While the weather outside might seem frightful to some, for all you snow bunnies out there it’s time to put on your winter hiking boots and get ready to enjoy the beautiful wintry elements that this great state has to offer. There is something about a hike through these wintry fairylands and watching the world around you covered in a beautiful powdering of snow-kissed wonderment that is sure to change the way you feel about wintertime in Illinois (even if Jack Frost
is nipping at your nose).
1. Moraine Hills State Park, 1510 S. River Road, McHenry
With all the hills and ridges in this beautiful park it’s easy to hike these trails without having the cold, chilly elements and wind whipping in your face. Enjoy the 10 miles of carved out trails while taking breaks for some lovely bird watching. From lakes and marshes to glaciers, this is a stunning hike when it is blanketed by pure white snow.
2. Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest, Observation Trail, Herod
With this being one of the most popular places to hike in Illinois it comes as no surprise that this is a crowd-pleaser for hikers and outdoorsy individuals alike. Grab your camera and head out on these 5.5 miles of interlacing trails that will end with jaw-dropping views. After you pick your jaw off the ground, head to the west end of the Shawnee National Park to Indian Kitchen and enjoy some beautiful winter hiking while majestic 100-feet canyons envelop you. Fair warning: the rocks can become slippery when wet, so always proceed with caution when hiking these wintry trails.
3. Starved Rock State Park, 2668 East 873 Road, Oglesby
This is the ultimate hiker’s delight. Enjoy taking in the sites all by yourself or join a guided winter hike every weekend from now until the end of March. Watch beautiful bald eagles soar around Eagle Cliff and Lover’s Leap while taking in the stunning frozen waterfalls near LaSalle Canyon. And be sure to head to the Starved Rock Lodge café for a hot chocolate to end the glorious day.
4. Matthiessen State Park, IL-178 North Utica
If you were already planning to check out Starved Rock during the winter then you would be sorely remiss if you didn’t head a couple more miles to Matthiessen State Park. With icy streams, frozen waterfalls and snowy canyons this place is sure to be a magical wonderland. Grab a thermos of hot cocoa and make your way along these beautiful trails of solitude. They even have five miles of visible hiking trails for all you beginning hikers out there.
5. Glacial Park Nature Preserve, Ringwood
With 3,400 acres of land, this place is a hiker's delight. And with a name like Glacial Park it’s sure to be the perfect place for your outdoor winter expedition. Don’t forget the cross-country ski trails or your sled and enjoy all the fun winter activities in this beautiful prairie. Take in the scenic frozen creeks and kame deltas before heading to the Visitors Center for a warm reprieve.
6. Morton Arboretum, Lisle
If you are looking to stay close to Chicago, then the Morton Arboretum will surely not disappoint. In fact, with 1700-acres of beautiful nature it’s pretty breathtaking in the winter. Enjoy the 16 miles of trails around Meadow Lake or you can take the road less traveled and discover some beautiful sites of your own. Then warm the frozen fingers and refuel by heading inside to the Ginkgo Café for a piping-hot coffee and some snacks.
7. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Darien
It’s amazing how water can still look absolutely picturesque even while frozen in time. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve offers trails of varying difficulty to please everyone from the novice to the avid hiker. Enjoy the ravines and ridges of this serene forest preserve while nestled under a sea of dazzling snow.
8. Beaver Dam Lake, Springfield
In the state’s capital lie beautiful wetlands boasting a 59-acre lake and a gorgeous 2.9-mile hike through this historic park. While in the summer the lake comes alive with butterflies and bullfrogs, you’ll still get to enjoy the stunning and pristine beauty of the park even if the animals haven’t come out to play.
9. Red Hills State Park, 3571 Ranger Lane, Sumner
With hiking, biking and equestrian trails, as well as seasonal hunting, you’re sure to find this state park to be on the top of your list. With 967-acres of land you’ll adore the breathtaking wonder of this wintry site. If you really want to treat yourself while you’re there, take in a little ice skating or ice fishing to really put you in the spirit of the season.
10. Robert Allerton Park, 515 Old Timber Rd., Monticello, IL 61856
With six different hiking trails to choose from, Allerton Park is a hiking paradise. From trails that range from 6 miles to a little over a mile and a half, there will be a trail to make everyone in the family happy. And if you really want to make a weekend of it, consider staying overnight in one of Allerton’s gorgeous accommodations. What sounds better after a long winter hike than to come back, take a bath, and curl up reading a good book while watching the snow fall?
11. Marengo Ridge Conservation Area, 2411 North Route 23, Marengo
Enjoy the five miles of hiking trails surrounded by elegant oaks and rolling grasslands. Glide through the snow-covered woodlands on cross-country skis. Enjoy over four miles of cross-country trails that range from beginner to intermediate. After a long day of skiing or hiking, set up camp right here at Marengo Ridge, the only campground that is open for camping during the winter months.
12. Shabbona Lake, 100 Preserve Road, Shabbona
About 60 miles west of Chicago, this state park offers lake, woodland and wetland views that are sure to please. In the winter you may be lucky enough to see the wetlands and cattails encapsulated within a beautiful icy fortress. With over eight miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails, this will be an adventurous and fun way to spend a wintry weekend.
There are so many striking places to check out in the Prairie State during these frosty months. You’ll be sure to feel reinvigorated when you step out onto these crystalline trails for a trek that is sure to fill you with peace and tranquility (and add a little color into your cheeks). Are there other Illinois trails that are just perfect for the winter lover that we might have overlooked? Pleas share in the comments!