Best Forest Preserve Trails for Kids

Outdoor Places to GoNature

Here in the Chicago suburbs, we’ve got the best of both worlds: city life and wide open spaces. We don’t have to go far to enjoy nature! Not only is exploring our natural environment an incredible learning opportunity for kids, but it’s also one of the most entertaining and rewarding ways to enjoy a beautiful spring or summer day bonding as a family.

To help you get on the right track (literally and figuratively), we’ve done our research and asked local parents to weigh in on the best family-friendly forest preserve trails in our area. Whether you’ve got a family full of experienced hikers or you just want to get the kids out for some fresh air and exercise, we’ve got the spot for you. Read on to learn more… then pack up your gear (be sure to include lots of snacks, sunscreen and bug spray) and get out to explore!

Best Forest Preserve Trails

West Suburban Forest Preserve Trails

Fullersburg Woods
3609 Spring Road
Oak Brook, IL 60523
There are two parking lots for these trails. One is right on York Road a little north of Ogden Avenue. The ducks and geese tend to hang out in the grassy area and water right off that parking lot. You can walk under the bridge, past the giant waterwheel on the Graue Mill Museum and see the waterfall before starting your little hike. Those trails are paved.

Fullersburg Woods waterfall

Herrick Lake
Herrick and Butterfield Road
Wheaton, IL
This trail has a short loop around the lake or you can easily make it longer with many different trail options.

Willowbrook Wildlife Center
525 S Park Boulevard
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
Enjoy the half-mile outer loop and shorter inner loop with a butterfly garden and outdoor exhibit trail, home to native wildlife with permanent disabilities. The indoor visitor center is currently closed.

Willowbrook Wildlife Center outdoor exhibit trail

La Grange Park Woods 
10 E 31st Street
La Grange Park, IL 60526
Paved trails make this one nice for a walk. If you have older kids you might want to tackle riding to Brookfield Zoo on the trails.

Little Red Schoolhouse 
Willow Springs Road South of Archer Avenue
Willow Springs, IL
This is a great nature center with many displays, hands-on activities and trails to walk around outside.

Path behind Little Red Schoolhouse building

Maple Grove
Lee Avenue and Gilbert Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515
This forest preserve is connected to Gilbert Park. The park is geared towards younger children and is very peaceful. It’s a nice way to combine a trip to the park and a nature walk. The trail off the park crosses Saint Joseph Creek and there is parking right on Gilbert Avenue.

Salt Creek Trail
26th Street Woods
Kemman Avenue and 26th Street
La Grange Park, IL 60526
The Twenty-Sixth Street Woods comes recommended by Kidlist readers throughout the years as a place to enjoy Salt Creek Trail.

Waterfall Glen
Cass And Northgate Roads
Darien, IL 60561
Named for its main attraction, Waterfall Glen is a popular hiking and biking destination. While Waterfall Glen’s trails can be challenging for novice hikers, there are plenty of smaller loops and tranquil rest spots that make it well worth the visit for families with kids of all ages (and dogs!). Click here for more information about Waterfall Glen, including how to get to the waterfall!

Waterfall Glen

Blackwell Forest Preserve
Butterfield Rd, Warrenville, IL 60555
The rolling hills at this forest preserve, combined with the scenery, make it a beautiful and relaxing destination. There are picnic shelters and an off-leash dog area, in addition to opportunities for fishing, camping, and archery.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve
Route 53, South of Butterfield Road
Downers Grove, IL 60515
Two lakes and a river with fishing, boating, and picnic areas makes Hidden Lake a nice place to hike.

Fabyan Forest Preserve
1925 Batavia Avenue
Geneva, IL 60134
This picture-perfect spot offers paths for hiking and biking, gardens for exploring, a river for kayaking, and plenty of photo opportunities along the way. Click here to read more about what you will see at Fabyan Forest Preserve.

Windmill at Fabyan Forest Preserve

McDowell Grove
4s500 Raymond Drive
Naperville, IL 60563
There are about 7 miles of trails that loop around McDowell Grove with grass and limestone paths.

South Suburban Forest Preserve Trails

Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
7402 W. Lake Katherine Drive
Palos Heights, IL 60463
Big kids will enjoy the mile-long trail looping around the lake while tots might find that a casual stroll through the Gardens offers plenty of grasses, flowers and shrubs to explore. Highlights include the waterfall, Butterfly Garden and Children’s Forest, a wooded area planted by kids for kids. The Forest’s “vernal pond” is home to various amphibians and invertebrates guaranteed to entertain little explorers.

Kayaking at Lake Katherine

Heritage Quarries Recreation Area
1001 Main Street
Lemont, IL 60439
The Heritage Quarries Recreation Area includes a family-friendly trail that loops around a group of freshwater lakes that were once limestone quarries. Now, these lakes are home to various species of fish, birds and plants. Parents of littles ones will appreciate the wide, well-groomed trails, which are ideal for strollers and offer plenty of space to spread out. The trail begins and ends in downtown Lemont, so you can grab lunch or ice cream after exploring.

Sagawau Environmental Learning Center
12545 West 111th Street
Lemont, IL 60439
The Environmental Learning Center is a great place for families to learn about and connect with nature in an impactful way. Outside of the Center, there are plenty of trails that are perfect for a casual nature walk or family bike ride. The Center also offers free special events including guided bird walks, wildflowers hikes and a chance to tour Cook County’s only canyon. Registration is required for some events.

Pilcher Park Nature Center
2501 Highland Park Drive
Joliet, IL 60432
The Nature Center offers a wide range of trails varying in length and degree of difficulty, which makes it a great choice for kids of all ages and experience levels. Younger kids will especially enjoy the playground areas and the “Storybook Trail”. Family-friendly Nature Center programming (mostly free) includes wildlife-specific walks, birdwatching classes for beginners and “Spooky Campfire Night.” The Park’s onsite Bird Haven Greenhouse & Conservatory is open year-round, seven days a week.

Path between Pilcher Park Nature Center and Greenhouse

More Kid-Friendly Trails

Our local park districts also have great trails! Below are a few that readers have recommended.

Lyman Woods
901 31st Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
In addition to the 2.5 mile trail, Lyman Woods also has a nature center. The nature center is currently closed due to Covid, but keep it in mind for the future!

Churchill Park
271 St Charles Road
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
This natural area has more than 23 acres of woodland, wetland, prairie, trails, and boardwalks.

Sensory Garden Playground
2751 Navistar Drive
Lisle, IL 60532
The trail from the parking lot leading up to this fun playground feels like an adventure.

You also might be interested in our article all about local parks with paved paths!

Did we miss your favorite family-friendly trail? Let us know in the comments below! Then, find more outdoor activities for kids.

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