Sunny skies and fall colors in Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.

5 Best Fall Hikes In Illinois

Fall is one of the best times of year to hike. The temperature isn't extreme, and the scenery is stunning. The sight of foliage changing from green to warm hues of orange, yellow, and red is enough to make anyone stop and appreciate nature. When it comes to hiking, Illinois is one of the best destinations in the United States. Illinois has trails that showcase unique rock formations, such as the ones seen at the Garden of The Gods Observation Trail. There is also a trail in Illinois leading to Salt Lick Point, that shows off over 600 acres of stunning forest. Whether you are a beginner or a veteran hiker, these trails are for everyone. It's time to fasten your hiking boots, grab your sweater, and get ready to explore some of Illinois' most breathtaking hikes.

Garden of The Gods Observation Trail

Hidden Mushroom Rocks in the Fall Forest in Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois
Hidden Mushroom Rocks in the Fall Forest in Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest, Illinois.

One of the most beautiful hikes in Illinois is The Gods Observation Trail. The 1/4 mile trail shows a panoramic view of the Garden of the Gods Wilderness. The trail is natural sandstone, but there are gaps between the stones. This makes the path uneven and tricky in some sections. The pathway is narrow on high cliffs, so it is not accessible by wheelchair or with strollers. Most of the trail is on an incline, and the trail gets very steep near the end. To hike the entire trail takes around one hour. There are benches along the trail so you can stop and enjoy the scenic views.

From the hike, you can see unique rock formations made from sandstone, including the Squeeze, The Devil’s Smokestack, and Monkey’s Head. There is an opportunity on the trail to detour to Camel Point, which gives an impressive view of the Camel Rock monument. You also get a view of the Shawnee National Forest. In the autumn, the forest's foliage changes color and is a brilliant sight to behold. There are interpretive signs on the trail explaining more about the rock formations' geological history.

Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail

Fall leaves and water flowing in the Dells. Matthiessen State Park, Illinois
Fall leaves in Matthiessen State Park, Illinois.

The Dells Canyon and Bluff trail is another delightful hike in Illinois that offers spectacular fall views. The trail is a short 1.98-mile loop with 206 feet of elevation gain. From start to finish, the trail takes an average of 45 minutes to complete. This is time well spent; there is a lot of beauty to see on the trail. Dell Canyon and Bluff takes you through the enchanting Matthiessen State Park, where you come across two waterfalls and several creek crossings.

The trail has two main parts: the bluff trail and the Canyon. To start the loop, follow the Bluff trail to the Lake Falls. From there, you descend into the Canyon. Sometimes, the water level of the canyon can be high, and outside of summer, you might have to walk through a bit of water to get to the other part of the trail.

From here, you can follow the bluff trail or continue into the canyon. Near the end of the hike, there is a bridge that crosses back to the parking area. If you walk down the stairs, you can take a closer look at Cascade Falls before going to the parking area. The trail can be muddy in the fall, but the autumn views of the Canyon are worth it. The fall foliage looks stunning next to the waterfalls and canyon.

Saw Wee Kee Trail

Fall colors of midwest and illinois
Fall colors in Illinois.

A trail great for mountain bikers and hikers is the Saw Wee Kee trail. The 5.5-mile trail circuit is near Yorkville, Illinois. It runs along the Fox River, which is a 202-mile-long tributary of the Illinois River. The Saw Wee Kee trail is a moderately challenging route, with steep inclines and descends. The trail is a popular destination for outdoor adventure enthusiasts and offers brilliant views of Saw Wee Kee Park, which is just off the south shore of the Fox River on Sundown Lane.

The Saw Wee Kee Park has 134.4 acres of extensive natural area, including forests and rivers. In the fall, the forest foliage changes colors. The hues of orange, red, and yellow reflect in a dance on the Fox River, which makes for spectacular photos. The park is an important habitat for wildlife, including deer and bald eagles.

Little Grand Canyon Trail

Big Trophy White Tail Buck deer stag in thick brush, autumn fall color leaves; midwest midwestern big game deer hunting season
Big Trophy White Tail Buck deer stag in thick brush, autumn fall color leaves.

Another trail to admire fall foliage is the Little Grand Canyon Trail. The 3.5-mile loop is near Pomona, Illinois. The trail is moderately challenging because of its length and terrain. While hikers may face some rough and rocky terrain on the trail, luckily, navigating the trail isn't too challenging. White diamonds mark the trail path as directional signs.

On the Little Grand Canyon trail, there is a diversity of wildlife. There are many songbirds in the area year-round. Other animals commonly seen include raccoons, mink, foxes, deer, and bobcats. When you reach the scenic overlooks, you might even see a turkey vulture or hawk. These birds are often spotted soaring over the treetops. In October, the Little Grand Canyon trail is stunning because the fall colors are at their peak.

Those choosing this hike should be particularly careful about the trail segments in and out of the canyon. Some parts of the trail in this area can be steep, wet and rocky, which is the ideal combination for a fall.

Salt Lick And Johnson Trail Loop

Midwest Forest in Fall
Forest path in the fall.

One of the most eye-catching spots in Illinois is the Salt Lick Point Land and Water Reserve. The reserve is more than 600 acres of protected forest. There are many endangered species protected on the reserve. The reserve also protects fluff land forests, which are critical habitats for unique hill parries and glades. In the fall, the reserve is a breathtaking collage of warm autumn colors.

One of the best ways to enjoy the fall landscape is from the Salt Lick and Johnson Trail Loop. The 3-mile loop trail has an elevation gain of around 450 feet. Near Valmeyer, Illinois, the trail is the perfect afternoon hike, taking just over an hour to complete. The trail begins after the parking lot and rises rapidly up to the bluffs. While 450 feet of elevation might not sound like a lot, the trail has a steep incline to watch out for at the beginning. The good news is, the first part is the hardest. After this, the trail starts to level out and is less challenging until the Salt Lick Point.

Lick Point gets its name from the salt wells in the area. Salt Lick Point is the highest point in Monroe County. When you reach the Point, you will be rewarded with enchanting views of the fall foliage throughout Illinois. After reaching Salt Lick Point, the trail descends to the parking area.

Things to Bring on Your Illinois Fall Hikes

From Sandstone trails overlooking unique sandstone rock formations to trails overlooking protected forests with spectacular fall foliage, Illinois has some of the country's most stunning fall hikes. For those ready to jump right into trying out one of the trails, it is important to hike prepared. In the fall, layering up for hikes is a good idea. Moisture-wicking base layers help keep sweat away from your body. Adding an insulating layer like fleece or a lightweight down jacket helps keep you warm in the chilly fall breeze.

For some trails, waterproof layers are also a good idea to protect against wind, rain, and sometimes parts of the trail. One of the most important parts of your hiking gear will be comfortable hiking boots. Wearing sturdy, comfortable boots with good ankle support is key to having a good hiking trip. Even though in the fall, you might think you can ignore sunscreen, it can still be important to pack to protect your skin against burns.

For harder hikes, consider trekking poles. They can help add stability and support on uneven terrain. Beyond clothing and sunscreen, make sure to pack an adequate supply of snacks and water in your pack. Now that you know some tips for what to bring on your hike, get ready for your adventure! Choose a gorgeous Illinois hike, and get packing for your fall hiking trip.


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