Last Updated: May 11, 2020

Top 10 Best State Parks in Illinois for Hiking

  • BY Nick Bulanda

    Published May 17, 2019

Hiking is a popular way to get exercise, whether you’re doing it while on a camping trip or vacation or somewhere around your very own home. As the weather warms up, it’s getting about that time to lace up your hiking boots and hit the open trail. Before you head out, there are a few things worth thinking about however. First of all, always remember to take care of any and all hiking trails you decide to visit. It’s up to us to make sure these trails stay in good condition so future generations of hikers are able to experience them as well as we are.

Another thing to plan ahead with is finding new and exciting places to hike. If you’re one of the lucky ones who live in the great state of Illinois, you have an abundance of hiking trails available to you. We’ve compiled this list of some of our favorite state parks in Illinois for hiking in hopes that you might want to go and check them out. The list is full of beautiful and pristine natural locales that are just waiting to be taken in and experienced by summertime hikers like yourself. Let’s dive in!

Explore this beautiful scenic hike by visiting Giant City State Park for a lovely afternoon hike this summer.
Explore this beautiful scenic hike by visiting Giant City State Park for a lovely afternoon hike this summer.

1.) Giant City State Park

Visit the gorgeous Giant City State Park near the southern tip of Illinois to experience picturesque hiking trails alongside some of the most wondrous natural terrain to be found in the entire state. There are some notable locations and fun things to do in the park, such as visiting the Giant City Stone Fort site or checking out the horseback riding trails or a nice fishing spot. Whether you want to take the opportunity to spend some time alone in nature, or you decide to go on a little adventure with family or friends, we think that the 4,000 acre Giant City State Park is one of the absolute best state parks in Illinois for hiking.

2.) Matthiessen State Park

Located just outside the city of Oglesby, Matthiessen State Park features five miles of glorious hiking trails for your pleasure, amid a pretty canyon landscape of trees and rock, and even some waterfalls! Despite its location near a more famous state park that we’ll be discussing shortly, we actually prefer and recommend Matthiessen State Park as our favorite hiking locale in the area. There is some excellent geocaching to be done, as well as archery, fishing or camping! The park began as the grounds of two mansions owned by a man named Frederick William Matthiessen, but the land was eventually kindly donated to become what it is today! You’ll have a fantastic time if you decide to pay a visit to this pleasant little state park.

3.) Starved Rock State Park

The aforementioned state park that lies only a short distance from Matthiessen, Starved Rock State Park is the most popular state park in Illinois, and for good reason! The park has a long and storied history that is well worth exploring, dealing with its Native American origins to French explorers all the way up to its modern existence today. There are a number of interesting landmarks to be checked out while you visit, but just make sure you spend enough time soaking in the excellence of your natural surroundings. After all, there are more than 13 miles of available hiking trails for you to explore. Well… what are you waiting for?!

4.) Ferne Clyffe State Park

Heading back down to the south side of the state, we have the remote Ferne Clyffe State Park. Bring a camera, as you’re sure to experience a number of picture-worthy views that you won’t want to forget. With its interesting and unique plant life and unique geological formations, this underrated gem is well-worth the drive for a day trip, or even a couple of days spent camping! Just be sure to bring along the best camping chair you can find, otherwise it might be a bit of an uncomfortable trip for you.

5.) Silver Springs State Park

You don’t have to venture hours and hours out of Chicago to visit some true scenic beauty. The nearby Silver Springs State Park offers hiking, fishing, horseback riding trails, hunting, canoeing and more, all less than two hours of a drive out of the city. The park has a gorgeous five mile hiking trail that lets you observe a variety of natural habitats and wildlife. If you’ve got the time and the adventurous spirit, we recommend renting a canoe from a nearby business and making your way through the available waterways at your own leisurely pace. It’s an excellent alternative to hiking for those looking for a change of pace.

Enjoy the pristine trails found at Kankakee River State Park, where you will find places for hiking, hunting and more.
Enjoy the pristine trails found at Kankakee River State Park, where you will find places for hiking, hunting and more.

6.) Kankakee River State Park

This 4,000 acre state park is located south of Chicago, not too much farther of a drive than Silver Springs, making it another excellent day trip getaway for city dwellers. Whether you’re just simply looking for some nice trails to get a little bit of daily exercise, or you want to venture out and explore some of our country’s great natural history, Kankakee River State Park is a lovely destination, and is certainly one of the best state parks in Illinois for hiking. Check out their web page to see some of the fun activities you can take part in there, such as biking, metal detecting or dog training! That’s only if you tire of the classic hiking experience, and we don’t see that happening any time soon.

7.) Pere Marquette State Park

At a whopping 8,050 acres, Pere Marquette State Park is Illinois largest, and that of course means there is an abundance of beautiful space for hiking. There are unique geological features to discover, and around 12 miles of marked trails to explore! There’s an informative and fun visitor center, and you cannot go to Pere Marquette without taking advantage of the absolutely breathtaking view of the Illinois River meeting up with the Mississippi River. It’s a sight that won’t likely leave your mind for the rest of your days, as it is truly that gorgeous. The park has a long, well-documented history, and it’s not hard to see why it’s one of the best state parks in Illinois for hiking.

8.) Rock Cut State Park

Appropriately found outside of Rockford, Illinois is Rock Cut State Park, another one of the best state parks in Illinois for hiking. With the rich Native American history in the region, it’s no wonder that the park itself is steeped in some of that very same culture. The park contains two lakes, as well as an abundance of hiking trails and other activities for visitors to partake in. If Rock Cut State Park isn’t too far of a drive for you and you have not yet had the pleasure of visiting, it’s one that we highly recommend going to check out next time you have the right opportunity to do so. Taking a hike along the scenic lakes is one of the best hiking experiences you could have in the state.

Hike alongside stunning waterways and experience nature the way it was meant to be experienced.
Hike alongside stunning waterways and experience nature the way it was meant to be experienced.

9.) Apple River Canyon State Park

If you want to experience a little bit of a different kind of terrain than most of the other best state parks in Illinois for hiking, we recommend paying a visit to Apple River Canyon State Park, tucked away in the northwest corner of the state. You’ll be able to hike up and down hills and alongside a river, as well as experience some great fishing locations (word around town is you can find smallmouth bass here). Bring along some food and have a picnic, just so long as the weather is nice! Apple River Canyon State Park is a really attractive place to get some exercise, and we believe it’s one of Illinois’ underrated gems.

10.) Moraine Hills State Park

About a dozen miles off the coast of Lake Michigan on the north end of the state, you’ll find Moraine Hills State Park, with an assortment of things to do and sights to see. There is, of course, plenty of amazing hiking to be done here, as well as fishing, canoeing and more. Spend some time on the wonderful Lake Defiance, which maintains its natural beauty by avoiding the redevelopment that has plagued many of the lakes around the country. There are over 10 miles of hiking trails here, so that’s plenty of ground for you left to cover. You had better get going soon!

Always remember, it’s our duty to take care of our natural environment, so be sure not to leave anything behind such as garbage. Otherwise we won’t have the ability to go out and experience these trails in the future. Do you have any other preferred hiking spots around the great state of Illinois? Be sure to share them with us in the comments below!

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