Chicago, IL: Chain O Lakes State Park

Hike rolling prairies, expansive wetlands, and a peaceful stretch of the Fox River on this easy 5.6-mile hike in Chain O Lakes State Park.
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Hike rolling prairies, expansive wetlands, and a peaceful stretch of the Fox River on this easy 5.6-mile hike in Chain O Lakes State Park.

The largest state park in northern Illinois, Chain O Lakes is home to prairie, oak forest, and wetlands. This gently rolling hike offers a taste of the park's varied terrain.
Start down the Badger Trail, enjoying views of open prairie and marsh lands. At mile .75, turn right on Cattail Trail for a 1-mile out-and-back that heads into a wetlands area where sandhill cranes nest. Continue south to complete the Sunset Loop before heading north through tallgrass prairie to the Gold Finch Trail. Loop by the peaceful Fox River before returning to the trailhead through an oak canopy.
-Mapped by Ted Villaire

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 9.1

Waypoints

COL001

Location: 42.4664463, -88.1901634

From the parking area, turn right on the Badger Trail. First half mile provides numerous sweeping views of the prairie, woods, wetland, and Fox River to the east.

COL002

Location: 42.4651413, -88.1891937

This is the sprawling mid-section of the park--a large open space dotted with marshes, ponds, prairie, and the occasional oak tree.

COL003

Location: 42.459509, -88.1846219

Turn right @ 4-way with Sunset Trail. Cross the park road. Pass one of many picnicking spots clustered in this section of the park.

COL004

Location: 42.4573599, -88.18555

Turn right @ 3-way onto Cattail Trail. The Cattail Trail takes you through the wetlands in the mid-section of the park. This is one of the few nesting sites in the region for sandhill cranes, an enormous gray bird with a red forehead.

COL005

Location: 42.4571838, -88.1969376

Once you reach the park road, turn around and retrace your steps to Waypoint 4 and turn right.

COL006

Location: 42.4538137, -88.1833291

Cross park road; turn left @ 3-way to finish Sunset Loop. The trail parallels the park road as it takes you by two picnic areas.

COL007

Location: 42.4594931, -88.1845576

Turn right @ 4-way onto Badger Trail; the trail drops down to a wetland area, and then enters a restored tallgrass prairie fringed by oaks and conifers.

COL008

Location: 42.4678234, -88.1884253

Turn right @ 4-way with Gold Finch Trail. The terrain flattens as you brush against a large planting of pine trees. In winter look for owls in the pine grove and hawks in the open areas.

COL009

Location: 42.4713402, -88.1790543

After passing the large cattail pond on the right, the trail arrives at a wild slice of the Fox River. If the weather is warm, have a seat on the grassy bank to revive a pair of tired feet with a bath in the river.

COL010

Location: 42.4725418, -88.1805649

Heading west away from the river, you'll walk beneath a canopy of oaks; continue ahead through more woods, savanna, and stands of shrubbery.

COL011

Location: 42.4682587, -88.189863

Continue straight @ 3-way.

COL012

Location: 42.4678353, -88.188495

Turn right @ 4-way to complete the Gold Finch Loop and return to the Badger Loop. Arrive back at the parking area after passing the park office on the right.

Prairie

Location: 42.4662722, -88.1895733

The first half mile of this hike provides numerous sweeping views of the prairie, woods, wetland, and Fox River to the east. © Ted Villaire

Open Spaces

Location: 42.4651325, -88.1890798

This is the sprawling mid-section of the park--a large open space dotted with marshes, ponds, prairie, and the occasional oak tree. © Ted Villaire

Tallgrass Prairie

Location: 42.4598375, -88.1845737

Restored tallgrass prairie fringed by oaks and conifers in Chain O Lakes © Ted Villaire

Fox River

Location: 42.4714127, -88.1790619

After passing the large cattail pond, the trail arrives at a wild slice of the Fox River. If the weather is warm, have a seat on the grassy bank to revive a pair of tired feet with a bath in the river. © Ted Villaire

Oak Canopy

Location: 42.4725876, -88.1806793

Heading away from the river, you'll walk beneath a canopy of oaks; continue ahead through more woods, savanna, and stands of shrubbery. © Ted Villaire