It would be a shame to spend time in Chicago without getting to take in some of the gorgeous natural wonders of the American Midwest. Thankfully, the city is located in close proximity to a wide variety of nature preserves and parks, and these five easily accessible hiking destinations near Chicago provide the perfect respite for beginner and experienced hikers alike. 
 

1. West Ridge Nature Preserve

Difficulty: easy

This hidden gem feels a world away from the crowded Peterson and Western Intersection that flanks it. This 20-acre wooded area was actually going to be transformed into a retail center before it was donated to the Chicago Park District in 2011 with the help of a benevolent Congressman. Now the area, including the four-acre lake pond that the trail surrounds, is an official nature preserve. 

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Most of this 0.8 mile loop trail is paved, which means that it is easily accessible for all ages, wheelchairs and strollers alike. Wildlife sightings are not uncommon, and the area is home to many foxes, herons, hawks, wood ducks and even coyotes. It is a great way to experience many of the native plant species without having to even step out of the city. 

Travel Time: Approximately 20 to 40-minute drive from Downtown 
 

2. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Difficulty: easy to medium

Waterfall Glen is a forest preserve in nearby DuPage County that features an extensive trail system showcasing 75% of the natural fauna that is native to the area. In addition, there are various waterfalls and a gorgeous creek bluff overview. It’s open year round and the gently rolling hillside trails are popular with hikers, cyclists and cross country skiers. Also, it’s just a short drive from Downtown, making it one of the best options for a day trip near Chicago. 

blueprint blueground hiking near chicago sawmill creek spills over beautiful waterfool at waterfall glen forest preserve

The Waterfall Glen Trail is an easy stroll featuring a diverse array of scenery, and of course waterfalls, but the full hike is 9.3 miles long. Meanwhile, anybody looking for more of a challenge can try out the (medium difficulty) Waterfall Glen Trail Loop through the forest. Both trails can get slippery after a rainfall, so always bring a good set of hiking boots for ample traction.  The trails are all free to access and are open between sunrise and sunset. 

Travel Time: Approximately 25 to 35-minute drive from Downtown 
 

3. Kankakee River Trail

Difficulty: easy

Located in the picturesque Kankakee River State Park, this trail snakes around either side of the Kankakee River and the 4000-acre wildlife preserve that this treasured land is located on. The full hike is 10.5 miles, but there is no need to do it all in one day. 

In fact, the park also boasts camping facilities complete with electricity and well as cozy cabins, making it the perfect spot for an idyllic weekend getaway. The trail is dog-friendly as long as any four-legged friends are kept on a leash. Be sure to pack a fishing rod as well. The river is also a popular destination for canoeing and kayaking! 

Travel Time: Just over an hour drive from Downtown 
 

4. Matthiessen State Park

Difficulty: medium

With its stunning canyons, unusual rock formations and waterfalls, Matthiessen State Park is a geology lover’s dream. This gorgeous preserve is situated at the confluence where the prairie meets forest and as such, it features some of the best hiking near Chicago. 

blueprint blueground hiking near chicago waterfall at matthiessen state park

Visitors can choose between a variety of different trails flanking different zones of the park. The 2.0-mile Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail is definitely a must-see. These trails are fantastic for bird watching, and dogs are free to join in on the fun as well. The park is situated on a part of the Vermillion River that is well-known for its abundant whitetail deer population. 

Travel Time: Anywhere between 1-hour and a half to a 2-hour drive from Downtown
 

5. Starved Rock State Park

Difficulty: easy to medium

With over 17 trails spanning dramatic canyon vistas, sandstone bluffs, cliffside overhangs, blue lakes, and moss-covered cave walls, visitors will need ample time to explore this nature lover’s paradise. The fact that it was recently voted the number one travel destination in the state proves it offers some of the highest-quality hiking near Chicago. It’s well worth the drive for hikers as long as they set out nice and early.

The 3.0-mile Tonty Canyon backtrail is great for epic views, while the 6.0 mile East Canyons trail will take visitors through a rugged sweeping landscape with fantastic lookouts. Just make sure to bring along proper hiking shoes and watch out for sharp rocks. A walking stick is a good accessory to have with you. 

Travel Time: Anywhere from 1-hour and a half to a 1-hour and 50-minute drive from Downtown
 
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