Take the fun outside to explore the Chicago area on foot. Whether you’re pushing a stroller or lacing up little hiking boots, there are plenty of great trails to explore in and around the city. Here are our faves.MoreLess
This North Shore destination is 26 gardens in one — and each has a different feel and plenty of vibrant colors. Stroll the 385 acres of land and pause at the most photogenic sites. They include the Japanese Garden, where you can pose and play amidst striking bonsai plants. And don't miss the English Walled Garden, where you can make like you're in the Cotswalds. Due to COVID, you'll need to reserve your timed-entry slot.
The 1,700 acres of verdant green space are the stuff dream backyards are made of. Wander the 16 miles of paved and wood-chipped walking paths, and romp around the Children's Garden; it has secret streams, huge wooden playground structures and photo opportunities so pretty you'll do back flips. A visit to the Arboretum this fall is extra special because you can check out the mammoth mythical creatures of Troll Hunt, each made of reclaimed wood.
Yet another reason to spend an afternoon on the South Side, The Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park is modeled after traditional Japanese "stroll garden," where each turn gives way to a photo-worthy panorama. The newly revamped garden symbolizes Japan and the U.S.'s complicated 160-year story of friendship, turmoil and prosperity. It's even home to Skylanding, Yoko Ono's first permanent art installation in the United States comprised of a dozen lotus-shaped petals.
Trek to Joliet for a blaze of fall colors at this worth-the-drive oasis. You might already know it for its Fairy Fest, a kid-idolized dress-up extravaganza held every May. In autumn, it's a great place for leisurely walks on forested paths on 640 acres that's peppered with picnic grounds and playground areas.
Take a short trip southwest of Chicago to explore land that was once home to Native American tribes. It has 13 miles of well-marked walking trails that cut down and around rugged rock formations. The trails jag in and out of canyons and are not stroller friendly. However, if you have older kids they're worth the trek, even if only for the beautiful waterfalls that dot the way. If you have a stroller, stick to the one-mile sidewalk that surrounds the observation deck behind Starved Rock Lodge.
Give autumn a shout-out at one of the city's adored nature centers. Its trails wind through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna—and fall colors take hold everywhere. Drop by the birding area for peeks at rare birds. During non-COVID times, visit the Discovery Room, which has an area where you can touch and feel nature objects native to the area.
This man-made peninsula can be accessed by Chicago's Lakefront Trail and has excellent views of the skyline from afar. But you're more likely to be peeping the fall foliage. Blazing red and yellow leaves look at all more picturesque when set against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and skyscrapers. Of note to architecture buffs: The landscaping was designed by noted designer Alfred Caldwell and includes stone rings along the lakefront that are now used as fire pits.
Fall color clusters around two shimmering bodies of water—Pierce Lake and Olson Lake—at this destination located just outside Rockford. The restored prairie land looks not only painterly, but it's also a great place for bird watching. If you don't want to walk the trails, there are also opportunities for horseback riding.
Hidden just north of Lincoln Park Zoo, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond is a tree-spangled paradise with landscape architecture history that grownups appreciate. It was designed by Alfred Caldwell in the Prairie School style and named a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Kids go bananas for the rich fall colors and water lilies that float in the pool.
Hikers, bikers, and stroller jockeys (even cross-country skiers after those first snowflakes fall) can take advantage of this 2,492-acre forest preserve created long ago by meltaways from the Wisconsin Glacier. Adventure seekers can trek as many as 11 miles of limestone and turf-covered routes via four mapped trails through Waterfall Glen’s most scenic areas which include overlooks and a man-made waterfall.
This urban wildlife haven plays host to a variety of animals with the original visitor center and several of the shelters still standing. Fullersburg maintains two trails manageable for families to hike or bike. A 1.3-mile interpretive trail follows Salt Creek through lowland woods and restored prairies and includes information on DuPage’s natural history. Along a half-mile trail, you’ll find Graue Mill Museum where you can show the kiddos the only working water wheel grist mill in the area.
Just under 70 miles west of Chicago, urban sprawl gives way to 1,550 acres of rolling prairie that provides a natural haven from the daily hustle and bustle. In addition to just over eight easily-navigated miles of scenic hiking and cross-country skiing trails that weave through wooded areas, Shabbona features a 318-acre man-made fishing lake, 15-acre seasonal nesting area for migratory waterfowl and areas for picnicking and camping.
Thanks to the Wisconsin Glacier over 10,000 years ago, this beautiful playground for outdoor adventurers exists. Kettle Moraine consists of 6 units that display a variety of ecosystems with everything from lakes to bogs and rivers to swamps and activities that range from bird watching (that can be done from the comfort of a stroller) to mountain biking. There are several fire towers that can be climbed to get expansive views of the area and beaches for swimming, fishing and exploring.
Got a dino-lover in the home? Trek on over to Lemont, where the lush Sagawau Canyon, the only such landform in northeastern Illinois, will transport you to the days of the dinosaurs. Located in the valley of the Des Plaines River, the exposed dolomite rock that the gorge is carved through is likely the reason why biodiversity rules this smaller scale canyon.