Worth the Drive

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.


Allerton Park

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


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

Hennepin Canal

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


West Rock Wake Park

Wake-boarding lake and park, with classes & rentals.

Rockford, IL | westrockwakepark.com

Buckner Cave

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

Blue River

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!