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 the great outdoors! 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!
You also might be interested in our article all about local parks with paved paths!
Best Forest Preserve Trails in the South and West Suburbs
West Suburban Forest Preserve Trails
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.
Herrick and Butterfield Road
This trail has a short loop around the lake or you can easily make it longer with many different trail options.
LaGrange 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.
Lee Avenue And Gilbert Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515
This forest preserve is connected to Gilbert Park, which was a runner up for the 10 Best Parks and Playgrounds in the Near Western Suburbs. 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
Cass And Northgate Roads
Darien, IL 60561
Named for its main attraction, Waterfall Glen is a popular hiking and biking destination. With 700+ native plant species and 300+ animal species, it offers families plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with Mother Nature. 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!
1500 Gilbert Avenue
Downers Grove, IL
Having a trail connected to a playground makes for a great walk with kids!
South Suburban Forest Preserve Trails
Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
7402 W. Lake Katherine Drive
Palos Heights, Illinois, 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.
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.
Did we miss your favorite family-friendly trail? Let us know on Facebook or via the comments! Then, find more outdoor activities for kids.