Launch your adventure through the heart of the Midwest as we unveil the best fall hikes in Illinois!

From the breathtaking rock formations of Giant City State Park to the serene river bluffs of Pere Marquette State Park, Illinois beckons with its diverse landscapes and awe-inspiring beauty.

So, fasten your hiking boots and get ready to explore the wonderland of fall foliage, cascading waterfalls, and flourishing wildlife that awaits in the Land of Lincoln.

Starved Rock State Park has some of the best fall foliage in Illinois

1. Giant City State Park

Giant City State Park in Makanda, Illinois, is a scenic wonderland filled with natural beauty and stunning rock formations. One of the park’s must-visit trails is the Giant City Nature Trail.

Giant City Nature Trail is an easy, 1-mile loop perfect for all skill levels and provides an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the park’s uniqueness.

Hikers will encounter interesting features, such as a maze and short tunnels leading to Fat Man’s Squeeze.

The Nature Trail is lined with native trees like Dogwood and Maple and boasts a variety of seasonal wildflowers and mushrooms.

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a stroll in nature, the Giant City State Park is a must-visit destination.

It’s important to note that dogs are welcome on the trail but must always be kept on a leash. Depending on the time of year you visit, ticks can be in full force, so wearing proper attire (long sleeves and pants) is highly recommended.

2. Forest Preserves of Winnebago County

Located approximately 140 miles northwest of Chicago, the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County are a nature lover’s paradise.

Encompassing over 10,000 acres of natural space, these preserves offer a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy.

Hiking enthusiasts will find plenty of options to explore in the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County.

The scenic trails wind through diverse landscapes, including woodlands, prairies, and wetlands, providing opportunities to immerse oneself in the beauty of nature. No matter if you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, there are trails suitable for all levels.

In addition to hiking, birding is a popular activity in the forest preserves. With various bird species residing in the area, birdwatchers can spot and identify different birds throughout the year.

Keep your binoculars handy and be prepared to encounter some feathered friends during your visit.

Some popular forest preserves in the county include the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, and Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

Whether you’re seeking a peaceful hike, observing wildlife, or simply reconnecting with nature, the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County has something to offer everyone.

3. Shawnee National Forest

Located in Southern Illinois, Shawnee National Forest is a natural treasure known for its stunning landscapes and abundant recreational opportunities.

One of its most prominent features is the magnificent Jackson Falls, a must-see attraction for outdoor enthusiasts.

Situated in the Hidden Springs Ranger District, Jackson Falls offers breathtaking sights with its towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls (during the rainy season). The area is a paradise for rock climbers, hikers, and nature lovers alike.

The hiking trails around Jackson Falls provide a chance to explore the forest’s natural beauty up close and personal.

Shawnee National Forest is easily accessible, located within a few hours’ drive of major cities like St. Louis and Louisville. Visitors can enjoy various outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife watching.

The forest boasts an extensive network of marked hiking trails, offering options for every skill level.

Whether you’re looking to enjoy a family fun day or tackle something more challenging, Shawnee National Forest hiking trails give you plenty of options!

The diverse landscapes and stunning vistas make it the perfect destination for a memorable outdoor adventure.

4. Pere Marquette State Park

Nestled along the Illinois River, Pere Marquette State Park is a picturesque destination for outdoor lovers. Located just a one hour drive from downtown St. Louis, this state park offers a serene retreat from city life.

Pere Marquette State Park is known for its stunning river bluffs providing panoramic countryside views.

One of the main attractions of Pere Marquette State Park is its 12 miles of hiking trails that wind through the park’s diverse terrain. These well-marked trails allow visitors to explore its lush forests and rolling hills.

In addition to hiking, Pere Marquette State Park also offers the opportunity for horseback riding.

Equestrian trails meander through the park, providing a unique perspective of the scenic surroundings. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself in nature while enjoying the peacefulness of the park.

What sets Pere Marquette State Park apart is its abundance of native plants and wildlife. As you walk along the trails, you’ll encounter an array of vibrant wildflowers and towering trees.

Keep an eye out for the park’s resident bald eagles, which can often be spotted soaring above the Illinois River during the winter.

5. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is a beautiful sanctuary in Illinois that offers a variety of recreational activities, including hiking.

One of the main highlights of this preserve is the Waterfall Glen Trail, a 9.5-mile paved/gravel trail that winds through the park’s natural landscapes.

The Waterfall Glen Trail is perfect for those looking for an easy to moderate hike. It offers a mix of inclines with challenging and easy sections, making it suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

On average, it takes about 4 hours to complete the entire trail, allowing hikers to fully immerse themselves in the preserve’s beauty.

As the name suggests, one of the main attractions of the Waterfall Glen Trail is the man-made waterfall.

This stunning feature adds an extra touch of beauty to the already picturesque surroundings.

It serves as an excellent spot for hikers to take a break and appreciate the tranquility of the area.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is any outdoor enthusiast’s dream with its well-maintained trails and captivating natural scenery, but be sure to pack your bug spray!

6. Matthiessen State Park

Located just 60 miles from Chicago, Matthiessen State Park is a hidden gem that offers unique features, including picturesque waterfalls, towering sandstone bluffs, mineral springs and sunflower fields.

Exploring the trails within the park allows visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature and witness the fall colors that blanket the landscape.

With its dense forests and vibrant foliage, Matthiessen State Park is a haven for those looking to experience the magic of autumn.

Check out some of Matthiessen State Park’s popular hikes, like Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail and the River Trail.

One thing to note is there are seasonal closures during hunting season, typically between April and May.

What to Wear and Things to Bring on Your Illinois Fall Hikes

Layer Up: Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your body. Add insulating layers like fleece or a lightweight down jacket for warmth, and finish with a waterproof and breathable outer shell to protect against wind and rain.

Comfortable Hiking Boots: Wear sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with good ankle support to navigate uneven terrain and provide traction on slippery surfaces.

Moisture-Wicking Socks: Opt for moisture-wicking or wool socks to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. Consider wearing liner socks underneath for added comfort.

Convertible Pants: Choose pants with zip-off legs or convertible options. This allows you to adapt to changing temperatures during your hike.

Don’t miss our complete guide to Fall Hiking Outfits

Hat and Sunglasses: Protect your head and eyes from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. In cooler weather, a beanie or hat can help retain heat.

Gloves: Pack lightweight, insulated gloves to keep your hands warm in chilly conditions. Look for gloves that allow dexterity for easy maneuvering.

Rain Gear: Always carry a lightweight and packable rain jacket or poncho, even if rain isn’t in the forecast. Weather can change quickly in the fall.

Hiking Gaiters: Gaiters can help keep debris out of your boots and provide extra protection in wet or muddy conditions.

Backpack: Use a comfortable, properly fitted backpack to carry essentials like water, snacks, and extra clothing layers. Have your rain cover handy just in case a fall shower pops up.

Bug Spray: In some areas, ticks can still be active in the fall, so consider using insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing.

Sunscreen: Apply sunscreen to exposed skin to protect against sunburn, even on overcast days.

Trekking Poles: If you prefer hiking with trekking poles, bring them along for added stability and support, especially on uneven terrain.

Make the Most of Your Fall Scenic Drives in Illinois

  1. Plan Your Timing: Check local foliage reports for the best time to visit the areas mentioned in the article to witness vibrant fall colors.
  2. Shawnee Hills Wine Trail: While exploring Shawnee National Forest, make time for the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. It’s a perfect complement to your outdoor adventures, offering wine tastings amid the beautiful fall landscapes in Southern Illinois.
  3. Great River Road: For a picturesque drive near Pere Marquette State Park, follow the Great River Road along the Illinois River. This route offers breathtaking river views and is especially stunning in the fall.
  4. Starved Rock State Park: When visiting Matthiessen State Park, you might as well make the short drive to check out Starved Rock State Park. It’s renowned for its fall foliage and offers various scenic drives along the Illinois River.
  5. Be mindful of wildlife this time of year. Drive cautiously and be prepared to encounter animals, especially in more rural areas.