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Best Spots For Hiking In Illinois


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Valenka Falcone



Welcome to the beautiful state of Illinois, where adventure awaits at every turn. From picturesque forests to breathtaking state parks, this diverse landscape offers a plethora of opportunities for hiking enthusiasts. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting your outdoor journey, Illinois has something for everyone.


With its scenic trails, stunning rock formations, and abundant wildlife, Illinois is a hiker’s paradise. From the southern tip of the state to the scenic northern regions, there are countless spots that offer unmatched beauty and outdoor adventure. So, grab your hiking boots, pack a backpack, and get ready to explore the best hiking spots that Illinois has to offer.


In this article, we’ll take you on an adventure through some of the most stunning hiking destinations in Illinois. From the ancient forests of Shawnee National Forest to the rugged beauty of Starved Rock State Park, each location has its own unique charm and natural wonders.


Whether you’re looking for a challenging uphill climb or a leisurely stroll through nature, Illinois has trails that cater to all skill levels. You can embark on scenic hikes that lead to breathtaking waterfalls, enchanting canyons, and panoramic vistas. With each step, you’ll find yourself immersed in the beauty of nature and the tranquility of the outdoors.


Not only will you be rewarded with stunning views and a sense of accomplishment, but hiking in Illinois also provides an opportunity to connect with the state’s rich history and cultural heritage. Many trails wind through areas with historical significance, showcasing remnants of the past and providing an educational experience along the way.


So, whether you’re a local looking for a new adventure or a visitor seeking to explore the natural wonders of Illinois, this guide will help you discover the best hiking spots the state has to offer. Lace up your boots, take a deep breath, and let’s embark on a journey through the incredible hiking trails of Illinois.


Shawnee National Forest

Located in the southernmost part of Illinois, Shawnee National Forest is a true gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Covering over 280,000 acres, it offers an abundance of hiking trails, stunning rock formations, and serene waterways.


Shawnee National Forest is home to the famous Garden of the Gods, an awe-inspiring rock formation that offers panoramic views and photo opportunities. The rugged beauty of the area will leave you in awe as you hike through the unique sandstone formations and witness the power of nature at work.


One of the most popular hiking trails in Shawnee National Forest is the River to River Trail. Stretching 160 miles, this trail takes you on an epic journey through the forest, crossing the Shawnee Hills and providing breathtaking views along the way. Whether you choose to hike a small portion or take on the full distance, the River to River Trail will immerse you in the natural beauty of the forest.


For those seeking a shorter but equally rewarding hike, the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area offers several trails that showcase the incredible rock formations and expansive vistas. The Observation Trail is a must-visit, taking you on a 1/4 mile loop that winds through the stunning sandstone cliffs and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding wilderness.


Another highlight of Shawnee National Forest is Rim Rock National Recreation Trail. This 0.8-mile loop trail leads you through a majestic forest to the edge of cliffs, offering stunning views of the valley below. The trail is known for its unique rock formations, lush vegetation, and vibrant wildlife.


Whether you’re exploring the scenic trails, camping under the stars, or enjoying water-based activities in one of the forest’s many lakes, Shawnee National Forest is a paradise for nature lovers. With its rich biodiversity, tranquil atmosphere, and awe-inspiring scenery, this remarkable destination will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.


Starved Rock State Park

Located along the Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park is a natural wonder that offers a perfect blend of outdoor adventure and breathtaking beauty. With its towering canyons, cascading waterfalls, and scenic trails, this park is a hiker’s paradise.


Starved Rock State Park boasts 13 miles of hiking trails, each offering a unique perspective of the park’s natural wonders. From leisurely strolls along the riverbanks to more challenging uphill climbs, there’s a trail for every hiking enthusiast.


One of the most popular trails in the park is the Starved Rock Trail. This 2.5-mile loop takes you to the park’s namesake, a 125-foot sandstone butte that offers panoramic views of the Illinois River and the surrounding forests. The trail winds through lush greenery, passes by beautiful waterfalls, and takes you to breathtaking viewpoints.


For those seeking a more adventurous hike, the French Canyon Trail is a must-visit. This trail leads you through a narrow canyon with towering cliffs, lush vegetation, and a picturesque waterfall. It’s a magical experience that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a hidden oasis.


Another highlight of Starved Rock State Park is the St. Louis Canyon Trail. This trail takes you to a stunning waterfall that cascades down towering sandstone cliffs. The trail is relatively short, making it ideal for families and those looking for a more leisurely hike.


Aside from the impressive hiking trails, Starved Rock State Park offers a wide range of activities for visitors to enjoy. You can go fishing, boating, or picnicking along the riverbanks, or venture out on a guided eco-tour to learn more about the park’s rich ecological diversity.


With its breathtaking views, diverse wildlife, and enchanting landscapes, Starved Rock State Park is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking an outdoor adventure in Illinois. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photography lover, or simply looking for a serene escape from the bustling city, this park will leave you in awe of the natural beauty that Illinois has to offer.


Matthiessen State Park

Matthiessen State Park, nestled in the heart of Illinois, is a hidden gem that offers a unique and captivating hiking experience. With its stunning rock formations, picturesque canyons, and cascading waterfalls, this park is a nature lover’s paradise.


Matthiessen State Park features an extensive network of trails that meander through lush forests, along rugged cliffs, and into the depths of beautiful canyons. The park’s most iconic trail is the Dells Canyon Trail. This 4-mile loop takes you through a breathtaking landscape of sandstone cliffs, moss-covered rocks, and babbling streams. Along the way, you’ll encounter stunning waterfalls, such as the popular Cascade Falls, which offers a perfect spot to rest and take in the sheer beauty of nature.


For a more challenging adventure, the River Trail takes you along the Vermilion River, offering scenic river views and leading you to the extraordinary Matthiessen Canyon. This trail showcases the unique geological features of the park, with towering cliffs, hidden caves, and mesmerizing rock formations.


If you’re looking for a shorter hike or a leisurely stroll, the Fern Dell Nature Preserve is the perfect spot. This enchanting area is known for its lush ferns, wildflowers, and tranquil atmosphere. The preserve features a boardwalk that takes you through a serene forest and along a peaceful stream.


Matthiessen State Park also offers opportunities for wildlife viewing, birdwatching, and photography. Keep an eye out for deer, foxes, and a wide variety of bird species that call the park home.


Beyond its hiking trails, Matthiessen State Park provides visitors with picnic areas, camping facilities, and opportunities for fishing and horseback riding. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in nature, relax, and reconnect with the natural world.


If you’re seeking a hiking adventure filled with stunning natural beauty, unique rock formations, and a sense of tranquility, Matthiessen State Park is the perfect destination. Whether you’re exploring the canyons, chasing waterfalls, or simply enjoying the peacefulness of the forest, this park will leave you with unforgettable memories of the incredible landscapes that Illinois has to offer.


Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods, located in the Shawnee National Forest, is a mesmerizing destination that showcases the raw power and beauty of nature. This geological wonderland is famous for its ancient rock formations, stunning vistas, and breathtaking sunsets.


As you explore the Garden of the Gods, you’ll be immersed in a landscape unlike any other. Towering sandstone formations jutting out of the earth create a surreal and awe-inspiring sight. The natural colors and textures of these rocks, shaped by millions of years of erosion, create a vibrant and otherworldly atmosphere.


There are several trails that wind through the Garden of the Gods, each offering a unique perspective of this magnificent place. The Observation Trail is a must-visit, taking you on a quarter-mile loop through the heart of the rock formations. As you hike along the trail, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding forest and the striking rock formations that have become iconic landmarks of the area.


For a longer and more challenging hike, the Indian Point Trail is an excellent choice. This 1.5-mile trail takes you to the highest point in the Garden of the Gods, offering breathtaking views of the expansive landscape below. As you ascend to the summit, you’ll be surrounded by the ancient and weathered rocks, creating a sense of awe and wonder.


Aside from its hiking trails, the Garden of the Gods is also a popular spot for rock climbing and photography. As the sunlight hits the rocks at different angles throughout the day, the colors and textures come alive, creating a captivating scene for photographers. Rock climbers can challenge themselves on the steep cliffs and vertical walls that make up this rugged terrain.


It’s not just the daytime that offers beauty at the Garden of the Gods. As the sun begins to set, the sky transforms into a canvas of vibrant colors, casting a warm glow over the rock formations. Watching the sunset here is an experience you won’t want to miss, as the landscape radiates even more beauty during the golden hour.


Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a nature enthusiast, or a photographer looking for the perfect shot, the Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest is a must-visit destination. Its ancient rock formations and awe-inspiring vistas will leave you with a deep appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.


Giant City State Park

Giant City State Park, located in southern Illinois, is a hidden gem that offers a captivating mix of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. With its towering bluffs, lush forests, and unique rock formations, this park is a favorite among hikers, nature lovers, and rock climbers.


One of the highlights of Giant City State Park is the Giant City Nature Trail. This 1-mile loop takes you through a beautiful forest and showcases the park’s unique rock formations, known as “giant city streets.” These massive sandstone cliffs resemble the streets of a bustling city, hence the name. The trail provides a glimpse into the geological wonders of the park while immersing you in a serene and picturesque environment.


For a more challenging hike, the Devil’s Standtable Trail is a must-visit. This 3-mile loop takes you to the iconic Devil’s Standtable, a massive rock pedestal that stands tall amidst the surrounding forest. As you hike through the park, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of towering bluffs, ancient trees, and a diverse array of wildlife.


Giant City State Park is also a haven for rock climbers. The sandstone bluffs offer a range of routes for climbers of all skill levels, from beginners to experts. It’s a thrilling way to experience the park’s unique rock formations up close and enjoy the breathtaking views from a whole new perspective.


Aside from hiking and rock climbing, the park offers opportunities for camping, fishing, horseback riding, and picnicking. The Giant City Stables offer guided horseback trail rides, allowing visitors to explore the park’s scenic trails on horseback.


For those looking to extend their stay, the park features several rustic cabins and a campground where you can immerse yourself in nature and spend the night under a canopy of stars.


Giant City State Park is truly a nature lover’s paradise. Whether you’re exploring the trails, climbing the bluffs, or simply enjoying a peaceful picnic surrounded by towering trees, this park will leave you with a deep appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the Illinois wilderness.


Mississippi Palisades State Park

Mississippi Palisades State Park, located along the mighty Mississippi River in Illinois, is a hidden gem that offers a serene escape into nature. With its breathtaking bluffs, scenic trails, and panoramic river views, this park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.


One of the highlights of Mississippi Palisades State Park is the Sentinel Trail. This 3-mile loop takes you through towering limestone bluffs, offering stunning views of the Mississippi River and the surrounding countryside. As you hike along the trail, you’ll have the opportunity to explore hidden caves, witness unique rock formations, and spot a variety of wildlife that call this park home.


For a more challenging adventure, the Indian Head Trail is a must-visit. This 2-mile trail takes you to the highest point in the park, known as Indian Head. From this vantage point, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the Mississippi River, the lush forests, and the picturesque bluffs that define the landscape.


Mississippi Palisades State Park also offers opportunities for water-based activities. You can rent a kayak or canoe and explore the tranquil waters of the Mississippi River, taking in the beauty of the surrounding bluffs and enjoying the peacefulness of the river.


Aside from its hiking and water activities, the park provides picnic areas and camping facilities, allowing visitors to extend their stay and immerse themselves in the natural beauty all around.


For rock climbers, Mississippi Palisades State Park offers a variety of routes that cater to different skill levels. The limestone bluffs provide a challenging and rewarding climbing experience, all while providing breathtaking views as you ascend higher.


Whether you’re a seasoned hiker, an avid photographer, or simply looking to escape the noise of the city, Mississippi Palisades State Park offers a peaceful retreat surrounded by natural beauty. The combination of the stunning bluffs, the flowing Mississippi River, and the serene atmosphere make this park a must-visit destination for anyone seeking an outdoor adventure in Illinois.


Cache River State Natural Area

Located in southern Illinois, the Cache River State Natural Area is a hidden gem that offers a unique and pristine natural environment. With its ancient cypress swamps, meandering waterways, and diverse wildlife, this area is a haven for nature enthusiasts, birdwatchers, and outdoor adventurers.


The centerpiece of the Cache River State Natural Area is the Cache River Wetlands, which houses one of the largest and most intact bottomland hardwood forests in the United States. The vast cypress swamps and sloughs create a stunning and tranquil landscape, transporting you to a prehistoric era.


Exploring the trails in the Cache River State Natural Area is like stepping into a different world. The Heron Pond Trail is a popular choice, taking you through a boardwalk that winds through the swamp, providing an up-close and personal encounter with the unique flora and fauna of the area. Keep an eye out for the majestic great blue herons, white egrets, and other migratory birds that call this place home.


If you’re seeking a more immersive experience, the Cache River Canoe Trail is a must-do activity. Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle along the calm waters, winding through ancient cypress trees and witnessing the natural beauty that surrounds you.


The natural area is also home to the iconic Heron Pond – a tranquil oasis nestled within the cypress swamps. This is a prime spot for birdwatchers, as it attracts a diverse range of waterfowl and migratory birds.


Cache River State Natural Area is not only a haven for wildlife, but it is also a place of historical and cultural significance. The remnants of the historic ghost town of Miller City can be found within the area, offering a glimpse into the past and the heritage of the region.


Whether you’re hiking through the ancient forests, paddling along the waterways, or simply taking in the serene beauty, Cache River State Natural Area offers a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s a place where you can connect with nature, escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and immerse yourself in the pristine wilderness that Illinois has to offer.


Illinois Prairie Path

The Illinois Prairie Path, often referred to as the backbone of the trail system in DuPage County, is a historic and scenic trail that stretches across the prairies and suburbs of northern Illinois. Spanning approximately 61 miles, this multi-use trail offers a unique opportunity to explore the natural beauty and rich history of the region.


The Illinois Prairie Path was originally established as the country’s first rail-to-trail conversion in the 1960s. Today, it serves as a recreational haven, attracting walkers, cyclists, joggers, and nature enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.


As you traverse the Illinois Prairie Path, you’ll be treated to a diverse array of landscapes, from open prairies and woodlands to charming neighborhoods and bustling downtowns. The path weaves through scenic parks, nature reserves, and historic sites, providing a captivating journey through the region’s natural and cultural heritage.


One of the highlights of the Illinois Prairie Path is the Wheaton Spur, a 2.5-mile branch that connects the main trail to the vibrant downtown area of Wheaton. It’s a picturesque route that takes you through serene natural areas, past charming homes, and into the heart of this bustling suburban community.


Another notable segment of the trail is the Elgin Branch, a 10-mile stretch that showcases the beauty of the Fox River Valley. This section offers stunning river views, picturesque bridges, and glimpses of wildlife amidst peaceful surroundings.


Throughout the trail, interpretive signs and historical markers provide insight into the area’s rich history, from the Native American presence to the days of rail transportation. These markers offer a glimpse into the past and allow visitors to connect with the stories that have shaped the region.


Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll, a long bike ride, or an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, the Illinois Prairie Path offers something for everyone. You can explore the trail in small sections or embark on a multi-day adventure, discovering the hidden gems and scenic beauty that lie along its route.


The Illinois Prairie Path is a testament to the vision and dedication of those who worked to preserve and repurpose the rail corridors, creating a recreational resource that allows visitors to experience the region’s natural wonders while promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.


So, lace up your walking shoes, hop on your bike, or grab your hiking gear, and embark on a rewarding journey along the Illinois Prairie Path. It’s a trail that offers a delightful blend of nature, history, and community, providing an unforgettable experience for all who venture upon it.


Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens

Located in Palos Heights, Illinois, the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens is a hidden oasis of natural beauty and tranquility. This 85-acre nature preserve offers a diverse range of ecosystems, including wetlands, prairies, woodlands, and a serene lake, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and garden lovers alike.


The centerpiece of Lake Katherine is the stunning lake itself. Surrounded by lush greenery and adorned with beautiful water lilies, the lake offers a peaceful retreat where visitors can relax and enjoy the serenity of the water. You can take a leisurely stroll around the lake or rent a kayak for a more immersive experience, exploring the calm waters and observing the native wildlife that call the lake home.


The nature center at Lake Katherine provides educational programs, exhibits, and interactive displays that offer insight into the region’s natural history and ecological importance. Visitors can learn about the diverse plant and animal species that inhabit the area and gain a deeper understanding of the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship.


The botanic gardens at Lake Katherine showcase a stunning array of plant life, including native Illinois wildflowers, ornamental grasses, and beautifully curated flower beds. The gardens are meticulously maintained, providing a delightful feast for the senses as you meander through the vibrant blooms and breathe in the fragrant scents of nature.


Several walking trails wind through the nature preserve, offering opportunities to explore the diverse habitats and immerse yourself in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing hike, birdwatching, or simply enjoying a picnic surrounded by nature’s splendor.


In addition to its natural and botanical attractions, Lake Katherine offers a variety of educational workshops, nature camps, and guided tours that cater to visitors of all ages. Whether you’re interested in learning about birds, gardening, or simply connecting with nature, there’s a program that will enrich your experience and deepen your appreciation for the natural world.


Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens is not just a place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life; it’s a place to reconnect with nature and find solace in its beauty. Whether you’re exploring the gardens, hiking the trails, or simply enjoying a peaceful moment by the lake, this hidden gem in Palos Heights offers a refreshing and revitalizing experience for all who visit.



Illinois is a state that truly has it all when it comes to outdoor adventure. From the ancient forests of Shawnee National Forest to the stunning rock formations of Starved Rock State Park, and from the tranquil wetlands of Cache River State Natural Area to the pristine beauty of Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens, there is no shortage of incredible hiking spots to explore.


Each of these destinations offers a unique experience, providing a chance to connect with nature, soak in breathtaking views, and create lasting memories. Whether you’re an avid hiker seeking a challenging trail or a nature lover looking to immerse yourself in the tranquility of the outdoors, Illinois has something to offer for everyone.


As you embark on your hiking adventures in Illinois, remember to respect and preserve these natural wonders. Stay on designated trails, leave no trace, and be mindful of the flora and fauna that call these areas home. By practicing responsible hiking and outdoor ethics, we can ensure that these incredible landscapes are protected for generations to come.


So, pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and venture into the wild beauty of Illinois. Whether you find yourself in the rock formations of Shawnee National Forest, the canyons of Starved Rock State Park, the wetlands of Cache River State Natural Area, or the gardens of Lake Katherine, you’ll discover a world of adventure and natural splendor that will leave you in awe.


Get ready to explore Illinois like never before and embark on a journey that will invigorate your senses, rejuvenate your spirit, and ignite a deep love for the natural wonders that this incredible state has to offer.