The Best Outdoor Activities in Illinois

Discover the best hiking, camping, backpacking, fitness, and more.

Hike to Starved Rock's La Salle Canyon

Illinois / Starved Rock Visitor Center

This out-and-back trail is one of the parks longest trails. Starting from the visitors center it is 2.2 mile hike one way and 4.4 miles if you go out and back.

Brandyn Murray
270 Saves

Run Chicago’s Lakefront Trail

Illinois / Lakefront Trail - Chicago, IL

Chicago – the third largest city in the US and home to the deep dish pizza – doesn’t exactly scream “outdoorsy.

Nicole Darian
245 Saves

Hike the Matthiessen State Park Loop

Illinois / Dells Area Parking Lot

With 5 miles of trails, which alternate between cliffs, canyons, and bluffs, Matthiessen State Park has plenty to offer. This particular trail also includes three waterfalls, along the way.

Hike the Lower Dells at Matthiessen State Park

Illinois / Matthiessen Parking Area (N 25th Rd)

Starting off right from the parking lot at Matthiessen State Park, follow the trail markers through the forest, across beautiful bridges, and find your way to one of the many stunning waterfalls.

Kyle Wenzel
200 Saves

Hike Ottawa Canyon at Starved Rock State Park

Illinois / Starved Rock SP Visitor Center

This canyon is not as popular as some of the others in this park but it is my favorite by far. You can either hike the full 3.

Michael Fernandes
184 Saves

Hike the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

Illinois / Observation Trail, Garden of the Gods

In the southernmost part of Illinois, Shawnee National Forest is a wonderful natural area that transports you far from the flat agricultural landscape typical of so much of the Midwest.

Sunshine LeMontree
176 Saves

Hike the Waterfall Glen Loop

Illinois / Waterfall Glen Trailhead

It is easy to modify your route, with lots of side trails to choose from. A waterfall and scenic views make for a pleasant spot to exercise.

Hike the Upper Dells of Matthiessen State Park

Illinois / Matthiessen Parking Area (N 25th Rd)

From the start of the parking lot you will cross a picnic area to your left where you can have a bite to eat before or after your hike.

Brandyn Murray
126 Saves

Hike the Cap Sauers and Swallow Cliff Loop

Illinois / Swallow Cliff Forest

The Swallows Cliff Woods, an 800 acre preserve, is known for its 100 ft bluff that provides visitors with a steep stair workout.

Run the Sag Valley Trail

Illinois / Sag Valley Trailhead

From the Kean Avenue parking lot, head west on the Sag Valley Trail for a great afterwork run or hike. After a half mile, head right at the T intersection and descend down to the stream.

Hike Starved Rock's French Canyon

Illinois / Starved Rock Visitor Center

Starting from the visitors center or the parks restaurant, depending on where you parked.

Brandyn Murray
114 Saves

Hike the Saw Wee Kee Trail

Illinois / Saw Wee Kee Trailhead

This trail is great for outdoor exercise, and open to mountain biking, trail running, and hiking. You'll have views of the Fox River along the way. Photo Credit: katebartnik

Hike to Burden Falls

Illinois / Burden Falls Trailhead

Located in the Shawnee National Forest, Burden Falls, though perhaps small by other standards, is among the highest in Illinois.

Hike the Little Grand Canyon Trail

Illinois / Little Grand Canyon Trailhead

The trail starts along Hickory Ridge, the southern rim of the canyon.

Hike the Morton Arboretum's Main Trail Loops

Illinois / Morton Arboretum Parking

The Morton Arboretum is located off of Route 53 in Lisle, IL. The arboretum spans both the east and west sides of the road. Head to the east side of the park to access the Main Trail Loops.

Matthew Sampson
64 Saves

Catch a Sunrise at The Lakefill

Illinois / The Lakefill

From the Northwestern University campus, head to the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts to access the southern-most section of The Lakefill.

Matthew Sampson
56 Saves

Hike to St. Louis Canyon at Starved Rock State Park

Illinois / St. Louis Canyon Parking Lot

Starved Rock has some very interesting rock formations you can explore.

Hike to Salt Lick Point

Illinois / Salt Lick Point Trailhead

Starting at kiosk in parking lot, the trail climbs up the bluffs to Salt Lick Point, where you can catch a scenic sunset, and views of the Mississippi River floodplain.

Climb Up the Trigg Observation Tower

Illinois / Trigg Observation Tower

Trusting in the iron supporting the stairs is difficult until you step on the wood, which soon become your main concern. A fun test for a fear of heights.

Andrew White
38 Saves

Hike to Wildcat Canyon at Starved Rock SP

Illinois / Starved Rock Visitor Center

If you happen to find yourself in the Chicagoland area be sure to check out the Wildcat Canyon hike at Starved Rock State Park.

Hike through Gander Mountain Forest Preserve

Illinois / Gander Mountain

Starting from Wilmot Road, a sign and closed gate will mark the entrance of the preserve.  Simply park on the shoulder of the road and be wary of passing cars.

Nick Halberg
29 Saves

Run Lake Katherine

Illinois / Lake Katherine

This moderate trail loops around the lake. You will also pass by an arboretum, nature center, and a number of gardens, including an herb garden, butterfly garden, waterfall garden, and conifer garden.

Black Oak Trail at Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

Illinois / Black Oak Trail

The trails traverse a rolling glacial highland of oak woods and prairie. The hiking trails connect to miles of multi-use trails where you can hike, mountain bike, cross country ski and snowshoe.

Bike the Skokie Lagoons North Loop

Illinois / Skokie Lagoons (Tower Road Parking Area)

Starting at Tower Road, the path follows the bridge east to Forest Way Drive. The path mostly follows the road, and the shoreline of the lagoons up to Dundee Road, where you turn back West.

Leigh Wilson
25 Saves

Trail Run at Cemetery Hill

Illinois / Cemetery Hill Trailhead

Just outside of Chicago the Palos Region of the Cook County Forest Preserve offers a few thousand acres of dirt single track and limestone paths.

Camp at Lake Storey's Allison Campground

Illinois / Lake Storey Campground

Allison campground at Lake Storey is a beautiful and popular area for campers of all skill levels. It provides easy access to the lake and to launch your boats if you wish to go fishing.

Brandyn Murray
9 Saves

Run the Fullersburg Woods Loop

Illinois / Fullersburg and Graue Mill Loop Trail

This is a six-mile loop along the banks of the Salt Creek in Oakbrook, IL. The flat trail features trees and wildflowers (great walk to do in autumn). Trail is also good for bike riders.

Lisa Wieczorek
8 Saves

Hike, Run, or Bike the I&M Canal Trail

Illinois / I&M Canal

Park off of Joliet St. (see map) to access the trail. This trail is paved, shared by runners, hikers, and bikers, and is accessible from April to October.  Photos: Kenneth Spencer

Run Lake Storey

Illinois / Lake Storey Trail

Just north of Galesburg on route 150 turn right onto Lake Storey road, follow it down until you turn right on W Lake Storey Road.

Brandyn Murray
6 Saves

Bike the Lincoln Park Loop

Illinois / Lincoln Park

Riding this loop is a popular place for cyclists during beautiful sunny days in summer and spring. This loop is about 4 miles long and has plenty of space on the trail to share with passing cars.

Brandyn Murray
6 Saves

Hike the Prairie Wolf Slough Loop

Illinois / Prairie Wolf Slough

Park in the lot off of half day road (see map) to access the trail. Accessible year round, great for all skill levels, and dog-friendly. Photos: Patrick Luckow

Hike Hastings Lake LCFP

Illinois / Hastings Lake LCFP

Park in the lot off of Butler Lane (see map) to access the trail. This trail is open year round, is dog-friendly, and offers a variety of activities.

Bike the Salt Creek Trail

Illinois / Salt Creek Trail

This trail is 5.8 miles of paved path, which is ideal for biking (especially those of us with road bikes), skating, and even running.

Lisa Wieczorek
2 Saves

Watch the Sunset at Axehead Lake

Illinois / Axehead Lake

In a large city, it's nice to be able to find pockets of nature oasis amidst the chaos. It's great to come here with a journal or sketchbook and pass the time while watching the sunset.

Lisa Wieczorek
2 Saves