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 and please let him know if any of thesee links break or change!
National Trails system
In 1968, the Federal government has designated a wide array of trails with various levels of recognition by means of the National Trails System. Beginning originally with the National Scenic Trails, National Recreation Trails and connecting and Side Trails, the National Historic Trails were added in 1978. These trails can be used for portions of BSA Historic Trails Award.
National Historic trails
The National Historic Trails recognize and protect the remains of the routes of historically significant explorations or other significant journeys. There are 19 in all, though many of these are primarily motorized scenic routes, rather than non-motorized trails. They include the Iditarod route in Alaska, as well as three which touch on Illinois, those being the 5,000 mile Trail of Tears Trail, which passes through Southern Illinois, the 1300 mile Mormon Pioneer Trail, which begins in Nauvoo IL, and the 3,700 mile Lewis and Clark Trail, which loops through Illinois near St. Louis. These trails can help your scouts earn the BSA Historic Trails Award.
National Scenic Trails
The National Scenic Trails are 100 miles or longer, and are primarily non-motorized, with an emphasis on allowing access to “spectacular natural beauty.” There are 11 of them totaling almost 19,000 miles all over the country, with the nearest being the 1200 mile long Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin and the 4600 mile long North Country Trail , as it passes through Michigan. Being “primarily non-motorized,” these trails do not rely much on roads and highways, and offer long stretches of relatively wild country, depending on the area of it you choose. Most offer good opportunities for longer backpacking trips, though obviously, planning ahead for campsites is needed.
National recreation trails
The National Recreation Trails are local and regional trails in all states of the union, approximately 1300 of which have been recognized by the federal government as National Recreation Trails. This link will take you to a map of the US, which you can click on to find state-by state recreation trails. The Illinois link includes seven trails, all over the state, with the nearest being the Hennepin Canal Trail, which was mentioned in this blog several entries ago. Check here for trails near whatever camping or backpacking trips you might be planning for trails of interest in the area you might be visiting or passing through.
National Water Trails
Recently, the federal government has designated the National Water Trails as a subset of the National Recreational Trails, to highlight water trails throughout the country. The idea is to protect and improve these water trails as well as to improve access to them for public recreation. There are currently 21 trails so designated, and of these, three are near our district (with a few more, moderately near). The Rock River Trail near Rockford, IL, the Kankakee River Trail, just into Indiana, and the Great River Water Trail, along the Mississippi near St. Louis, are all close by, and most of the remainder are in the Midwest as well. Excellent options abound for units interested in paddling trips.
April Tip: How About Those Ticks!
Any time spent outdoors is time spent around ticks. They are present all year around now, and are at their greatest numbers in the summer time, when we are also out in our greatest numbers. As the infection vector for a number of diseases, most notable Lyme disease, ticks are an important hazard to understand and address.
They live on blood meals, which they get by sitting on the ends of grasses, with their front legs extended to grasp whatever animal brushes by them. While they can latch onto many animals, mice and deer are the most common carriers. They do not tolerate direct sun very well, as their bodies are “leaky,” so that they dry out and die if they remain in direct sun for too long (they die if they remain in less than 80% humidity for more than a few hours). This typically means that the greatest exposure is in grassy areas, especially in the shade. They prefer areas along the borders of fields and woods, and are not fond of ares which are covered with wood chips or other dry material. The very small “nymph” stage is the stage most likely to transmit disease, and they are also hardest to spot when they latch on, so efforts to avoid ticks will include ways of keeping clear of them as well as efforts to make finding them easier.
To avoid them, the best approach is to address a combination of coverage, opportunity, and repellant. Coverage means essentially long sleeves and long pant legs. Ideally, since the ticks latch on low (at grass level) and climb upward, you will want to tuck pant legs into socks, and shirts into pant legs, so that the tick has to remain outside of you clothing during a fairly long trip upwards. This greatly increases your opportunity to spot them and brush them off before they can get to skin. Open toes shoes offer an easy way in as well, so these are also best avoided. Wearing light colors also makes the dark colored ticks easier to spot as they climb (in addition to making all of that coverage more tolerable in terms of heat).
Minimizing opportunity essentially means being aware of the tick’s preferred habitat (long grasses, low shrubs, out of the direct sunlight, cool and damp), and trying to minimize your exposure to those areas. As ticks do not like to cross wide, dry areas, staying to the center of the path when hiking helps enormously, and doing a quick “check and brush” whenever emerging from preferred habitat helps a lot. At the end of the day, checking thoroughly for ticks is important. The chances of being infected with Lyme disease is dramatically lessened if the tick is removed within 24 hours of the bite, so getting a good, thorough check done daily is very important. The ticks tend to go to “dark” parts of the body, behind joints, under arms, in the navel, and in hair. These parts are most effectively checked by touch, as the tiny nymphs are about the size of a poppyseed, and are often easier to feel than to see. Checking in the shower is good, as you are also likely to be rinsing away unattached ticks while doing so.
As far as repellants go, the most common recommendations are permethrin and DEET. DEET is not toxic to the ticks, though they will avoid it, but can cross ares of DEET without harm, to get to untreated areas. A better bet is permethrin, which is used to treat the clothing. The permethrin is toxic to adults and nymphs both, and they will die from even crossing it. Follow product directions for treating clothing (particularly those long sleeves and pants), and do not apply the permethrin directly to your skin. It remains active even after drying, so it does not have to be constantly re-applied.
If you find a tick that has attached, quick removal is important. AVOID commonly suggested approaches such as coating the tick with petroleum jelly or nail polish, as the distress will make the tick far more likely to discharge infected fluids into your skin. Simple approaches of removing the tick with tweezers or a tick key work best. Try to pull the tick firmly, slowly and without squeezing its abdomen more than is necessary (squeezing also makes the tick more likely to discharge fluids into you). The mouth parts are long and barbed, so pulling the tick may take some patience, and the mouth parts are likely to break off and remain behind. This is not a big problem, as the mouth parts are not going to carry the Lyme disease, and will be pushed out by your body over time. Do NOT try to dig the mouth parts out, as you are more likely to cause other infections by doing so. Just leave it be. After removal, wash well with soap and water. Observe the bite for the next few days to watch for a spreading red rash and/or flu-like symptoms, which might indicate Lyme disease. See your doctor if either develops.
March Hike: Centennial Trail
This is a trail that runs across parts of Cook and DuPage counties on the southern end. The Centennial Trail begins in Lyons alongside the Des Plaines river, then continues along the river across the southern end of DuPage, passing south of Waterfall Glen. It goes southwest from there and joins the I&M Canal trail in Romeoville, offering another few dozen miles along that trail. Most of the trail is a thin strip between the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship canal, with woods around the trail for most of the length of it. At the south end, in Romeoville, is the Isle a la Cache Forest preserve.
February Hike: Cal Sag Trail
26 miles, folks! The Cal Sag Trail connects the Indiana border by lake Michigan to the I&M Canal trail in Lemont, running through the southern end of Chicago land on a series of connected trails, and connecting to five regional multi-use trails in the area. This is a newer trail, and parts (notably the Burnham Greenway portion) are still being built, but even as it is now, this is a trail worth getting to know. The trail runs along the Cal Sag canal, which makes good use of the greenway along the canal, and turns a historically important shipping corridor into an interesting nature hike.
January Hike: Busse Woods (Ned Brown Preserve)
Busse Woods is a large preserve on the border of Schaumburg and Elk Grove. It holds 10 1/2 miles of paved bicycle trails, including an 8 mile loop which connects to the even longer Salt Creek Greenway. A nice location for shorter hikes, as well as other activities (there is a sizable fishing lake, a mature flatwoods forest, a model airplane filed, and an Elk enclosure with a dozen of so elk in it).
December Hike: Hawk Hollow
A large preserve just off Route 59 in Bartlett, Hawk Hollow is almost 1200 acres of varying ecosystemts, including prairie, mature woods and substantial amounts of wetlands. It has 5 1/2 miles of trails of its own, and it connects with a few other presreves in the area, as well as with the Bartlett Parks trail system and another link to the North Central DuPage Regional Trail. Because it includes one of the largest unbroken blocks of grassland, it also has a wide array of birds and other meadowland animals. There is a small fishing pond as well as a trail and bridge connecting to nearby Mallard Lake.
November Hike: Tunnel Hill Trail
Deep in Southern Illinois, the Tunnel Hill Trail is a 45 mile trail, reaching from Karnak to Harrisburg. It crosses the River to River trail, the American Discovery Trails, the Trail of Tears, and the US 76 Bicycle Route. The trail is excellent for biking or hiking, having formerly been a railway, crossing ravines on trestle bridges and through a 500 foot long, pitch dark tunnel railroad tunnel (so bring a light). There is also a spur which goes on the the Cache River wetlands area; a really amazing bit of cypress swamp in Illinois. The trail goes through deep forests in Shawnee, farmlands, and small Southern Illinois towns, and is full of a wide array of wildlife and plant life.
October Hike: Castle Rock
A few miles from the Adventure Camp, Castle Rock is a state park on the shore of the Rock River near Oregon IL. The park is named for a sandstone bluff on the river, and the whole park is full of rock formations, deep ravines, and a consequently wide variety of plant systems. There are about 6 miles of hiking trails, as well as substantial river bank for fishing. It is not a very overused park, and tends to be much quieter than the more commonly travelled Starved Rock area. There is also a boat ramp, so the river can work for a canoe “hike” as well.
September Hike: Hennepin Canal Trail
Although it is ONLY 105 miles long, the Hennepin Canal Trail has a lot to offer. Over 100 years old, the trail runs from the Illinois River to the Rock River, traveling in five counties. Fishing and boating are available all along the canal, with 10 areas for camping and numerous picnic areas all along the way. Running from Bureau Junction to Sterling, with feeder trails as well, look for a guide to choose that portions you want to hike.
August Hike: Lowden State Park
Conveniently located by Adventure Camp (currently jointly owned by our council and PTAC), Lowden State Park has about 4 miles of footpaths, leading through the Lowden State Park, and includes views of the Rock River, with bluffs overlooking the river and a 50 foot high statue of an Indian (often associated with Chief Blackhawk, but originally meant to honor all Indians). The trails are reasonably easy to hike, and offer a nice change of pace for those who visit Adventure camp regularly and would like to hike some different trails.
July Hike: The Grand Illinois Trail
The state of Illinois’s longest trail, the Grand Illinois Trail is over 500 miles long, looping across northern Illinois between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. It joins many other trails and proposed trails together, and can be ridden as a whole (as part of an organized ride each June, with overnights in state parks), or hiked and walked in segments. It follows canals, the Fox and Rock rivers, goes through hills and palisades, and passes through picturesque small towns and big cities. This trail has a bit of everything, and is worth looking at. There are trail guides available online as well as a book that discusses the trail as a whole.
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.