As the weather starts to warm up and spending time outdoors begins to seem more appealing, what could be more fun than organizing a backpacking trip? Whether you’ll be going with family, friends, a significant other or just enjoying nature by yourself, there are several options near Chicago to take a break from the city and get in touch with nature.
Matthiessen State Park
North Utica, IL 61373
Within 120 miles of Chicago, Matthiessen State Park is often overlooked, which can be a blessing to those really wishing to avoid the crowds and get out on their own. There are many waterfalls within the canyon and it can all be hiked in one day if you wish to explore the entire park. The park is less regulated than its more popular neighbor, Starved Rock. There are benches near the steep trails for rest points and picnic tables near the entrance to unwind and have a meal.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Grand Marias, MN and Ely, MN
For a more rugged and lengthy outdoor experience, make your way up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. Covering over 1,000,000 acres of preserved wilderness, almost any outdoor activity is possible, from boating, camping, canoeing, fishing, etc. There is abundant wildlife and incredible fishing. Make sure you do your research first and get a permit to enter the park valid for whatever activity you’re planning to undertake while there. The website has information about the various entry points available, permits required and gear you’re likely to need as well as maps and information about nearby towns. Check it all out and enjoy this huge and amazing resource.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
1100 N. Mineral Springs Road
Porter, IN 46304
With over 45 miles of trails to experience over varying degrees of terrain, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a peaceful and enjoyable spot to get back to nature. There are a variety of trails to choose from with differing degrees of difficulty. Trail maps are available at the visitor’s center, but descriptions of the trails and their highlights are available here. Because of the different trails and habitats available in one location, this is an ideal spot to stay for a weekend and have a different experience each day.
Related: Best Campgrounds In The Chicago Area
Glacial Park Conservation Area
6316 Harts Road
Ringwood, IL 60072
True to its name, this park was formed as glaciers passed through the area, creating a unique landscape with a variety of wildlife and a beautiful terrain. There are a little over six miles of trails to hike, including four named and marked trails, varying in lengths from under a mile to almost two, as well as several small branches connecting the trails to each other. There are restrooms and shelter with water and grilling stations near the main parking lot, but bring your own water if you don’t enjoy the taste of well water.
Lakewood Forest Preserve
Route 176 at Fairfield Road
Wauconda, IL 60084
Come to Lakewood Forest Preserve to enjoy wetland and forest trail backpacking in the near suburbs of Chicago. It is ideal for a short trip to get out of the city for a few hours or for those who would rather not commit to a long drive or an overnight stay. In addition to hiking trails, there are dedicated equestrian trails for those who like to ride and even cross country ski and snowmobiling trails for winter outdoor enthusiasts. The trails are also easily editable to the distance you’d like your hike to be and the outhouses are well stocked.
Meredith Lyons is an actor, competitive fighter and fitness instructor in Chicago who also owns an amazing cat named Jake. Meredith has been writing on Examiner as the Chicago Martial Arts Examiner since 2008. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.