A common misconception is that urban dwellers exclusively prefer to be surrounded by concrete rather than trees. Anyone who’s been to Lincoln Park in the summer knows that Chicagoans flock to nature during the summer months, be it their local park or the beaches of Lake Michigan. If you’re longing for more nature than the oft-overcrowded Chicago destinations, rest assured that many green spaces lie just outside the borders of the city. Below highlights a few of our favorite places to escape the chaos of the city.
Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Perfect for: escaping the city while keeping it in sight (which you can see on a clear day)
Declared a national park in February 2019, the closest national park to Chicago allows you to immerse yourself in true nature without even needing a car. To access this park, hop on the south shore line until Dune Park Station. From there, walk just under a mile to arrive at the park. The 15,000-acres of Indiana Dunes include 50 miles of trails that take you through sand dunes, prairies, forests, and wetlands. If you’re not up for hiking, bring chairs and an umbrella to enjoy the park’s beaches, which are open from 6am-11pm daily and include potable water and restrooms for all day enjoyment. If you’re interested in wildlife, head to the Dunes during spring and fall migration season as visitors often spot migratory birds in the park.
Turkey Run State Park, Indiana
Perfect for: tapping into your inner archeologist and/or drinking in a canoe
Roughly 3 hours from Chicago, Turkey Run State Park provides an endless list of options to enjoy nature on a respite from the city. The park is most famous for its sandstone ravines dating back 600 to 300 million years. Throughout the park you can spot fossils of ancient sea creatures in rocks on the beaches and on the walls of the ravines. Hiking in the park can be found on its 11 trails ranging from easy to rugged. Rugged trails include climbing ladders to access different levels of the park–a highlight for many visitors! If you prefer floating to hiking, rent a canoe from an outfitter such as Sugar Valley Canoes to enjoy the park at a slower pace.
Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan
Perfect for: taking your dog to the beach
Just across the border into Michigan, Warren Dunes State Park feels fully removed from the hustle of urban life. Only an hour and a half from the city, this park is perfect for a quick escape to a place off-the-radar for most people in Chicago. You can enjoy the 1900+ acres of Warren Dunes by hiking its 6 miles of trails or lounging on its 3 miles of beaches. The park also includes a designated area for dogs on the beach, which makes it a perfect adventure for the whole family. If you want to add in cardio to your nature escape, try climbing the 260-foot sand dune.
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Perfect for: a quick trip to explore ravines and waterfalls
Spot these cliffs two hours from Chicago at Starved Rock State Park. Formed thousands of years ago by glaciers, this park is known for its many ravines and waterfalls. At Starved Rock you can enjoy 13 miles of well-maintained hiking trails. In the cooler months, look up to try to spot a bald eagle soaring through the skies. The park offers both camping and a lodge for overnight stays, but at less than 2 hours from the city, this is an easy day trip.
Castle Rock State Park, Illinois
Perfect for: a short canoe backpacking trip
About 2 hours from the city, Castle Rock State Park is a quick place to find nature near Chicago. This 2,000-acre park includes 6 miles of hiking trails, but it is best known as a canoeing destination. Castle Rock’s only camping takes place at a primitive campsite only accessible by boat or canoe. The extra work to find this site ensures you’ll escape the crowds and be able to connect with nature after a relaxing day on the Rock River.