The Best Places to Hike in Will County

Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise and there are miles of scenic trails to choose from

|  STORY BY MEGHAN MCMAHON |

Telling someone to “take a hike” is often associated with a direct, albeit rude, way to end an unwanted interaction. But this spring season, let this phrase serve instead as an encouraging, gentle nudge to get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air and physical activity.

Whether you want to work up a sweat or just spend time in nature, the Forest Preserve District of Will County has miles and miles of trails perfect for hiking or walking — more than 125 miles actually. The District’s preserves include paved, crushed limestone and natural surface trails in every corner of the county.

Hiking our Trails

You can find a good place for a walk in just about any Will County forest preserve, but here are a few of our favorites, along with information about the length of the trail segments and the kinds of habitats they pass through.

Many of the trails within the preserves connect with others, creating a regional network of trails for people to use for hiking, biking, horseback riding and other activities. Since many trails are not looped, keep in mind that your return trip will be just as far as your initial jaunt. Plan accordingly, so you don’t wear yourself out on your way back.

Trail Trips

DuPage River Trail

Three segments of this paved trail have been developed thus far, totaling 8.23 miles. The trail’s southern segment is a hilly, linear trail that extends 4.1 miles through Hammel Woods in Joliet and Shorewood. One of two northern segments is a flat, paved linear trail that travels 0.75 mile through open areas and a historic farmstead at Riverview Farmstead Preserve in Naperville. The second northern segment is a flat, paved loop and linear trail that stretches 3.71 miles through wetland and around Whalon Lake in Naperville. This segment offers the option of a longer experience with trail connections to the Bolingbrook Park District’s Hidden Lakes Historic Trout Farm, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Greene Valley Forest Preserve and the Naperville Park District’s Knoch Knolls Park.

(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve

Several interconnecting trails are available at this 891-acre preserve, located in Crete Township. They include 2.27 miles of natural surface, 3.15 mile of crushed limestone and 0.48 mile of paved path. Among the highlights is a stunning boardwalk that stretches 40 feet above the ravine along the Plum Creek Greenway Trail.

(Photo courtesy of Gregory Hejnar)

Hickory Creek Bikeway

This 6.65-mile paved trail wends its way through hilly terrain providing a scenic tour of savanna, prairie and wetlands. The bikeway consists of two segments. The western section in New Lenox leads to both the 22-mile Old Plank Road Trail and the 7.56-mile Route 30 Bikeway, which connects the eastern and western portions of the preserve.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Fagan)

Lake Renwick Preserve – Turtle Lake Access

Trail travelers on this 3.35-mile paved path in Plainfield are likely to see a wide variety of birds, including the great blue heron and great egret that make their home in the nearby Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve. This preserve is also home to a variety of plant species, and trail users will enjoy a view of the lake and marsh areas.

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Messenger Woods Nature Preserve

This 441-acre nature preserve in Homer Glen features 1.87 miles of natural surface trail and is known throughout the region for an abundance of wildflowers that carpet the forest floor in spring and early summer. The preserve also protects high-quality woodland, prairie, savanna, wetland and a portion of Spring Creek.

(Photo courtesy of Joseph Stevenson)

Prairie Bluff Trail

View prairie restoration efforts as you travel this 3.21-mile paved loop trail within the 680-acre Prairie Bluff Preserve in Crest Hill. The trail links to the adjacent Brent Hassert Park and a Forest Preserve District picnic shelter. The preserve protects wetland habitat.

(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Rock Run Greenway Trail

This paved 11.24-mile trail stretches from Theodore Marsh in Crest Hill through Rock Run Preserve, Colvin Grove Preserve, Joliet Junior College and Lower Rock Run Preserve in Joliet where it links to the I&M Canal State Trail. The trail travels through prairie, woodland and wetland.

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Spring Creek Greenway Trail

The Spring Creek Greenway Trail is a hilly, crushed limestone loop and linear trail. The western segment travels 5.01 miles through the woodland, savanna and wetland of Hadley Valley in Joliet, New Lenox and Homer Township. The eastern segment travels 3.44 miles through the woodland and savanna of Messenger Marsh in Homer Glen. This trail also connects to Pilcher Park pathways owned by the Joliet Park District.

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Wauponsee Glacial Trail

This trail travels 22.42 miles in all, from Joliet to the Kankakee River in Custer Park. Developed within two abandoned rail corridors, the northern 2.8 miles are paved while the remainder is crushed limestone. The trail wends through woodland, prairie and wetland, and connects to the U.S. Forest Service’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and via street routes to the I&M Canal Trail, the I&M Canal State Trail and the Old Plank Road Trail.

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Shorter Jaunts

If you’re looking for a short walk to enjoy nature, several preserves include shorter, looped trails that bring you right back to where you started. Here are a few worth checking out:

Evans-Judge Preserve

The natural-surface trail at the preserve travels 1.59 miles through forest, savanna and wetland habitats and includes a short path to the Kankakee River.

(Photo by Cindy Cain)

Forked Creek Preserve-Forsythe Woods

The Forsythe Woods Nature Trail is a 1.34-mile long natural surface trail through the wooded and wetland habitats along and around Forked Creek.

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Keyes)

Kankakee Sands Preserve

This preserve has two interconnected crushed limestone looped paths that total 2.53 miles, traveling through savanna and wetland habitats.

(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

McKinley Woods – Frederick’s Grove

This preserve has a total of 2.65 miles of natural surface trails through its forest, prairie and wetland habitats. Frederick’s Grove also provides access to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ 61.5-mile I&M Canal State Trail.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Ward)

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve

This preserve has a short, 0.27-mile natural surface trail that’s good for a quick walk. Spring is the perfect time for a visit because it’s a great site for viewing the annual bloom of wildflowers, including Virginia bluebells and blue-eyed Mary.

(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

CHECK OUT OUR UPCOMING HIKING AND WALKING PROGRAMS

Know Before You Go

You can plan a walk or hike in any of the District’s preserves at ReconnectWithNature.org. Select a trail, visitor center or preserve, then click on the page’s interactive map button. From there, you can determine a trail’s distance, measure trail segments, locate nearby restrooms and find driving directions.

Most preserves are open 8 a.m.-sunset, but the following locations are open from sunrise-sunset to allow extended access to bike trails:

I&M Canal State Trail

  • Lower Rock Run Preserve – I&M Canal Access, Joliet

Old Plank Road Trail

  • Hickory Creek Preserve – Hickory Creek Junction, Mokena

Rock Run Greenway Trail

  • Lower Rock Run Preserve – I&M Canal Access, Joliet
  • Rock Run Preserve – Black Road Access, Joliet
  • Rock Run Preserve – Paul V. Nichols Access, Joliet

Wauponsee Glacial Trail

  • Manhattan Road Access, Manhattan
  • Sugar Creek Preserve, Joliet
  • Symerton Road Access, Symerton

 

Trail dos and don’ts

When walking or hiking in the preserves, make sure to be safe and follow the Forest Preserve District’s guidelines and rules.

  • Do travel with a partner when possible. If you are alone, tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
  • Don’t leave valuables in view in your vehicle. Lock them in your truck before you arrive or, better yet, leave them at home.
  • Do carry your cell phone with you. Add the District police dispatch number to your contacts: 815.727.6191.
  • Do know your location and be aware of your surroundings. If you’re listening to music, wear only one earbud so you can hear what’s going on around you.
  • Do be courteous to others on the trails. Walk on the right and pass on the left. If you have to stop, move off to the shoulder.
  • Do keep your dog on a leash. Leashed dogs are allowed on most trails, but you are required by ordinance to clean up after them. Dogs are not allowed in designated nature preserves.
  • Don’t lose track of time. Preserves close at sunset, so make sure you give yourself enough time to get back to your car.

Lead image: Raccoon Grove (Photo courtesy of Orlando Gonzalez)