Prairie Fever » Go on a hike

Go on a hike

Steve Metsch
Daily Southtown
April 21, 2006

Spring is a great time to explore the Southland’s many trails

If you’re tired of being cooped up in the house for the last few months and are itching for some outdoor activity, here’s a solution for both.

Best of all, it’s free.

Hiking along the many trails in or near the Southland is a fun activity that can be done alone, with friends, co-workers or even the entire family. And don’t pretend like there’s nowhere to go — Ted Villaire knows better.

Villaire spent the better part of two years walking, charting and documenting every last detail of dozens of trails in and around Chicago. His aching feet resulted in the 248-page book titled “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Chicago.”

Yes, one hike for every week of the year, and then some.

“I’ve always enjoyed hiking and knew there are a lot of good places to go hiking in the Chicago region,” Villaire said. “I think, in many cases, people may not realize there are good places to hike that are probably pretty close to where they live.”

“I tried to spread them throughout the region so all the hikes aren’t clustered in a certain area. Part of my intention, too, was to help people feel more connected to those natural areas,” Villaire said.

Villaire , 36, has been an avid hiker since boyhood. He grew up in and around Kalamazoo, Mich., moved to Grand Rapids when he was about 10, and them moved to Chicago to attend graduate school at DePaul University nine years ago.

As editor of “Our Children,” a magazine published by the National PTA based in Chicago, he’s as busy as all of us, but he still makes time for hiking.

“I started out hiking with my family. I have a theory that adults who enjoy hiking and camping often did both when they were kids. It’s often true. As a result, I encourage people to take up hiking as a family activity,” he said. “In the book, I indicate which hikes are family friendly, along with characteristics of each hike.”

The comprehensive book, published by Menasha Ridge Press, is easy to use.

Each trail has its own section. Each has a box of at-a-glance information, along with a map showing the trail and nearby major roads, directions how to get there and a thorough description of the trail. Nearby activities — i.e. where to eat after burning calories — are listed for each hike.

For example, the account of the Lake Katherine Trail, one of Villaire’s favorite in a distinctly urban setting, tells the trail is 3.2 miles long, is moderately difficult, mostly shaded, and has a mixed walking surface of wood chips, dirt and gravel. It could take up to 1 1/2 hours to hike at a moderate pace.

“As an urban nature walk,” Villaire wrote, “this is one of the best in the area.”

Villaire wore a GPS device that kept track of his every step. He then plugged it into a computer program to provide detailed maps of each trail he hiked.

If you have never hiked, don’t think you need to load up at a sporting goods store.,

“I’m not of the mind that you need a lot of equipment,” he said. “I wear plain sneakers most of the time. You should wear sturdy shoes that are appropriate for where you’re hiking.”

Bring bottled water. A rain jacket is a good idea, especially in cooler weather.

Prepare to see other hikers, lovely scenery and wildlife.

“I saw a lot of deer out there, and I even saw some wild turkeys at the Chain o’ Lakes. But, overall, the thing that struck me most was all the availability out there. There are so many places to hike. It’s also a great way for families to bond.”

Here’s a sampling of hikes in the area — along with some better-known out of the area. We’ve listed the length, difficulty, hiking surface, hiking time and a comment or two from Villaire :

Channahon State Park: I&M Canal Trail, 2 W. Story St., Channahon — 6.4 miles long; easy difficulty; crushed gravel surface; three hours. “This historic towpath follows a sliver of land that runs between the mighty Des Plaines River and the much narrower Illinois and Michigan Canal.” Information: (815) 467-4271.

Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe — 2.7 miles; easy; paved, gravel and wood chip; one hour. “If you love to see carefully selected flowers, trees, and bushes growing in perfectly landscaped environments, the Chicago Botanic Garden is a slice of heaven.” Information: (847) 835-5440.

Chicago Lakeshore Path: 31st Street and Lake Shore Drive north to Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, Chicago — 4.4 miles; easy; paved path; two and one-half hours. “Enjoy stunning views of the downtown skyline.” Information: (312) 742-7529.

Goodenow Grove Hike, on Goodenow Road, 1.25 miles east of Illinois 1 and 394, south of Crete — 2.9 miles; easy; dirt, mowed grass, pavement; one and one-half hours. “This delightful forest preserve remains undiscovered by people outside of the immediate area.” Information: (815) 727-8700.

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, 5010 N. Jugtown Road, Morris — (Interstate 55 south to Exit 240, Pine Bluff-Lorenzo Road west, look for Goose Lake sign) 2.9 miles; easy; mowed grass; one hour. “A rare glimpse of what the Prairie State was like before farming became king.” Information: (815) 942-2899.

Grand Kankakee Marsh County Prairie Hike, Lake County, Ind. — 7.3 miles; moderate to difficult for the length; sandy road, mowed grass; three hours. “Huge, quiet and persistently charming.” Information: (219) 552-9614.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 1100 N. Mineral Springs Road, Porter, Ind. — Six hikes ranging from 3.15 to 12.2 miles; easy to difficult; dirt, sand, wooden boardwalk, paved surfaced; up to five hours. “Great views … dramatic settings … spectacular sand dunes.” Information: (219) 926-7561.

Joliet Iron Works Hike, East Columbia Street near Illinois 53, Joliet — 1.3 miles; easy; paved; one hour. “Wandering around the crumbling remains of buildings, you can trace the practice of iron-making.” Information: (815) 727-8700.

Kankakee River State Park, on Illinois 102 north of Armour Road, near Bourbonnais — 4.8 miles; easy; paved path, dirt; three hours. “After crossing a pedestrian suspension bridge, you’ll follow Rock Creek along a dramatic canyon to a frothy waterfall.” Information: (815) 933-1383.

Morton Arboretum East Hike, 4100 Illinois 53, Lisle — 5 miles; easy; wood chips, dirt; two and one-half hours. “The gentle, rolling terrain offers plenty of scenic beauty in the way of native woodlands, savannas, streams, marshes and ponds …. tree lovers could be kept busy for weeks.” Information: (630) 968-0074.

Oak Ridge Prairie Loop, 301 S. Prairie, Colfax, Ind. — 3.15 miles; easy; dirt, mowed grass; one and one-half hours. “The landscape swiftly moves from lake shore to woodland to prairie to marshland.” Information: (219) 769-7275.

Palos/Sag Valley Forest Preserve: Cap Sauers and Swallow Cliff Loop, 104th Avenue and Illinois 83 — 4.75 miles; easy to moderate; crushed limestone and dirt path; two to three hours. “One of my favorite hikes … I’m always amazed I’m still in Cook County when I go there.” Information: (800) 870-3666.

Little Red Schoolhouse Hike, Willow Springs Road south of 95th Street, south of Willow Springs — 2.5 miles; easy; dirt with some gravel; up to two hours. “… particularly appealing for kids and beginning hikers.” Information: (708) 839-6897.

Pilcher Park, 2501 Highland Park Drive, Joliet — 3.3 miles; easy; dirt, new pavement, deteriorating asphalt; one and one-half hours. “An appealing mix of graceful ravines, lush bottomland forest, and small winding streams.” Information: (815) 741-7277.

Starved Rock State Park, south of Utica, Ill. — 6.4 miles east hike, 2.9 miles west hike; moderate to difficult; dirt, sand, wooded boardwalk, paved sections; three to four hours (east) two hours (west). “scenic overlooks 100 feet above the Illinois River … classic northeastern Illinois hike.” Information: (815) 667-4906.

Thorn Creek Nature Preserve, 247 Monee Road, Park Forest — 2.5 miles; easy to moderate; dirt and gravel; one hour. “This lightly-used nature preserve is a gem.” Information: (708) 747-6320.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve Loop, near Cass and Northgate Roads, Darien — 9.6 miles, includes short trip to waterfall; moderate due to length; hard-packed crushed limestone; four to six hours. “Diverse and sometimes rugged landscape …overlook of the Des Plaines River.” Information: (630) 933-7200.

(Copyright, 2006, Daily Southtown.)