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Natural Awakenings Chicago

Take a Hike at a Nearby State Park

Aug 29, 2014 08:00AM ● By Megy Karydes

Photo Courtesy of Megy Karydes

Finding hills to hike, mountains to climb, caves to explore, bluffs, cliffs and waterfalls to enjoy isn’t easy around Chicago but just outside the city’s borders there are actually plenty of places to enjoy these types of outdoor experiences. Some are within an hour driving distance while others are located farther south and west throughout Illinois.

Earlier this Spring my family and I headed to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois. While waterfalls weren’t active (it was still cold in April), the hiking experience was so fun and exactly what our family needed after this harsh winters that rendered us indoors for much of the season. There are several trails that range from moderate to more advanced and I highly recommend it if you love hiking. It’s a great experience for younger children and dogs (on a leash at all times) are welcome.

Last week we wanted to return to Starved Rock but many of the trails were closed off due to a storm over the summer. We decided to check out nearby Matthiessen State Park. It features five trails but, again, with the storm over the summer, a few of the trails were closed off. No matter, there were other trails to explore so off we went with our puppy and kids.

Matthiessen wasn’t as impressive to us as Starved Rock. The trails were fine but because they are also shared with those who are horseback riding, there was horse poop everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It was pretty impossible to walk more than six feet (at the most) without having to meander around it. It was gross. But besides that, the trails were not clearly marked at all. If you’re familiar with the trails and know your way around, this isn’t a problem. However, if this is your first time or don’t hike this park regularly, this is a problem.

After an hour in we were seriously wondering where we were and where to head to make our way out of the park. There wasn’t a marker to be seen. The very few directional markers at the entrance and near the beginning of the trails were it. Luckily our GPS system on our phone helped us get out but at one point I was started to worry.

Following our hiking trip we headed into downtown Utica just down the street from the park. The downtown area is literally one block long. Flanked at the end is the LaSalle County Historical Museum which was near closing time. We hit up an indie dog boutique called Bow-Wow Boutique for a bandana and treats for our puppy and then grabbed some burgers across the street before making the hour trek back home.

If you want more ideas of places to hike near Chicago, check out Barbara Bond’s Book: Take a Hike. It offers suggestions within a two hour radius of Chicago.