Welcome to the Hiking Helps page of our website. Our Camping Chair John Brauer features a monthly place to hike. Please feel free to contact him with ideas for other hikes!
June Hike: Illinois Beach State Park
Located on Lake Michigan in the North suburb of Zion, Illinois Beach State Park is a 4000 acre park which stretches along 6.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. There are about 5 miles of trails in the south end or the park, with numerous ecosystems to explore, including dunes, marshes, and black oak forests and savannas. Water activities are available as well, with swimming, fishing, a marina, and a bike trail which connects the norther and southern parts of the park.
May Hike: Cap Sauer's Holding
In the Palos area, the Cap Sauers Holding is a large Cook County Forest preserve, with over 1500 acres and 4 and a half miles of trails. At 1,520 acres, Cap Sauers Holding encompasses a broad swath of wooded bluffs and ravines, with 4.5 miles of hiking and biking trails for both nature lovers and active adults to enjoy. Spots within this expansive preserve hold the title for the farthest one can be from a road in Cook County. Hikers can wind their way into the preserve atop an esker—an ancient glacial riverbed—enjoying long views down into the woodlands below.
April Hike: Moraine Hills State Park
In McHenry County, Moraine Hills State Park has nice hiking trails and wonderful lakes, with very clear water and excellent fishing, due in part to the entire watershed being within the park. More than 10 miles of trails, which also connect with other area trails, winding through a moraine left behind by the glaciers, kames, bogs, marshes and a glacial lake filling in with peat. The shoreline is undeveloped around the lake, offering a sense of how the land might have looked before European settlement.
March Hike: Chief Illini Trail
Running along the shore of Lake Shelbyville, the Illini Trail is about 11 miles of point to point trail, going through hills and prairies, and an excellent option ofr hiking while camping at Eagle Creek or other Shelbyville area camps. Moslty wooded areas, with some nice views of the lake as you go along. Well makrked with blazes and signs.
February Hike: Silver Springs State Park
Located on the Fox River, in Yorkville, Silver Springs State Park is a close but pleasant state park. It has a small lake with paddleboat and such, as well as
a lot of fishing options. The trail is a four mile loop, along the Fox River, with a 45 acre prairie restoration, natural springs within the park
feeding into the river, and stretches through very nice oak woodlands. there is also a longer equestrian trail, which is not open to hikers, but is a great option if your troop rides.There is also a youth group campground, and some troops like to camp here and plan canoe trips on the Fox River with nearby outfitters.
January Hike: McKee Marsh
Just behind Blackwell, on Mack Road, there is another trail, McKee Marsh, also connecting to the Regional Trail. This one surrounds a wetland, and is a spectacular birding location, as well as a nice hiking trail. There are three birding blinds overlooking the lake in the center of the trail, and the trail never takes you out of sight of water. Weather permitting, the trail is groomed for cross country skiing, and is a relatively flat, easy hike of approximately 3 miles. The regional trail passes through her as well, offering easy return to the main portion of Blackwell, or hiking farther out of the park to the northwest.
December Hike: Pratt’s Wayne Woods
In Wayne, IL, near Rte 59 and Army Trail Road, the 250 acre Pratt’s Wayne Forest Preserve is a large property with 8 miles of trails within the preserve, and connects with the North branch of the Prairie Path for longer hikes. The preserve includes a large and spectacular march, with an extraordinary array of native wetland and prairie plants, as well as habitat for a wide array of birds, reptiles and amphibians. It abuts a State Park on its northern boundary, which. though short on activities and access, increases dramatically the amount of breeding space and habitat for the animals in both properties, enhancing the wildlife value of both.
November Hike: West DuPage Woods
Located in West Chicago, West DuPage Woods is a small preserve with 5 miles of trails, the longest of which is a loop juts over a mile long. Best in the spring time for wildflowers, or in the low areas for march and wetland interest, it is close enough to be a good invitational trail for cub scouts to hike with your troop. There is a decent fishing pond there, as well as the DuPage river for fishing.
October 2016 Hike: Cantigny Park
The 500 acre Cantigny Park in Wheaton is the former estate of publisher Robert McCormick, and is a gem of a park, at the corner of Roosevelt and Winfield roads. It includes 2 1/2 miles of chipped trails, with tree identification guides available to aid in learning about the trees. The park includes a wonderful First Division Museum, exploring the history of this Army division, and the park has numerous military vehicles including dozens of tanks from various eras and countries. There is a slight entrance fee (which is sometimes waived for uniformed scouts).
September 2016 Hike: Blackwell Forest Preserve
Located on the north side of Butterfield Road, just west of Naperville Road, Blackwell Forest Preserve is one of the more versatile preserves in DuPage county. Aside from the more well known activities (tubing hill, fishing lakes, archery), the trails include ares on the North end of the preserve, through McKee March, with boardwalks and a bird blind for seeing wetland birds and other wildlife. The 6 miles or so of trails link up with the Regional Trail and the Prairie Path, making it a fine trailhead for hikes as long as you like. Out to the Fox River and back gets the 20 mile hike covered for hHiking Merit Badge, and the preserve itself has enough trails for pleasant, though shorter hikes as well. The Forest Preserve includes an orienteering course, which can re reserved through the Forest Preserve offices (maps are in a lockbox, and they will give you the combination to get them). The youth camp area makes fora nice combination of hiking and camping, and the fishing lake rounds the trip off nicely.
August 2016 Hike: Danada Forest Preserve
The Danada forest preserve in DuPage County is located at Naperville Road, just south of Butterfield road, surrounding the Forest Preserve Headquarters and the Equestrian center. It is an excellent preserve with three miles of hiking tails of its own, connecting with the Herrick Lake trails and the Regional Trail, allowing for hikes of any length you desire. The preserve e includes forested areas as well as prairie restorations, wetlands, and a sizable lake for fishing. When weather permits, the trails are groomed for cross country skiing as well (if you are hiking at such times, please try not to walk on the groomed portion, but walk beside it instead). During migrations especially, the bird watching opportunities are great. The equestrian center is also fun to see, with large work horse breeds as well as riding horses to see. Equestrian programs are also available there.
July 2016 Hike of the Month - The Centennial Trail, Will County
The Centennial Trail is a crushed lime and paved trail that runs just over 10 miles along the Des Plaines River, from the Joliet Iron Works preserve to the Cook County border in Willow Springs. It has a short connecting trail to the Isle a la Cache preserve in Romeoville, including the Isle a la Cache Museum and visitor center. The trail runs through a variety of habitats, offering a wide exposure to different natural systems, but is also a flat and easy hiking trail, offering a lot of interest for beginning or not-yet-in-condition hikers. The length of the trail makes it a feasible option for any of the hikes needed for a hiking merits badge, and is also open to bicycling and cross country skiing. It connects with the I&M cCanal Trail in Lockport, offering easy access to that 70 mile trail, as well as the Cook County Centennial trail at the north end.
June 2016 Hike of the Month - Springbrook Prairie
Located in Naperville, on the south side of 75th street, Springbrook Prairie is an 1800 acre grassland preserve with over 7 miles of trails, mostly comprised of a large loop around the perimeter of the preserve. An easy trail, it goes through a mostly flat prairie, which is excellent bird habitat for many species of grassland birds. Spring Brook for which the preserve is named was once straightened for agricultural reasons, but has recently been “re-meandered,” slowing the flow and improving the habitat for nesting and fishing by the birds, thereby increasing the number of species seen there, including hawks and owls.
May 2016 Hike of the Month: Joliet Iron Works
In downtown Joliet, there is a very nice hiking trail which starts at the Joliet Iron Works Historical site. The trail at the park itself is a short (0.6 mile) interpretive trail, with signs describing the ruins of the old Iron Works and blast furnaces which once stood there. This is fascinating stuff, as well as a pretty trail, and the trail connects to the much longer (10+ mile) I&M Canal trail and Centennial Trail.
April 2016 Hike of the Month: River to River Trail
The River to River Trail is in Southern Illinois, and is a 160 mile trail, which connects the Ohio River and the Mississippi River and is part of the 5,000 mile American Discovery Trail. It travels through many miles of breathtaking scenery and historically interesting areas, including portions of the Trail of Tears. It passes through five of the Shawnee Wilderness areas, as well as a few state parks, wildlife refuges and historical landmarks. There are many distinct portions to the trail from which to choose, and there is pretty good book that describes much of the trail.
March 2016 Hike of the Month: McHenry County Prairie Trail
This is a wonderful 26 mile trail, running from Algonquin to Genoa City, connecting with numerous other trails as well. It passes near several communities throughout McHenry County, as well as connecting with several parks, woods and prairies. It crosses the Fox River, offering opportunities for fishing or other water activities as well as birding, tracking and other nature skills activities, depending on season. The trails are multi use, offering options for hiking, biking, cross country skiing or riding.
February 2016 Hike of the Month: I&M Canal Trail- Feb 2016
The I&M Canal Trail is a 61.5 mile long trail along the route of the Illinois and Michigan Canal towpath, beginning in Rockdale and ending in Lasalle. It follows the tow path along the river, making for an easy and level hike, with excellent scenery and historic spots along the route. There are designated areas where one can reserve pack-in campsites for those units who wish to try an easy introduction to backpacking trips. There are four state parks along the route, allowing ample opportunities for many other activities along the route. February is a great time to explore this trail as the bald eagles often are visible at this time of year.
January 2016 Hike of the Month: Matthiessen State Park
Matthiessen State Park, near Starved Rock in Utica IL is a less used and equally interesting park. With 5 miles of hiking trails and somewhat more mileage for equestrian or mountain bike trails, it offers opportunities for a variety of different activities. The trails offer views of many different types of terrain and flora and fauna, as well as areas of geological and archaeological interest. There is no camping at this park, though it is near enough to Starved Rock to be easily accessible if a unit is looking for a change of pace from the familiar trails of Starved Rock.
December 2015 Hike of the Month: South Branch of the Illinois Prairie Path
The South branch of the Illinois Prairie Path is a very flat and even trail, and is the first Rails to Trails project in the country. completed in 1963. The downtown Wheaton trailhead is the beginning of the mile markers (for all three branches), and the trail extends southward to just north of I-88, where it forks again, with spurs going to Aurora and Batavia, ending at the Fox River in both towns. It runs through or near several parks and forest preserves, offering many places for rest stops or activities along the way. The roughly ten mile length of it allows for a 20 mile round trip to be hiked for those who are working on their Hiking Merit Badges. The trail is almost entirely crushed limestone, with occasional crossings on road ways, but none are for very far.
November Hike of the Month - Nov 2015
Greene Valley - On the west side of Woodridge, is the very nice Greene Valley Forest Preserve featuring 12 miles of marked trails in woods and fields and including a mile long “tree trail” with a variety of trees identified and described on signs. The preserve is one of the most diverse in the county in terms of the variety of species of plants and animals present, and contains picnic areas as well as a youth campground. The DuPage river flows through the preserve, and the trails are groomed in the winter for cross country skiing (when there is snow). The trail system connects with a regional trail on the north end of the preserve, alongside Hobson Road, as well as providing reasonably easy access to another to the south, by Royce Road.
Hike of the Month - Oct 2015
Chicago Lakefront - For a change of pace, consider an urban hike. The Chicago lakefront trail is a nearly unique asset, in that the earliest planning for the city included the notion that the lakefront should be left open to the public. The result is an 18 mile trail along the lakeshore with numerous sights and attractions along the way. Take the train into the city and teach your boys how to use the city transit to get to the lake or to any of the attractions along the way. With an 18 mile trail, the round trip allows for hikes as long as 36 miles, making it an attractive option for some of the hikes needed for the hiking merit badge.
Hike of the Month - Sept 2015
Salt Creek Greenway Trail - This is a 35 mile trail that runs alongside Salt Creek from Busse Woods in Schaumburg, through Eastern DuPage County into Cook County at the south end. It passes through Salt Creek Marsh, Cricket Creek, Salt Creek Greenway, York Woods, Fullersburg Woods and several Cook County Forest Preserves, ending at the Brookfield Zoo. It offers connections to other area paths, including the East Branch of the Prairie Path. This trail is also a good canoe trail, with an excellent canoe launch at Eldridge Park in Elmhurst. Salt Creek is a much cleaner waterway than many older Scouters might recall from a couple of decades ago...
Hike of the Month - Aug 2015
West Branch DuPage River Trail
This 23 mile trail currently goes through all of Blackwell Forest Preserve, southward to where it connects with the Will County Trail by Weber Road in NAperville. It connects with Koch Knolls Park at the south end, near Whalen Lake and winds along the river northward until it connects with the North Central DuPage trail at the north end of Blackwell Forest Preserve. It is a multi use trail for most of its mileage.
Hike of the Month - June 2015
Illinois Prairie Path - North Branch
The Prairie Path is the first Rails to Trails conversion in North America, formerly the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin electric railroad line. As a former railroad, the trail is almost flat, with only gentle rises and drops over the course of it. The convergence of the three branches is in downtown Wheaton, with the North Branch extending to Elgin, with another branch extending west to Geneva. The path is easy hiking, and the straight ‘there and back” nature of it makes it easy to plan hikes of any length. It passes near Pate Phillips State Park, Pratt’s Wayne Woods, Timber Ridge Forest Preserve and points on the Fox River Trail in both Elgin and Geneva. All parts of the trail are through well populated areas, making it easy to stop for bathrooms, water and other amenities for novice hikers.
Hike of the Month - May 2015
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
This is an excellent forest preserve for a variety of reasons, including some outstanding restorations of ecosystems and consequently a lot of interesting wildlife. The trail system includes a ten mile loop trail, which is great for the 10-miler requirements for hiking merit badge and for prep hikes for backpacking trips. The forest preserve also includes orienteering courses, with maps and information available from Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248. There are fire rings and two youth campsites, if you want to make more of it than a hike, and the little waterfall area on the east side is a fun little side trip.