Scenic Hiking Trails for Kids in Chicagoland

Go on an adventure at these kid-friendly trails.

No matter the season, the outdoors are calling. Some of the best Chicago-area hiking spots are a perfect way for outdoor enthusiasts to escape. Here’s what to expect from some of the top and most beautiful hiking trails for kids in the area.

Busse Woods at Ned Brown Forest Preserve

The paved trail in the Cook County Forest Preserves is an eight-mile loop that takes hikers and bikers along the shore of Busse Lake and through forests of maple and oakwood trees. If you’re lucky, you might see the elk!

Fox River Bluff West Forest Preserve

Situated along the Fox River in St. Charles, this popular preserve is a hidden gem of the Western Suburbs. Here you’ll find miles of trails, scenic bridges, boardwalks and areas for fishing and biking.

North Park Village Nature Center Park

You don’t have to venture far from the city to enjoy a nice hike. Featuring more than 100 acres of trails through woodlands, wetlands and prairies, along with a nature preserve and educational center, North Park is a little-known spot for enjoying the great outdoors right in our own backyard. When you need a break from hiking, enjoy nature play time at Walking Stick Woods, a 12-acre woodland.

River Trail Nature Center

If you’re looking for a scenic hike that kids can easily walk (but is also stroller-friendly), this Northbrook forest preserve is the place. A 1.5-mile trail winds you through the park along the scenic Des Plaines River. Along the way, you’ll spot sugar maple-basswood forest, prairie and wetlands, along with a variety of insects, birds and plants. Check out the animals in the enclosures including a coyote and bald eagle.

Independence Grove

Photo Credit: Katina Beniaris

Hiking is encouraged at this Libertyville park with both paved and gravel trails, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. Either way, visitors will enjoy views of the 115-acre lake and picturesque woodlands.

The Morton Arboretum

Photo Credit: Morton Arboretum

Want to keep your hike short and sweet (and ideally, melt-down free)? Morton offers a quick .55-mile paved loop around Meadow Lake that will burn kids’ energy without completely exhausting them. The Children’s Garden is always a big hit!

Starved Rock State Park

Photo Credit: Adam Alexander, Courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism

We would be remiss not to mention Illinois’ ultimate hiking spot, Starved Rock in Oglesby. The park features 13 miles of trails, canyons and seasonal waterfalls, plus enough wildlife to keep your kids’ attention for the afternoon (just watch out for snakes!). Heads up: The trails here are not made for strollers, so opt for a carrier instead if you’ve got babies or toddlers.

Matthiessen State Park

Photo Credit: Kathy Casstevens

If time allows, venture down the street to Mathiessen State Park for a fun adventure in the water and more waterfall viewing.  With five trails to choose from, a personal favorite by far is the path right along the stream’s edge which gives you breathtaking views up close of the canyons, geological formations and waterfalls. Hop along concrete stones, cross streams and logs. Kids will love the adventure. During the summer, you’ll be able to see 60 acres of sunflowers bloom for free. Check out this guide to all the fun things in the Starved Rock area.

The Grove

The trails at The Grove take you through woodlands, wetlands and grasslands. This hidden gem not only has over 2 miles of hiking trails to explore, but is also considered an outdoor history and nature museum perfect for those curious minds. Explore the indoor exhibits (including a giant sloth) at the Interpretive Center.

Ryerson Conservation Area

Photo Credit: Carol Freeman

Ryerson Conservation Area, also fondly known as Ryerson Woods, offers something for the entire family. Trails that wind through the woods and past historic buildings? Check. Short loop trails for those pint-sized explorers? Check. Boardwalks and wooden bridge for added fun? Check. There’s even a small farm with sheep and chicken or combine your love of reading and hiking by following along the storybook trail. Once the weather warms up, try to spot butterflies in the rain garden.

Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens

Looking for an easy yet picturesque hike? The mulched 1-mile trail around the lake is perfect. If you’re looking for a longer walk, look to the connecting Cal Sag Trail. Diversions include a butterfly, herb, and heritage gardens. Also, don’t forget to snap a pic by the gorgeous waterfall! Take a break at the nature play areas and the Children’s Forest featuring wetlands, a spider maze, the schoolhouse arch and a salamander mound about halfway through the loop.

Crabtree Nature Center

Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

This Barrington Hills gem has 3 miles of trails through woodlands, wetlands and prairies for the family to explore. Looking for something short and sweet? Take the Giant’s Hollow Trail and you may spot some frogs in the frog ponds. Kids will adore the nature play area and the animals in the enclosure. Take the time to explore the nature play area, too.

Glacial Park

For a real-life geology lesson, head to Glacial Park to see how glaciers sculpted the landscape. This McHenry County gem offers 5 miles of trails through the woods, bog, marsh, savannas and prairies. The highlight though is climbing the 100-foot kame, aka a really large hill formed mostly of gravel deposited by glaciers over 10,000 years. During the winter, enjoy sledding down the hill or snowshoeing.

Waterfall Glen 

Skip this park’s 9-mile loop around Argonne National Laboratory and opt for the shorter trail to Rocky Glen Waterfall. Kids will love playing on the paved area around this tiny waterfall, the scenic overlook and finding hidden structures in the woods. Plus, it’s less than a mile hike from the parking lot to the waterfall. The waterfall parking lot is on the south side of the park, about .3 mile east of Cass Avenue. 

Salt Creek Trail

  • Access points in the Western Suburbs

Beginning in Brookfield Woods and stretching over 16 miles west to Bemis Woods in Western Springs, the paved Salt Creek Trail is an easily walkable trail for kids. Stroll behind houses that border the creek; many neighboring residents have cute backyards that add to the trail! With access points in Brookfield, Forest View, La Grange Park, Lyons, McCook, North Riverside, Oak Brook, Riverside, Westchester and Western Springs, there’s always a new point to hop on or turn back, making every trip to this trail a unique one! 

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Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Since 1984, the Chicago Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for Chicagoland families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.
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