Chicagoland offers an abundance of hiking opportunities that are often missed by those seeking out the more traveled paths of the Lakeshore Trails and city parks. Glacial Park Nature Preserve is one of those gems.
|View from the pair of camel hump hills which were sculpted by glaciers|
It's been a little over a year since I've called the upper Midwest my home. I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't spent more time exploring the area's significant hiking areas. I think growing up in the West and spending a significant portion of my adult life in Maine has made living anywhere else a difficult act to follow. Being so close to the Sierras and the White Mountains makes anything else seem far less interesting. However this is no reason to forfeit the opportunities that are available here. I'm glad I finally got over the fact that while I won't find any prominent mountains to hike near Chicago, there's still plenty of places to explore.
Glacial Park seems like an unusual name for a Chicagoland nature reserve as the closest glacier is thousands of miles away. Nonetheless the flatness of much of the upper midwest as well as the great lakes is due to extensive glaciation which occurred less than 10,000 years ago. The hilly, rugged terrain and hundreds of lakes which seem to form a ring around the entirely flat Chicago region are the terminal moraines of ancient glaciers. Hence, the bulk of Chicago's hiking trails are concentrated in this ring of hills which stretched from the Wisconsin border near Chain-o-lakes and eventually looping around through Palos Hills, Tinley Park and the Indiana border.
Here's a map-
Again, we're not finding the immense topographic relief that would be seen in my prior two states but the rugged terrain starkly contrasts most of what Illinois is thought of. In fact, this area has some of the highest altitude in the state. It was even a pretty drive to get here.
I parked at the Lost Valley Visitor Center which is an impressive building but was closed the day I was there. Trail maps and interpretive guides are available all year and the park is open from dawn to dusk every day. I imagine this are holds wonderful spring and fall hiking but it was lovely even in the early winter.
|Popular place to bring some dogs|
|Rural Illinois is scenic even in the winter|
The park holds about 12 miles worth of trails to hike but I chose a nice 5 mile loop which hit all the highlights. The first lookout held a panoramic view of the moraine hills and marshes which have been well preserved for hiking. Despite Chicagoland's 9 million nearby residents, the area felt serene and untrampled. Except for the occasional dog walker and local runner, I felt pleasantly alone.
The trails wind up and down the hills and meander through the marshes and bogs which are characteristic of a post-glacial environment. I could imagine that those more experience in bird and wildlife watching would like this area in the proper seasons. Slow walking and ample time for wildlife observation were encouraged on these gentle trails.
|The park's bog|
Though I've been here for over a year, I still tend to think of Illinois either as the urban core of Chicago or farmland. This park continues to challenge that notion with oak and evergreen forests. Perhaps the best place to catch a view of everything in the park was the Camelback Glacial Kame which was a double humped hill that rises prominently in the central part of the park. From the "summit", the oxbows and bends of Nippersink Creek along with the forested hills of the park were all visible. For a small hill, the view was actually breathtaking. It was difficult to see that I was only 60 miles from Millennium Park.
The trail wanders along the banks of Nippersink creek which was at high flow after a significant storm. During gentler times, the creek is frequently paddled by canoeists and kayakers. Wish I had brought my boat!
|Nippersink Creek and the glacial hills|
|Camelhump Glacial Kame "summit"|
Overall, it was a 5 mile loop hike with one short out-and-back walk along the creek. It was easily done within a half a day and wasn't greater than an hour and a half drive from the Chicago city center. I passed by other parks which looked like they offered similar opportunities for hiking including Moraine Hills and Chain-o-Lakes State Parks. Glad I finally found some places to stretch my legs beyond the Lakefront Trail!
Read. Plan. Get Out There!