No matter how you enjoy the outdoors, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a haven for outdoor recreation. It is the largest outdoor area in the Chicago region, Midewin boasts an expansive 22-mile trail system — 12 of which are for hiking only — and it is open to the public free of charge.
These are your public lands, and they are preserved for all to enjoy.
Below are descriptions of five easy hikes at Midewin, each marked in a different color on the interactive map. The photo gallery offers a glimpse of what each trail offers. We also have recent notices and alerts from the Forest Service listed below.
Trails at Midewin are open daily from 4am-10pm. You can download the complete trail map or visit the Forest Service Headquarters to learn about the additional recreation opportunities offered, such as horseback riding, hunting, and cross-country skiing.
Map of Recommended Hikes
Use the map below to navigate our recommended hikes at Midewin. The route descriptions below correspond to the colors used on the map.
You can also view a larger version of the map.
See the Bison Herd along the Group 63 Loop — Green Route
In the summer of 2017, the bison herd moved to a new pasture south of the Group 63 bunkers, so this trail now offers the best spots to view the herd. This 4.0 mile loop takes you past massive restoration areas and allows you to explore some of the historic US Army bunkers. As you make your way along this route, you’ll move into the heart of Midewin, surrounding yourself in the quiet expanses of the prairie — and you’ll never realize you’re only an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago. Access roads between the rows of bunkers offer a shorter hike around the loop.
Traverse the Prairie on Henslow’s Trail — Blue Route
Enjoy the landscapes of the prairie by hiking Henslow’s Trail. The entire trail runs 5.3 miles, but you can enjoy a shorter hike from the Iron Bridge Trailhead to the scenic overlook marked on our map (1.5 miles).
If you take this entire trail, you will pass through multiple, spectacular restoration areas, cross the beautiful Prairie Creek, and witness some stunning panoramic views of Midewin. Even a short hike on this trail is not to be missed.
Birdwatching Loop — Purple Route
This 1.5-mile loop is considered one of the best spots to view the thriving grassland bird populations that inhabit Midewin. Check out Openlands’ tutorial for a self-guided bird walk here.
Please note this loop follows an old service road and it is not marked or maintained as a trail by the Forest Service.
To access the loop, head north from the Explosives Road parking lot. The path is mowed grass, and you will quickly see the pedestrian gate in the fence. Once you pass through the gate, this loop is a great walk!
Picnic at Turtle Pond — Navy Route
Enjoy a quiet picnic as part of a full-day’s hike by completing this 4.0 mile loop to the stunningly beautiful Turtle Pond. Begin at the Hoff Road Trailhead on the north end of Midewin, and then take the Twin Oaks trail clockwise to Turtle Pond (approximately 3.0 miles). You can stop at the pond for a picnic or just to update your Snap story, and then return to the trailhead via Old Chicago Road.
Wander Prairie Creek Woods and Restored Habitats — Yellow Route
The Prairie Creek Woods Loop passes through woodlands and prairie, and offers a breathtaking picnic stop at Brushbutton Pond. This route runs approximately 2.0 miles, and is a shady alternative to open prairie hikes. Please note that the highlighted route on the map below is an approximation through the woodlands; however, the trail itself is well marked at Midewin.
From this loop you can also dive into a restored tallgrass prairie, getting a feel and sight of Illinois’ ecological past. Or you can explore the River Road seedbeds which provide native plant seeds for restorations at Midewin (marked by the shaded pink region).
Be sure to check the Forest Service’s website for the latest trail notices, alerts, and visitor info.