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6 Pet-Friendly Nature Hikes Near Chicago

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Chicago certainly isn’t short on adventures, but when you and your pet really need to stretch your legs, there are plenty of stunning natural oases just a short drive away. Get the snacks, water, and poop bags ready—you’ll definitely want to make a day trip to one of these six beautiful pet-friendly spots.

Note: Have an adventure kitty? While there are no official policies on cats in the parks, we think you’re safe to bring Fluffy along. Just keep your cat leashed the entire time, and don’t let her near any wildlife.

STARVED ROCK STATE PARK
Oglesby, IL
Miles from Chicago: 93.3
Approximate drive: 2 hours

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Spend the day hiking in this expansive state park and prepare to be in constant awe of the bluffs, canyons, waterfalls, and trees that greet you. Well-marked trails run for miles, some of them featuring walkways and stairs, and others a bit further off the man-made path. Speaking of stairs, there are lots of them, so if that might be a problem for you or Fido, consider visiting somewhere with less elevation instead.

DES PLAINES RIVER TRAIL AND GREENWAY
Along the Des Plaines River, River Forest to Wadsworth, IL
Miles from Chicago: 13.9 miles to River Forest trail head
Approximate drive: 35 minutes

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The Des Plaines River Trail twists and turns through 31.4 miles of Lake County and 12 forest preserves. Obviously you won’t be able to do the whole thing in a day, but you’ll surely enjoy whatever stretch of the trail you decide to embark on—it’s peppered with savannas, prairies, and woodlands. The trail is gravel, so if you think that might bother your pet’s paws, pick a different spot or strap on a pair of booties.

WATERFALL GLEN FOREST PRESERVE
Darien, IL
Miles from Chicago: 23.3
Approximate drive: 40 minutes

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Take an ambling stroll through this 2,492-acre wonderland, part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Features include prairies, savannas, woodlands, and of course, a cascading, picturesque waterfall. Plant lovers will be delighted to know that this forest preserve is home to 75% of the plants that grow naturally in DuPage county. You and your pet are welcome to traverse trails both marked and un-marked, but make sure not to let your four-legged one nosh on any of that precious plant life. Leashes must be no longer than 10 feet.

MATTHIESSEN STATE PARK
Utica, IL
Miles from Chicago: 96.1
Approximate drive: 2 hours

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Spend your day exploring the awe-inspiring canyons, bluffs, and waterfalls tucked within this 2,000-acre state park. There are trails for all skill levels, and plenty of opportunities for Fido to cool himself off in a refreshing stream. Keep a close eye on canyon walls, where birds nest in the highest nooks and toads and salamanders scurry at the base.

MIDEWIN NATIONAL TALLGRASS PRAIRIE
Wilmington, IL
Miles from Chicago: 63.7
Approximate drive: 1 hour 20 minutes

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There is a lot to see at this 9,000 acre (with more coming), 20-trail park. Midewin is notable for many reasons, among them that it was the nation’s very first tallgrass prairie. It’s home to more than 100 bird species, and a complex ecology that is as beautiful as it is spacious. Hiking trails are all mowed or mulched, making them comfy surfaces for padded paws. Leashes must be no longer than eight feet.

INDIANA DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE
Chesterton, IN
Miles from Chicago: 51.1
Approximate drive: 1 hour

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If your dog loves to dig in the sand as much as ours do, they’re in for a huge treat. Pets are allowed on the national lakeshore beaches to the east of the Indiana Dunes State Park, including Kemil, Dunbar, and Lake View Beaches—more than enough space to romp and play. The dunes are spectacular (Carl Sandberg didn’t call this place the “Grand Canyon of the Midwest” for nothing), and the park features lots of shaded trails to meander along. Leashes must be no longer than six feet.

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