The Lakefront trail is conspicuously absent on this list because A) everyone knows about it which leads to B) the gorgeous walk that hugs Lake Michigan has gotten too darn crowded with strollers, bikes, roller bladers and joggers. There are plenty of other options around town that might not have a scenic Great Lake by their sides, but they do offer woods, serenity, water features, quiet and a dose of Mother Nature without having to say “excuse me” every 15 steps.
The 606
W Bloomingdale Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(312) 744-5000

The abandoned rail line is now nearly three miles of recreational respite right in the city. The elevated Bloomingdale Trail connects to six neighborhood parks at ground level and there are a dozen access points every quarter-mile as well as 17 ramps, making it accessible to those with disabilities. Poplars, evergreens, maples and sumacs add a pastoral note to the urban trail that offers an overlook at historic Humboldt Boulevard overlook and public art at the Damen Plaza. Dogs on leashes are welcome, and be sure to tote your own bags for Fido’s waste.

Busse Woods Loop Trail
Ned Brown Forest Preserve
E. Higgins Rd. and Arlington Heights Road
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
(800) 870-3666

Walk the loop in a couple of hours amid a peaceful wooded setting. The wide, paved trail attracts lots of outdoor enthusiasts on foot and wheels who champion its safety, beautiful surrounding  woods, well marked signage and proximity to the city. You won’t believe you’re in Cook County walking through a canopy of maple and oak trees, alongside meadows and a lake and even a herd of elk. Look up, too — Busse is a favorite place for kite-flying and model airplane pilots.

(Photo Credit:

(Photo Credit:

Greene Valley Forest Preserve
Greene Rd and 79th St
Naperville, IL 60565
(630) 933-7200

Get your hamstrings ready for Greene Valley’s dozen miles of marked crushed-limestone trails including a one-mile self-guided “Tree Trek” hike. Learn a little Dendrology as signage along the route notes more than 10 different tree species with descriptions of various seeds, bark and leaves. Be sure there’s room on your phone for pictures because Greene Valley also features a 190-foot-tall scenic overlook (the county’s highest public perch) providing a commanding DuPage County and the Chicago skyline. Bring a picnic and binoculars to refuel and spot birds like hawks, herons and egrets. The overlook is open Saturdays and Sundays May through the end of October. 

Related:  Ask An Expert: Best Bike Rides In Chicago

Waterfall Glen Trail
Cass and Northgate Roads
Darien, IL 60561
(630) 933-7248

The 9.5 mile multi-use, crushed limestone Waterfall Glen loop trail offers an elevation shift here and there, water features, space to accommodate hikers and bikers  Sights include ponds, Midwestern wildlife, thick forest and open views.  Bring your pup as long as you bring the leash. The waterfall is no Niagara by any means, but it’s pretty and a nice shot of nature via prairies, savannahs and shaded, oak-maple woodlands very near Chicago. Waterfall Glen also features a permanently marked orienteering course (navigating an outdoor area with a map and a compass) near the trailhead.

Lake Trail Loop
Herrick Lake Forest Preserve
3S580 Naperville Rd
Wheaton, IL 60189
(630) 933-7200

Hikers can discover more than five miles of trails including a section of the Danada and Herrick Lake Regional Trail, an official “National Recreation Trail” under the federal National Trails System. Bring food and drink because the path around the lake connects both parking lots (for super easy vehicle access) to picnic grounds and the trailhead, and additional trails cut through central and southern parts of the preserve. The lake trail loop is perfect for shorter hikes and there’s a Civilian Conservation Corps-built shelter at the south end of the lake. Expect scenic lake views, native tree species, plants and animals, access to fishing and rowboat, canoe and kayak rental from the Forest Preserve District facility.  If your energy level is high, consider getting onto the longer trail system that will take you to open meadow, wetlands and savannah. 

Related: Best Family-Friendly Bike Trails In Chicago

Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at</.