Illinois Road Trip Round-Up – Top Hiking & Biking Trails
We’ve been “All In for Illinois” during the pandemic, but as we hit the unofficial start of summer, we’re ready to enjoy our state safely. Check-in every Tuesday for an Illinois Road Trip Round-Up on themed topics showcasing sixteen destinations across Illinois. This week, we’re bringing you the state’s top hiking and biking trails! So pack up the family, bring your masks and get ready for a road trip!
Chicago Southland is home to over 40,000 acres of beautiful forestry, teeming with wildlife, greenery and an abundance of hiking and biking trails. With miles of trails winding through the entire region, there is sure to be a trail for every hiker, biker and walker to enjoy. Grab your bike and hit the Cal-Sag trail, built along the banks of the Cal-Sag Channel and Calumet River, or walk along the 21-mile Old Plank Road Trail, originally a Native American transportation corridor that travels through several suburbs. No matter what trail you’re looking for, you can find it in Chicago Southland! (Image credit: Thomas Photographic)
Miles of gorgeous trails await you in the Aurora Area of Illinois, just 40 miles west of Chicago. The Fox River Trail’s spacious, winding riverside bike paths offer scenic views between stops at charming, historic downtowns, while the elevation at Saw Wee Kee Park in Oswego provides an exhilarating challenge for mountain-bikers and trail-runners. Enjoy curbside coffee and dining at spots like Endiro Coffee, an #IllinoisMade destination in Aurora Downtown, and shop the Aurora Farmers Market, the oldest in Illinois. Visit our website for more information on an outdoor adventure in the Aurora Area.
VISIT CHAMPAIGN COUNTY
Crossing into the Champaign County area for a 6.7 mile run from Urbana to St. Joseph, the Kickapoo Rail Trail spans nearly 25 miles in total across some of the state's most diverse ecosystems, including woodland, prairie, and wetland. The retired railroad corridor is a great place to bring the bikes for a day of adventure. Just start the trail in Urbana at the Main Street Spur and ride all the way to St. Joesph for an over 13-mile ride round-trip!
CHICAGO'S NORTH SHORE
Take a trip across scenic areas of the North Shore on the Sheridan Road Bike Trail, starting in Evanston. Evanston is a fun place to wander, the walkable downtown is steps from Lake Michigan and home to Northwestern University. Ride one mile to Wilmette to see the Baha'i House of Worship, which stands as a symbol of unity. The space is open daily to all for contemplation, personal prayer, and meditation. Stretch your legs and enjoy the gardens and fountains before you get back on the road. Another three miles leads you to the Writer’s Theatre, a premiere Chicago theatre company in Glencoe for a great adventure.
MEET CHICAGO NORTHWEST
Busse Woods (also known as Ned Brown Forest Preserve) is a nearly 13-mile continuously looped trail allowing for hiking and biking easily with its paved surface. Keep an eye open for the fenced-in Elk Pasture on the North East side—you might just spot one of the elk hiding in the brush. Hiking and biking are not the only things you can do here. Bring along a kayak or a canoe for a cruise through Busse Lake in the heart of Busse Woods. (Note: parking lots temporarily close on weekends and holidays to limit guests.)
The Illinois Prairie Path (IPP), one of DuPage County’s 11 Natural Wanders experiences, is an iconic 24-mile loop. Passing through quaint downtowns and forest preserves, amidst waterways and scenic beauty, the IPP is the grandfather of the rails-to-trails movement and fittingly intersects with the Great Western Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Both trails are made of crushed limestone. The IPP spans 60 miles, 40 of which are in DuPage. Enjoy the entire 24-mile loop or a stretch of this urban escape, stopping along the way for a bite to eat or a drink or simply relax in the shade.
Looking to beat cabin fever and stretch your legs? Stop in Effingham and hit the trails…the TREC Trails to be specific! The TREC trails stretch across the city of Effingham and offer paved walkways that wind through wooded countryside, over Interstates 57 and 70 and provide stunning views of Midwestern rivers and valleys. The trails are open to all and provide a great place for visitors to walk, run, bike or just enjoy the great outdoors. Bring your family and discover active wildlife, native blooms and more, from a safe social distance, right here in Effingham!
Looking to get back to nature? The Fox River Bike Trails offer more than 40 miles of scenic paths perfect for walking or biking. They run beside the Fox River in Northern Illinois and travel through multiple towns like Elgin, West Dundee, East Dundee, Carpentersville and South Elgin. The trail is easily accessible, just a quick walk from the Elgin Metra station or from one of Elgin's free parking garages. Along the way sits interesting stops like Pratt Castle, Van's Frozen Custard and Hawthorne Hill Nature Center. Not to mention the countless number of picnic and fishing spots!
GREAT RIVERS AND ROUTES
Let the Mississippi River be your guide along the scenic Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail which meanders for 20 miles between Alton and Grafton, IL. Perched on the edge of the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, the paved trail is the perfect way to spend a day, or even a few hours, enjoying the views of the Mighty Mississippi River flanked by soaring 300-foot limestone bluffs. Stop at the Piasa Bird petroglyph for a glimpse into the region’s past and take a side trip into the historic Village of Elsah on your journey.
When you are biking along the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail, it’s hard to believe that the “little” waterway to the side truly changed our country. The I&M Canal opened in 1858, allowing Chicago to become the true industrial leader and shipping hub, as boats could travel from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River and the Gulf of Mexico. The trail itself is 61.5 miles from Rockdale to LaSalle, including scenic views of the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers. Find out more by clicking here.
ILLINOISouth Tourism is home to several amazing hiking and biking trails across its 22-county territory. One of the ‘hidden gems’ of these trails is Piney Creek Ravine – tucked away in Randolph County. Hikers can experience the largest collection of prehistoric rock art in Illinois at Piney Creek Ravine, dating back to AD 500-1000. Another unique trail in ILLINOISouth is Beall Woods in Wabash County. Beall Woods attracts people from all over the world because it has one of the few remaining tracts of virgin timber east of the Mississippi River. Visitors can see trees that are 12 stories tall and over three feet in diameter!
VISIT MCHENRY COUNTY
Whether it’s a morning trek, a family weekend ride or part of your weekly fitness regime, hike, pedal or roll along over 45 miles of trails offered throughout McHenry County on the Prairie Trail. Stretching 26 miles from Algonquin to just shy of the Wisconsin State Line, the Prairie Trail connects eight McHenry County communities. There are several scenic and recreational stopping points along the Prairie Trail, including the ox River and Larsen Prairie. Main access points are located north of Algonquin, along Main Street in Crystal Lake, at Petersen Park in McHenry and in Glacial Park north of Ringwood.
One of the best places in the Rockford region to hike and bike is Rock Cut State Park. Step away from the virtual world to explore the park’s 3,092 acres. There are miles of biking and hiking trails waiting to be explored. Guests can choose to trek through trails in the trees or opt for the paved path circling Pierce Lake in the middle of the park. In addition to hiking and biking, the park is also open for fishing. Rock Cut State Park is the perfect place to get out into nature while still remaining socially distant from others!
The Rocky Bluff Trail, in Southern Illinois, is a 1.7-mile moderate level loop in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. A day-use fee of $2 is required to access the refuge. The well-maintained path sees a 157-foot gain in elevation and features a lake and two waterfalls. At the beginning of the loop, you can hear the water flow, and see how the rocks have eroded at the trailhead. This hike offers varied terrain such as narrow passes, some hills, some rocks and caves and it is accessible year-round. Dogs are welcome, as long as they are leashed.
Nature abounds in Springfield! Southwind Park, 80 acres of space with 2.5 miles of urban. Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center over 5 miles of trails with woodland and prairie gardens that Lincoln would have known. Washington Park, enjoy mature trees and rolling terrain throughout with two man-made lagoons. Opportunities for hiking too! Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, with over 40 acres of woodland, prairie and wetlands to explore. Looking for a paved trail? Lost Bridge Trail, Sangamon Valley Bike Trail, Wabash Trail and Interurban Trail combine for over 20 miles. For more info, please click here.
Trails in the Quad Cities offer some of the best exploration, active lifestyle experiences, and provide unique year-round recreation. Enjoy biking, mountain biking, hiking and taking your dog along miles of some of the best trails in the country. You can also pull out the paddles and discover water trails on the Mississippi and Rock Rivers. Quad Cities is home to the beautiful Great River Trail that runs 62-miles from Rock Island to Savanna, along the Mississippi River. Cycling enthusiasts say this is a must-experience trail. Hikers love the pristine woodland trails of Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island, once home to the Sauk Native American Indians. Visit Quad Cities invites you to get out and trail in the QC.