Weekend Backpacker: Chicago

Get Away from the Windy City
  |  Gorp.com
Chicago skyline
Sunset over Lake Michigan

Spectacular sand dunes, gentle farmland, desert plants, canyons laden with waterfalls, prairies that come alive with color in the spring and fall, and historic buildings over 100 years old—all can be viewed along hiking trails within a three-hour drive from Chicago. Visitors can experience easy to moderate trails in the low-lying areas around Chicago, hike along sand dunes east of the city along Indiana's Lake Michigan shoreline, and take on more challenging terrain west of the city atthe Rock Island State Trail and Sand Ridge State Forest.

In general, the farther west you travel from Chicago, the hillier the countryside and the more challenging the hiking and biking. The Chicago area is loaded with biking and hiking trails; camping becomes more primitive the farther west you go.

In recent years, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been in the process of constructing the Grand Illinois Trail, which will eventually span 475 miles from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The object of the Grand Illinois Trail is to connect existing trails such as the Chicago Lakefront Bike Path, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, Pecatonica Prairie Path, Long Prairie Trail, Fox River Trail, Illinois Prairie Path, and local roads to create a varied, long-distance trail.

If you want to shatter Illinois' reputation as a state with nothing to see but mile after mile of cornfields, hike some of the recommended trails below. You'll encounter memorable scenery and an unexpected diversity of flora and fauna.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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