The Best Day Hikes in America: Illinois Canyon Trail

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
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Illinois dayhike

Wildcat Canyon

“Illinois” and “canyon” don’t often appear in the same sentence. But the state more famous for curse-breaking World Series champs than its hiking trails also boasts a network of verdant sandstone canyons riven with waterfalls. Best part? It’s just 90 miles from the Windy City.

A 7.3-mile lollipop-loop on the park’s lonely east side drops into more than seven gorges cut in the buff sandstone. You’ll hit three—Illinois, Kaskaskia, and Ottowa—in the first 2.3 miles. In Illinois Canyon (the park’s longest), five intermittent waterfalls erupt over the moss-covered stone shelves after rainfall. Keep going to the overlook at Hennepin Canyon at mile 2.8 for river views before tagging more canyons: LaSalle, Tonti, and Wildcat. Come back in winter to see the waterfalls—now “icefalls”—as jagged, blue sculptures.

Distance 7.3 miles (lollipop-loop) Trailhead 41.309261, -88.937371 Drive time 1:23 from Chicago Season Year-round Contact