wetlands. There is a small farm as well.

Cuba Marsh: Cuba Marsh is located adjacent to Barrington's Citizens Park. So, you really get your bang for your buck here! There is ample space for a picnic or even to fly a kite. Citizens Park has a large play area and restrooms. The hike features wetlands, wooded areas and prairie. There is a boardwalk--which kids will surely get a kick out of!

Chain O'Lakes: The lakes are gorgeous! We found the trails to be well shaded for the most part. Horse riding is available. There is a picnic area right near the Fox River which affords quite the opportunity to get away from it all for a moment.

Skokie North Shore Sculpture Park: Mix art with your walk! The free park has over 60 sculptures. Amazing! There are guided walks from time to time, so be sure to check the schedule! The walk provides an intriguing view and a little bit different scenery for a hike!

Chicago Athenaeum International Sculpture Park: Tucked away in Schaumburg, this park provides another way to enjoy nature and art together. It is not as comprehensive as the Skokie North Shore Sculpture Park but still provides a pleasant walk!

Fox River Forest Preserve: Situated along the Fox River in Port Barrington, this forest preserve provides a spot for serene contemplation. Bring your binoculars to see if you can spot waterfowl. There is a heron and egret rookery, For boaters, there is a launch.

Fullersburg Woods: Straddling the Salt Creek in Oak Brook, Fullersburg Woods provides several miles of trails and quite a bit of history. Graue Mill, a gristmill, was a station on the Underground Railroad. The nature education center is home to a mammoth skeleton. A nice treasure!

Coral Woods: Situated in Marengo, Coral Woods is home to several different ecosystems all within a short walking distance including woods, prairie and wetland. The trails roll slightly but not too much.

Willowbrook Wildlife Center: Willowbrook in Glen Ellyn is both a native wildlife rehabilitation center and a place for a nice hike in nature. The center is one the best places in the area to learn about our native wildlife and enjoy a nature respite.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve: Located in Fort Sheridan near Highwood, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve gives incredible views of Lake Michigan both from atop a bluff and along the lake. There is also a beautiful hike in a ravine. 

Half Day Forest Preserve and Captain Daniel Wright Woods: Located in Vernon Hills and Mettawa, these two forest preserves abut against each other providing hikers with plenty of space to explore. The footbridge over the Des Plaines River adds some extra fun. If you are bringing younger kids, there is a sizable playground area. 

Penny Road Pond: Penny Road Pond in Barrington provides for a nice spot of a picnic along a picturesque lake as well as ample space for birding.

Knoch Knolls Nature Center: Knoch Knolls in Naperville rests at the confluence of the West Branch and East Branch of the DuPage River which provides a lovely preserve with plenty of outdoor activities including a nice number of hiking trails. If you bring the kids, they will like the nature center. Plus, you can play disc golf!

Paul Douglas Forest Preserve: Located in Hoffman Estates, Paul Douglas Forest Preserve was a surprise to us. The preserve rests close to a highway yet you would hardly know! We enjoyed exploring woodlands, wetlands and prairie.

Pratt's Wayne Woods: On a sunny spring day, we stretched our legs at Pratt's Wayne Woods in Wayne. We found the preserve to have spectacular views of ponds and wetlands. A significant marshland is in the preserve plus it is great for birding.

Old School Forest Preserve: Old School Forest Preserve in Mettawa encourages a variety of nature activities including hiking on several trails. One of the trails incorporates other wellness activities.

Blackwell Forest Preserve: The Warrenville forest preserve has trails through a variety of ecosystems. Additional outdoors activities are welcome including a tubing hill for winter! The lake is particularly tranquil and there is a nice spot up above the lake for picnics.

John J. Duerr Forest Preserve: Located in South Elgin, John J. Duerr Forest Preserve provides an opportunity to see a waterfall! The preserve has plenty of wooded trails and is perched on the Fox River. It is a major connection point for regional bike/hiking trails.

Songbird Slough Trail: Songbird Slough Trail happens to be a known birding area. The trail isn't very long but takes you through a lovely prairie, meadow and wetland landscape. A nice little treasure in Itasca!

Springbrook Nature Center: Springbrook Nature Center in Itasca is home to several trails through woods, prairie and wetland. Additionally, it is home to quite a few raptors, reptiles and amphibians.

Beverly Lake: Located near Barrington, Beverly Lake is one of the newer preserves that we have hiked and found to be spectacular! The views are wonderful but be prepared for rolling trails.

Heron Creek Forest Preserve: This Lake Zurich Forest Preserve has quickly become a favorite because we seem to have good luck birding here. The trails are easy and anyone should be able to navigate them.

Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve: Buffalo Creek in Long Grove is a newly designed forest preserve so many of the trees are still growing in. However, we have found that it has a great number of trails. Plus, birding is decent.

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve: Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve melds nature, hiking and spectacular views of Lake Michigan. We found the trails to be fairly easy. You will also enjoy some ravine views!

Skokie Lagoons: Skokie Lagoons is a chain of seven lagoons connected by channels crafting a nature paradise. The North Branch Trail System goes through Skokie Lagoons. Plus, a wealth of nature activities are available.

Fabyan Forest Preserve: Located in Geneva, the Fabyan Forest Preserve affords hiking along the scenic Fox River. Additionally, there are interesting landmarks including the Fabyan Windmill.

Hastings Lake Forest Preserve: Hastings Lake provides easily navigable hiking trails around a beautiful lake in Lake Villa. There are a number of scenic vistas and rolling trails.

McDonald Woods: McDonald Woods truly surprised us with fantastic lake and wetland views. Located in Linderhurst, an adventure to McDonald Woods will certainly sweep you from the the everyday with forest, lake and prairie views.

Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve: Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve entranced us with a dense forest, stunning ravines and a wonderful view of the Fox River. The St. Charles forest preserve is across the river from Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.

Get out there and enjoy nature!

Hiking Trails in the Chicago Suburbs

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