Located nearby to the great Mississippi River, the city of Chester, Illinois is the perfect place to head if you’re looking to take a hike. Surrounded on all sides by parks, nature reserves and forests, this beautiful area is just begging to be explored. You needn’t be an experienced mountain-climber to hike in the area either; there are plenty of easy to moderate hiking trails alongside the longer, more intense options. So what are you waiting for? Read on to find out more about the best hiking trails to tackle near Chester and the magnificent sights you’ll encounter along the way.

Shawnee National Forest

The Shawnee National Forest is just a couple of hours’ drive from Chester and contains a whole host of different walking trails and natural features for you to delve into. For a weekend trip, you could check out the historic cavern at Cave-in-Rock, naturally hewn from limestone by the might of the Ohio River. Situated in its own State Park just on the edges of the Forest, this is a great place to pitch up a tent and enjoy a few days investigating the local area. A great way to stay occupied during rest breaks from hiking is to play at or to switch up activities and keep your mind sharp and focused. You may find that days spent marvelling at nature’s glory leaves you craving a logical puzzle or two, so this is one way to satisfy all areas of your brain whilst you’re away.


Alternatively, you could try the short hike titled the Heron Pond trail, taking in everything from a tiny Illinois town to lush green forest to the wetlands teeming with wildlife. Here you can follow a magical trail across a suspended boardwalk right at the heart of the trail, drinking in the sights and sounds of this enchanting place as you float above the water. More experienced hikers might want to check out the full Little Grand Canyon trail instead. This hike is only just under 4 miles long, but it packs a punch with a 365-foot incline up from the canyon floor and towering walls of sandstone overhead. If you persevere with the climb you will be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding area, though you can cut the walk short if it gets to be too much.

Perhaps the Forest’s most popular attraction, however, is the Garden of the Gods. Populated by naturally carved sandstone sculptures, this otherworldly place can best be explored using the 5.5 miles of interlinking trails running through it. It’s easy enough to traverse so it’s suitable for everyone and will introduce you to a unique exhibition of Nature’s artwork that you’ll never forget.

Piney Creek Falls waterfall

Piney Creek Ravine Nature Reserve

The trail at Piney Creek Ravine is just 3 miles long and features a moderate climb, a pretty waterfall and some fascinating prehistoric art. As it is a loop trail, you can just follow it back round to your starting point without having to worry too much about dusting off your orienteering skills, but it still makes a satisfying trip. The Ravine’s big pull is its ancient art gallery, featuring almost 200 pieces from the Late Woodland and Mississippian periods. If you’re a history buff then you’ll know this is when Native American peoples were starting to farm the ‘Three Sisters’ of agriculture, building mound structures and generally growing their society. Their artwork can be found all over the Ravine and is fascinating to behold. The preservation of such ancient parts of the history of America’s people is vital and increasing interest in these delicate paintings is essential for their continued survival.

Chester Bridge over the Mississippi River

The Great River Trail

The Great River Trail is the premiere trail in Illinois running alongside the untamed waters of the Mississippi. There really is something for everybody along this 60 mile long trail walk that spans from Rock Island all the way North to the town of Savanna. It takes in 11 trail towns in total so there are plenty of places available to stop off and spend the night, as well as incorporating parks, nature reserves, historical sites and fishing spots along the way. Obviously, this hike is significantly longer than the others mentioned here and is therefore a serious undertaking. It will take time and perseverance, but all of that effort pays off when you have so many unforgettable memories to take back home with you afterwards. Stand-out areas of natural beauty on the trail include Illiniwek Forest Preserve, Sunset Park and Schwiebert Riverfront Park.

As you can see, the area of Chester, Illinois has so much to offer the casual hiker and the nature lover alike. From the fantastic vistas visible from Shawnee National Forest, to the fascinating history present at Piney Creek Ravine, you can take a trip through time to ponder at both Illinois’ people and its changing landscape. If you’re able, make sure to walk at least some of the Great River Trail in order to get a feel for the lifeblood of the area, the immense and glorious Mississippi River. However much time and however much ability you have though, it’s well worth exploring this stunning area and appreciating everything it has to offer.