Best Places to Hike with Kids Near Chicago

There are both woodland and paved trails at the Morton Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Canva
There are both woodland and paved trails at the Morton Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Canva
6/16/23 - By Maureen Wilkey

Hikes in Chicago are a fun family outing that's outdoors, close to home, and doesn't break the bank. Hiking with kids in one of Chicago's forest preserves or parks is a great way to get everyone outside, and there are many shady trails where you can beat the heat while getting some exercise.

We’ve rounded up 15 of our favorite Chicago-area hiking spots, all within an hour's drive of the city, for a perfect family day trip. While some hiking trails may be better suited to bigger kids who can walk a mile or more on their own, plenty of these paths are stroller friendly—in fact, we’ve hiked a few with two preschoolers in a double stroller.  Who knows, maybe a local hike will inspire your family to take a trip to a national park this year or next.


Places to Hike with Kids in Chicago

1. North Park Nature Village 

For a taste of nature without leaving the city, Chicago families can visit North Park Village Nature Center. The 46-acre nature preserve has trails that display the areas woodland, wetland, prairie, and savanna. Kids may also enjoy the Walking Stick Woods natural area designed for outdoor nature play. Check the Nature Village's website for events centered around art, music, and of course, nature, many of which are kid-friendly.

Hikes in Chicago: Cantigny Park

Cantigny Park has paved or gravel trails that are easy on strollers. Photo by Maureen Wilkey

Places to Hike with Kids West of Chicago

2. Morton Arboretum 

This DuPage County tree-lovers haven has hosted three amazing sculpture exhibits in our kids' lifetime. The breakout hit Troll Hunt was followed up by Human+Nature, and now the Of the Earth large scale nature-based sculptures have taken their five places in the Arborteum. The park offers walking and hiking options for kids of many ages and abilities. The fully paved mile-long Meadow Lake trail is perfect for walking with a double stroller, while more intrepid adventurers can explore collections of trees and plants from all over the world. Programming includes themed Woodland Family Hikes led by Arboretum staff, summer evening concerts, cultural festivals, and dog admission days throughout the year.

3. Fullersburg Woods 

More than three miles of scenic trail erupt in color with flowers in spring and autumn leaves in the fall. Along the path, families may see geese, toads, beavers, foxes, herons, or egrets. The historic Graue Mill and Museum, a man-made waterfall, and the Fullersburg Woods Nature Center, home to real woolly mammoth bones found in DuPage County, are fun stops along the way.

4. Cantigny Park

History and nature converge at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Along paved or gravel trails, families can explore the rose garden, keyhole garden, and gold pond garden. Many kids’ favorite is the tank park, where they can check more than a dozen real army tanks. Intrepid kids may enjoy climbing on the tanks. When you're done hiking, there's an extensive playground near the main parking lot for kids to enjoy, or you can visit the First Division Museum for a dose of military history. In the summer, movies and concerts are presented weekly within the park.

5. Waterfall Glen

This 2,300-acre nature preserve is home to a nearly 10-mile trail loop best traversed by bigger kids and adults. Smaller kids might enjoy an orienteering course for beginners through advanced compass-handlers. Park in the Bluff Road parking lot to access the namesake Rocky Glen Waterfall via the Rocky Glen Trail. Not all areas are stroller friendly, but a short out-and-back hike could introduce kids to the forest and prairies of the park.

6. Knoch Knolls/DuPage River Park

This is one of few locations we know of where kids can get their feet wet in the DuPage River during their hike. The park’s 5.5 miles of trail connect it to DuPage River Park to the south and east. The DuPage River runs through both parks and lends itself to canoeing and kayaking. At one boat launch, kids can wade a short way into the water. Sporty families can also enjoy the park’s 18-net disc golf course. A nature playground and nature center complement the hiking experience, and families can enjoy guided hikes in the spring and fall with park district staff or on their mobile phone. 

7. Herrick Lake Forest Preserve

Families looking for a short stroller jaunt around the lake or groups looking to embark on an 8-mile excursion may like Herrick Lake, one of just two glacier-formed lakes in DuPage County Forest Preserves. The lake itself leads into a forested hiking trail and then a prairie landscape with paths extending into neighboring Danada Forest Preserve to the east. Fishing and boating are allowed on the lake, and trails are well-marked and easily walkable for kids of all ages.

Hikes in Chicago: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Kids may spot bison on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Photo courtesy of Forest Service, Eastern Region 

Places to Hike with Kids South of Chicago

8. Little Red School House Nature Preserve 

Families can explore 2.4 miles of trails along with an accessible garden for people of all abilities at this southwest suburban nature center. The namesake schoolhouse was built in 1886 and served as a classroom building until 1948. Naturalists are leading family exploration walks and talks about various creatures in the park like honey bees, birds, and flies.

9. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie 

The USDA’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington is home to a bison repopulation project, allowing kids to see the animals that once roamed the Great Plains. The 13,000 acre site includes more than 21 miles of trails. Families can download a brochure from the website to find selected paths that may work out best for them. Included on the trails are a World War II era portable bridge, a turtle pond, and two historic farmsteads to explore. Kids can enjoy Midewin for Kids summer programs where they can learn more about nature throughout the preserve.

10. Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens

A man-made waterfall is the highlight of this southwest suburban nature center. The park’s 85 acres include an herb garden, butterfly garden, children’s forest, nature play area, pollinator restoration area, and overlooks onto the waterfall and canals. Guided tours and programs for kids can teach them more about what they see out on the trails.

Hikes near Chicago: Chicago Botanic Gardens

Kids can explore the children's garden or sensory garden, among others, at Chicago Botanic Gardens. Photo courtesy of Illinois Office of Tourism

Places to Hike with Kids North of Chicago

11. Busse Woods 

Trails from one to seven miles meander through prairie, forest, and even an elk pasture in this northwest suburban forest preserve. Families can go boating or fishing, enjoy a picnic, or search for a wide variety of wildlife including herons, egrets, terns, minks, and muskrats.

12. North Branch Trail

This 36-mile trail system connects the Northwest Side to the Northwest Suburbs, starting in LaBagh Woods near Foster and Cicero and ending at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glenwview. In between, hikers and bikers can visit Caldwell Woods, Harms Woods Nature Preserve, and the Skokie Lagoons for fishing and boating.

13. Chicago Botanic Gardens

Gardeners and aspiring gardeners can get ideas from the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Kids can explore more than 40 displays from the Aquatic Garden and the Children’s Growing Garden to the Sensory Garden and the Waterfall Garden. Admission is $13.95 to $19.95 per adult during the summer months. Plenty of programming, from yoga to cooking to guided hikes, is provided by park staff.

14. Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

More than 60 unique sculptures adorn McCormick Boulevard between Dempster Street and Touhy Avenue next to the Chicago River. Free public tours are led by guided docents from May to October, or families can downlaod self-guided tours or games to their phones. The park educates young learners about art, and even includes art from local high schoolers.

15. Independence Grove

This 1,114-acre forest preserve includes seven miles of trail centered around a 115-acre lake made from a reclaimed quarry. Trails provide views of a forest and native garden. While the lake is closed for swimming, visitors can enjoy boating on the grounds. The Children's Grove has adaptable equipment in a sensory-rich play environment for young children to enjoy. 

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