A Guide to the Best Outdoor Escapes in Illinois & Beyond
Have you been waiting all winter to break out your hiking boots and seek some fresh air? Luckily for you, we’ve tracked down the most rewarding excursions in and around central Illinois. Whether you’re a local, or just passing through, these destinations are well worth the travel time. From dramatic canyons to secluded forest glades, we’ve found an adventure to satisfy every outdoor craving.
1 HOUR FROM CHAMPAIGN
Great day hike location. Numerous trails, woods, rivers, mansion, gardens, and statues.
Monticello, IL | www.allerton.illinois.edu
Kickapoo State Recreation Area
Hiking, camping, canoeing and mountain biking throughout diverse geological terrain. Popular local favorite.
Oakwood, IL | www.dnr.illinois.gov
Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
If you like birdwatching, this is the place for you.
Penfield, IL | www.ccfpd.org
North Fork Trailhead
This 9 mile trail loops around Clinton Lake.
De Witt, IL | www.alltrails.com
Fox Ridge State Park
Day hikes and boating. Great family camping.
Charleston, IL | www.dnr.illinois.gov
2 HOURS FROM CHAMPAIGN
Turkey Run State Park
Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing. Good for day hikes and some overnight camping.
Marshall, IN | www.in.gov
Wolf Creek State Park
Great day hike location.
Windsor, IL | www.dnr.illinois.gov
Shades State Park
Ravines, ladder trails, rivers and waterfalls. Great year-round day hikes. One of our local favorites!
Waveland, IN | www.in.gov
Matthiessen State Park
Lots of hiking and cool water features.
Oglesby, IL | www.dnr.illinois.gov
Starved Rock State Park
Day hiking along the Illinois River. Cool rock formations. Bald Eagle viewing at certain times of year. Great family camping. Beautiful fall colors.
Oglesby, IL | www.starvedrockstatepark.com
Sand Ridge state forest
Backpack a short loop with sand dunes, cacti, and pines.
Forest City, IL | www.dnr.illinois.gov
Bike and boat along the Hennepin Canal, full of bridges and locks.
Wyanet, IL | www.dnr.illinois.gov
Indiana Dunes State Park
Play in the sand and lake. Hike up beautiful, scenic dunes. Camping nearby. Don’t forget your sunscreen! The reflection off the sand is year round.
Chesterton, IN | www.in.gov
3+ HOURS FROM CHAMPAIGN
West Rock Wake Park
Wake-boarding lake and park, with classes & rentals.
Rockford, IL | westrockwakepark.com
3 mile caving route. Advance permission required.
Bloomington, IN | bucknercave.org
Brown County State Park
Nicknamed “The Little Smokies”. Beautiful fall colors, easy hiking, scenic views. Camping at nearby Lake Monroe is awesome.
Nashville, IN | www.in.gov
Shawnee: Tunnel Hill STATE TRAIL
45 mile rail trail bike route in Shawnee National Forest vicinity. Ride through towns, restaurants, wineries and beautiful nature.
Vienna, IL | sandburnjunction.com
Shawnee: Kinkaid Lake
Long hiking trails, great fishing in the reservoir, sandstone and forest topography, camping.
Murphysboro, IL | www.fs.usda.gov
Shawnee: Jackson Falls
Best technical climbing/bouldering in Illinois. 500+ routes on 30-70ft rock walls in a scenic forest canyon. Also check out nearby Holy Boulders area.
Simpson, IL | www.fs.usda.gov
Shawnee: Garden of the Gods
Must see stop for anyone visiting Southern Illinois. Great backpacking, rock formations & fall colors.
Herod, IL | www.fs.usda.gov
Shawnee: River to River Trail
Backpack this 160mi trail from the Ohio to the Mississippi Rivers, through 5 stunning national wilderness areas.
Southern Illinois | www.rivertorivertrailhike.com
Maquoketa Caves State Park
Unique state park in Iowa. Step back in geological time exploring a variety of caves and landscapes.
Maquoketa, IA | www.iowadnr.gov
Multi-day float trips down the Blue River. Wildlife, rapids, abundant scenery & killer stars at night.
Fredericksburg, IN | www.oldmillcanoerental.com
Devil’s Lake & Devil’s HEad
Camp, boat and hike the famous lake areas. Good midwestern skiing and boarding at Devil’s Head.
Merrimac, WI | www.devilsheadresort.com
Ice Age Trail - Southern Unit
Hike southern Wisconsin portions of this National Scenic Trail, glacially created over 12,000 years ago. Wisconsin | www.iceagetrail.org
Mammoth Cave National Park
Stunning Ntl Park under 5 hours from C-U. World’s longest known cave system & tons of outdoor rec.
Kentucky | www.nps.gov/maca
Huron-Manistee National Forests
Scenic Manistee area of S. Michigan, with access to rivers, dune forests and Lake Michigan.
Michigan | www.fs.usda.gov/hmnf
Red River Gorge
Famous canyon system along Kentucky’s Red River, within the Daniel Boone National Forest. Endless things to do here!
Kentucky | www.redrivergorge.com
Before your next foray into the wilderness, stop by to check out the latest camping gear from NEMO, get advice on the best campsites, and talk trails with our staff. While you’re here, take a moment to test out the new Stargaze Recliner Chair. (Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee you’ll ever be OK with another camp chair again.) After loading up your supplies, you’ll be ready to queue up your favorite podcast, set your cruise control, and get on the road!