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Prairies in Illinois.
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8 Chicago-area hikes you can get to using public transportation

Explore prairies, woodlands, rivers, and lagoons

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Prairies in Illinois.
| Shutterstock

Despite how the Midwest landscape is perceived, there are lots of hikes and scenic bike trails to explore near Chicago. We’ve rounded up a few hikes accessible by public transit that showcase the historic prairie lands, forest preserves, streams, and lagoons.

Walkers, runners, cyclists, and families can all enjoy these trails near Metra stations and Pace bus routes. Riders don’t have to worry about unexpected parking fees or crawling interstate traffic. If you plan on leaving early or coming back late make sure you’re familiar with the RTA’s bike policy and restrictions.

Pick any hike (they’re all easy to moderate) and get going! While these trails are all within 60 miles of Chicago, anyone spending time outdoors should be prepared with water, snacks, proper footwear, sunscreen, and knowledge of the forecast.

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1. Veteran Acres and Sterne's Woods

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5617 Hillside Rd
Crystal Lake, IL 60012
(815) 459-0680
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Hikers on this 3-mile looped trail will get to see two parks Veteran Acres and Sterne’s Woods in Crystal Lake. Begin at the Veteran Acres Nature Center, 330 N. Main St., and follow the Prairie Trail for about a mile and stay on the gravel trail. In Sterne’s Woods there’s a 40-acre wetland with a flowery fen with orchids, cup plants, liatris, and other wildflowers.

To get there: Take the Union Pacific/Northwest Line to Crystal Lake station which is a half-mile from the nature center and trailhead.

2. Chicago Botanic Garden Hike

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1000 Lake Cook Rd
Glencoe, IL 60022
(847) 835-5440
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The 23 interior gardens provide acres of manicured rose gardens, aquatic plants, Japanese-style plantings, and greenhouses filled with rainforest and desert plants. While it can be easy to spend a full day exploring the gardens, many miss the trail around the perimeter that goes through prairies and woodlands.

To get there: On the Metra take the Union Pacific/North Metra Line to the Glencoe (there’s a trolley shuttle from there) or walk from the Braeside station. Three long bike trails run into the gardens—the Green Bay Trail, Skokie Valley Bikeway, and the North Branch Trail.

3. Skokie Lagoons

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The land here was first a great marsh that was drained by unsuccessful farmers. The Skokie Lagoons were dug out in the 1930s in the nation’s largest Civilian Conservation Corps project and now the area is home to wildlife like herons, ducks, rabbits, and red foxes. Take a 4-mile loop around the water and prairie landscape starting at Erickson Woods on the North Branch Trail and then following the yellow-marked unpaved trail. When you reach the expressway underpass, cut back over to the paved North Branch Trail to loop back.

To get there: Take the Union Pacific/North Metra Line to Winnetka station or the Milwaukee District/North Metra Line to Glenview station and then the 423 Pace bus to Erickson Woods. If you want to bike, you can connect to the North Branch Trail at Milwaukee and Devon avenues.

4. Des Plaines River Trail

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Des Plaines River Trail
Park Ridge, IL

The full gravel trail runs the entire 31-mile length of Lake County and covers 12 forest preserves. That’s a lot of ground to cover—and easier day hike option is a 9-mile route from Old School Forest Preserve to Independence Grove and back. The pocket of nature will reveal quiet oak savannas, peaceful riverbanks, tall prairie grasses, and bright green algae-covered ponds.

To get there: The Milwaukee District/North Metra Line stops in Libertyville one mile from the trail. There are quiet streets and sidewalks to follow until you get to the trail.

5. Danada Forest Preserve Regional Trail

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(630) 933-7200
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Before this was a forest preserve the land was a private training ground for Kentucky Derby-winning racehorses. In the ’70s DuPage County acquired the land turning it into a place for hiking and biking. An equestrian center remains and offers horse camps and riding lessons. The double-loop Danada-Herrick Regional Trail around the preserve goes through wide-open prairies with goldenrod and blue stem grasses that make perfect homes for swallows, goldfinches, and sparrows.

To get there: The closest Metra station is five miles from the forest preserve, which is walkable but bringing along a bike will probably be more enjoyable. Take the Union Pacific/West Metra Line to Wheaton station and head to the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve which leads to the Regional Trail.

6. The Morton Arboretum

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4100 IL-53
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 968-0074
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There are hundreds of trees, some nearly 100 years old, from all over the world: elms, gingko, willow, maple, oaks, magnolias, cherries, and crabapples. The 1,700 acres of the tree museum encompasses east and west side hikes so there’s no shortage of looping trails to explore. There’s also a “troll hunt” walk which features six wooden figures from European folklore (one is up to 60 feet long) hidden throughout the forests. The installation from Danish artist Thomas Dambo is on view until next year.

To get there: Take the BNSF Metra line to the Lisle station which is 1.5 miles away from the arboretum entrance.

7. Glenwood Dune Hike

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There are lots of trails within the Indiana Dunes, but this 6-mile hike is a short distance from the Dune Park station. Here you’ll be able to follow a couple easy dune ridges to deep woods and wet marshes that are beautiful in summer and fall. If you’re looking for a longer hike, there’s a trail system to follow for a total of 15 miles. The majority of the hike is open to horses, so they have the right of way.

To get there: Take the South Shore Metra line to Dunes Park station which is just a half-mile from the Glenwood Dunes Extension trail.

8. Thorn Creek Hike

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247 Monee Rd
Park Forest, IL 60466
(708) 747-6320
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Explore this secluded trail’s rolling hills, streams, and grassy. The Thorne Creek Woods Nature Preserve main draw are the towering, fragrant pines. A 2.5-mile double-loop trail starts at Monee Road and takes hikers into the pine plantations, across creeks, and around Owl Pond. There’s also a small nature center housed inside a former schoolhouse and church from 1862.

To get there: Take the Metra Electric line to University Park station and walk 1.5 miles to the start of the hike at the nature center.

1. Veteran Acres and Sterne's Woods

5617 Hillside Rd, Crystal Lake, IL 60012

Hikers on this 3-mile looped trail will get to see two parks Veteran Acres and Sterne’s Woods in Crystal Lake. Begin at the Veteran Acres Nature Center, 330 N. Main St., and follow the Prairie Trail for about a mile and stay on the gravel trail. In Sterne’s Woods there’s a 40-acre wetland with a flowery fen with orchids, cup plants, liatris, and other wildflowers.

To get there: Take the Union Pacific/Northwest Line to Crystal Lake station which is a half-mile from the nature center and trailhead.

5617 Hillside Rd
Crystal Lake, IL 60012

2. Chicago Botanic Garden Hike

1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, IL 60022

The 23 interior gardens provide acres of manicured rose gardens, aquatic plants, Japanese-style plantings, and greenhouses filled with rainforest and desert plants. While it can be easy to spend a full day exploring the gardens, many miss the trail around the perimeter that goes through prairies and woodlands.

To get there: On the Metra take the Union Pacific/North Metra Line to the Glencoe (there’s a trolley shuttle from there) or walk from the Braeside station. Three long bike trails run into the gardens—the Green Bay Trail, Skokie Valley Bikeway, and the North Branch Trail.

1000 Lake Cook Rd
Glencoe, IL 60022

3. Skokie Lagoons

Skokie Lagoons, Illinois

The land here was first a great marsh that was drained by unsuccessful farmers. The Skokie Lagoons were dug out in the 1930s in the nation’s largest Civilian Conservation Corps project and now the area is home to wildlife like herons, ducks, rabbits, and red foxes. Take a 4-mile loop around the water and prairie landscape starting at Erickson Woods on the North Branch Trail and then following the yellow-marked unpaved trail. When you reach the expressway underpass, cut back over to the paved North Branch Trail to loop back.

To get there: Take the Union Pacific/North Metra Line to Winnetka station or the Milwaukee District/North Metra Line to Glenview station and then the 423 Pace bus to Erickson Woods. If you want to bike, you can connect to the North Branch Trail at Milwaukee and Devon avenues.

4. Des Plaines River Trail

Des Plaines River Trail, Park Ridge, IL

The full gravel trail runs the entire 31-mile length of Lake County and covers 12 forest preserves. That’s a lot of ground to cover—and easier day hike option is a 9-mile route from Old School Forest Preserve to Independence Grove and back. The pocket of nature will reveal quiet oak savannas, peaceful riverbanks, tall prairie grasses, and bright green algae-covered ponds.

To get there: The Milwaukee District/North Metra Line stops in Libertyville one mile from the trail. There are quiet streets and sidewalks to follow until you get to the trail.

Des Plaines River Trail
Park Ridge, IL

5. Danada Forest Preserve Regional Trail

Wheaton, IL 60189

Before this was a forest preserve the land was a private training ground for Kentucky Derby-winning racehorses. In the ’70s DuPage County acquired the land turning it into a place for hiking and biking. An equestrian center remains and offers horse camps and riding lessons. The double-loop Danada-Herrick Regional Trail around the preserve goes through wide-open prairies with goldenrod and blue stem grasses that make perfect homes for swallows, goldfinches, and sparrows.

To get there: The closest Metra station is five miles from the forest preserve, which is walkable but bringing along a bike will probably be more enjoyable. Take the Union Pacific/West Metra Line to Wheaton station and head to the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve which leads to the Regional Trail.

6. The Morton Arboretum

4100 IL-53, Lisle, IL 60532

There are hundreds of trees, some nearly 100 years old, from all over the world: elms, gingko, willow, maple, oaks, magnolias, cherries, and crabapples. The 1,700 acres of the tree museum encompasses east and west side hikes so there’s no shortage of looping trails to explore. There’s also a “troll hunt” walk which features six wooden figures from European folklore (one is up to 60 feet long) hidden throughout the forests. The installation from Danish artist Thomas Dambo is on view until next year.

To get there: Take the BNSF Metra line to the Lisle station which is 1.5 miles away from the arboretum entrance.

4100 IL-53
Lisle, IL 60532

7. Glenwood Dune Hike

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana

There are lots of trails within the Indiana Dunes, but this 6-mile hike is a short distance from the Dune Park station. Here you’ll be able to follow a couple easy dune ridges to deep woods and wet marshes that are beautiful in summer and fall. If you’re looking for a longer hike, there’s a trail system to follow for a total of 15 miles. The majority of the hike is open to horses, so they have the right of way.

To get there: Take the South Shore Metra line to Dunes Park station which is just a half-mile from the Glenwood Dunes Extension trail.

8. Thorn Creek Hike

247 Monee Rd, Park Forest, IL 60466

Explore this secluded trail’s rolling hills, streams, and grassy. The Thorne Creek Woods Nature Preserve main draw are the towering, fragrant pines. A 2.5-mile double-loop trail starts at Monee Road and takes hikers into the pine plantations, across creeks, and around Owl Pond. There’s also a small nature center housed inside a former schoolhouse and church from 1862.

To get there: Take the Metra Electric line to University Park station and walk 1.5 miles to the start of the hike at the nature center.

247 Monee Rd
Park Forest, IL 60466