13 Scenic Hiking Trails for Kids in Chicagoland

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

  • Address: 5N753 IL Route 31, St. Charles
  • COVID-19 updates: The trails are open. Limited capacity indoors at Creek Bend Nature Center and the Barbara Belding Lodge. Masks and social distancing measures are expected.

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

  • Address: 3120 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook
  • COVID-19 updates: Nature Center exhibit buildings within Forest Preserve of Cook County are closed. Parking limited. Grounds, trails, and bathrooms are open. Guests are expected to maintain social distancing protocol and wear masks.

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

  • Address: 16400 Buckley Road, Libertyville
  • COVID-19 updates: The Grove’s gatehouse is open, but the beach, marina, bathrooms and playgrounds are closed until further notice.

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

  • Address: 4100 IL Route 53, Lisle
  • COVID-19 updates: The Visitor Center, The Arboretum Store, the Ginkgo Café, Maze Garden, Children’s Garden are currently open with modified operations. Visitor Center and West Pavilion bathrooms are open.

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

  • Address: 2668 E. 875th Road, Oglesby
  • COVID-19 updates: Masks must be worn when entering any park building, restrooms or when you’re not able to social distance.

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

  • Address: 2500 IL-178, Oglesby
  • COVID-19 updates: Masks required in buildings, bathrooms, and outdoors when social distancing not possible

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

  • Address: 3 Stover Road, Barrington Hills
  • COVID-19 updates: Nature Center exhibit buildings within Forest Preserve of Cook County are closed Parking limited. Grounds, trails and bathrooms are open. Guests are expected to maintain social distancing protocol and wear masks.

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. Want to try snowshoeing during the winter months? You can try it for free here!

Glacial Park

  • Address: 6705 Route 31, Ringwood
  • COVID-19 updates: Masks and social distancing measures are expected. Visitor center and bathrooms open.

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.


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