When the weather starts to get a little warmer, I like to get out and explore the great outdoors with my family. If your family is anything like mine, then you appreciate any time you can get the kids out of the house and do something fun and active with them. Despite what you may think, there’s more to Illinois than flat prairie and farmland. The Central Plains region may cover 90% of the state that bears the nickname “The Prairie State,” but the landscape throughout Illinois is diverse and beautiful, and there are some great family-friendly hiking spots that my family and I like to frequent. Here are a few worth checking out:
Shawnee National Forest
Shawnee National Forest offers plenty of activities and hiking trails to keep you and your family busy- you could spend the whole day here…or more! The park offers plenty of camping sites, as well as five recreational areas (Bellsmith Springs, Garden of the Gods, Pounds Hollow, Lake Glendale, and Johnson Creek) offering activities such as hiking, boating, fishing, swimming, and rock climbing. You’ll find some of the best views in the state, as well as one of the largest waterfalls in the state, Burden Falls. Be sure to check out Bell Smith Springs for seven miles of interconnected trails and plenty of wondrous sites, and you can even visit a miniature Grand Canyon- the Little Grand Canyon Trail for unbeatable views of the Big Muddy and Mississippi rivers.
Ferne Clyffe State Park
Ferne Clyffe State Park is another great spot for beautiful scenery. It’s situated on 2,430 acres in Johnson County and offers camping, hiking, picnicking, hunting, fishing, swimming and sightseeing. As with Shawnee National Forest, you could easily make a weekend trip out of your visit, as the park offers several campgrounds suiting a range of interests, from the seasoned tent camper to the RV traveler who prefers to have an indoor escape on their outdoor adventure. Some areas you’ll want to hike to include Hawk’s Cave, the waterfall on the Big Rocky Hollow Trail, Ferne Clyffe Lake, and Round Bluff Nature Preserve with its assortment of flora and fauna.
Matthiessen State Park
Matthiesen is great for families with young children because there are only 3.2 miles of hiking trails, so you won’t wear the kids out. Many of the trails intersect, so you’re never a far walk back to your car if your kids decide they’ve had enough for the day. Matthiesen may be smaller than its sister park, Starved Rock, but it offers plenty of sights to keep you occupied for a whole day. Be sure to check out the park’s collection of waterfalls, including Giant’s Bathtub Falls and Lake Falls. Oh, and don’t forget to wear waterproof hiking boots, as trails can get muddy!
Saw Wee Kee Park
Try saying that one five times fast! In addition to being fun to say, See Wee Kee Park is also a really fun place to spend the day with your family. At 134 acres and running parallel to the Fox River in Oswego Township, the park opens its trails to hikers, equestrians, BMX bikers, and cross country skiers- so you and your family could have an enjoyable time here anytime of year! You may even spot some wildlife while you’re out hiking, such as deer or bald eagles.
Starved Rock State Park
Don’t be fooled by the bleak-sounding name! Starved Rock State Park was voted the number one attraction in the state of Illinois. Located adjacent to Matthiessen State Park and known as that park’s big sister, it features 13 miles of trails to explore, as well as fishing, boating, and a cozy lodge and cabins for those looking to extend their stay. The park offers guided tours of its breathtaking waterfalls and canyons on Saturdays, which are sure to fascinate even the most demanding children. The tours even include lunch, so you won’t have to listen to your kids complain about being hungry while you’re trying to enjoy the hike!