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Head outdoors this season and experience all that northern Illinois has to offer along some beautiful trails.

Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail, Lockport

History buffs and nature lovers alike will enjoy a stroll along the I&M Canal Trail. The almost 80-mile trail follows the banks of the I&M Canal, with an old canal towpath that runs from La Salle to Lemont. The La Salle trailhead is located near a historic canal lock, and hikers will find markers explaining the history of the canal at nearly every mile of the trail. You’ll also pass by several notable sites, such as the Marseilles railroad depot, Joliet Iron Works Historic Site, Lemont’s limestone quarries, the historic M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator, and several state parks.

Moraine Hills State Park, McHenry

With an abundance of wildlife and rare plants, Moraine Hills State Park is a lush, ecological treasure situated along the Fox River. The park’s name is derived from a geologic formation known as a moraine, an accumulation of boulders, stones and debris deposited by a glacier. The park offers 10 miles of trails separated into four unique routes. The 3.7-mile Lake Defiance Trail will take hikers on a scenic route around the 48-acre lake. One of the few glacial lakes in the state that’s still largely undeveloped, Lake Defiance is a pristine place to spot the wide array of creatures that live in the wetlands.

Dick Young Forest Preserve, Batavia

With stretches of prairie, wetlands and woodlands, this ecologically complex park is considered a window into the origins of the region’s landscape. A rich diversity of flora and fauna thrives within the park. The Nelson Lake Marsh on the east side of the preserve lies in a depression caused by glacial ice that existed on the site millennia ago. Explore all that the area has to offer on the intertwining trail system. Nelson Lake Trail is an easy 2.57 miles of mowed trail that circles the marsh. Hikers will enjoy the site’s peaceful beauty, ever-changing surroundings, and opportunities to spot rare and endangered creatures.

Wauponsee Glacial Trail, Joliet

Escape your urban surroundings on the 22-mile stretch of trail that will take you back in time, named for a glacial lake that once encompassed the area thousands of years ago. Today’s visitors can take in sweeping views of the open prairie and farmland. The route follows the path of two former railroad lines and passes through several historically significant local areas. Begin near the Interstate 80 overpass in Joliet, and quickly leave civilization behind as you stroll by vast fields of corn, a herd of bison, and across a trestle bridge from 1902.

Buffalo Rock State Park, Ottawa

This majestic park is perched on a bluff that was once an island in the Illinois River. Hikers exploring the 298-acre park can follow the River Bluff Trail. It runs high along the bluffs with two observation decks that offer sweeping views of the riverbed below. The 2.6 mile loop is a peaceful and well-maintained gravel path that’s appropriate for hikers of all ability levels. Observant visitors might even spot the buffalo that lives in the park.

Castle Rock State Park, Oregon

Nestled on the banks of the Rock River, this rugged park features rock formations, ravines and sandstone bluffs. Six miles of marked hiking trails wind through the park, allowing visitors to enjoy the scenery and catch glimpses of local wildlife. One good route is the Castle Rock North Trail, a moderate 3.5 mile loop. Changes in elevation can make the route slightly rigorous for novice hikers. But your effort will be rewarded with views of beautiful wildflowers and open ranges.

Saw Wee Kee Park, Yorkville

This extensive natural area comprises 134 scenic acres with a plethora of wildlife, including deer and bald eagles. The park’s compact trail system meanders throughout the hilly terrain. One popular route is the Saw Wee Kee Trail that skirts the Fox River for about 5 miles. Though the trail is considered moderate, hikers should be ready for the rugged terrain. The curvy dirt trail has plenty of ups and downs, rocks and roots, making it popular with mountain bikers.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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