The MHM Blog

6 Hiking Trails and Nature Preserves Within an Hour of the UIUC Campus

Posted June 10, 2021
Hiking Trails

Now that school is out for the summer, those still living near campus are wondering what to do in their college town. While it may seem like a lot less fun without all your buddies, getting away from campus and getting some fresh air in the surrounding areas can be super beneficial to your health and to your boredom. 

The great state of Illinois may not have the mountainous scenery that other states have, but we do have some beautiful rolling hills and prairie landscape that are the perfect background to your summer sunset. Check out our list of hiking trails and nature preserves within an hour of the UIUC Campus

Crystal Lake Park 

Crystal Lake Park is just a short drive from campus and is a much welcome distraction with its beautiful dense forests and scenic views. If you’re feeling like a swim, there is also an aquatic center that “features an overhanging rock wall, a zero-depth entry pool, and three different waterslides.” Some non-motorized boats and vehicles can be rented from May to September. 

This park is full of wonders, and says that there are also “playgrounds, picnic areas, and a unique landscaped brick labyrinth that is a challenge to work your way through. Interpretive information about the surrounding landscapes is scattered throughout the entire park.” 

Busey Woods

If you’re looking for a nice leisurely walk and not an intense hike, look no further than Busey Woods. With lots of different trails, they are known for their mild walking trails and their forestry scenery. It is an incredibly peaceful place that is for all skill levels to come and enjoy nature. 

The woods are described as a “59-acre bottomland Oak-Hickory forest. It is located at the north end of Crystal Lake Park with an entrance just west of the Anita Purves Nature Center. […] This natural area is notable for its spring wildflower display, bird watching opportunities and a 1/3-mile elevated boardwalk.” With a scenic and peaceful day in-store, this is a great option to get away from campus and enjoy a day to yourself. 

Homer Lake Forest

If you’re looking for a scenic walk or hike but with a waterfront view, Homer Lake Forest is the place for you. They have trails to walk and hike but are so much more. Some of their many activities that can entertain all day are: 

  • “Approximately 10 miles of trails. There’s a little something for everyone!
  • Lake to fish
  • Great location to kayak or paddleboard (if you can bring your own, no boat rentals here)
  • Picnic tables, grills, and rentable pavilions
  • Playground and other recreational areas
  • Educational Homer Lake Interpretive Center, free admission”

With all these activities, Busey Woods is a popular place in the summer to spend some time in the great outdoors. 

Lake of the Woods

Another awesome option for a scenic backdrop within close proximity to campus is Lake of the Woods in Mahomet. According to “Leave Champaign-Urbana and hop on I-74 headed west for just a few miles and you’ll arrive at Lake of The Woods in Mahomet, with 900 acres of natural beauty that includes wooded areas adjacent to the Sangamon River and reconstructed prairie land where native animals and wildflowers thrive.”

They also list tons of stuff to do, including 

  • “walking, running or biking on paved trails
  • fishing or renting a pedal boat on the lake
  • renting a pavilion and/or grilling out or picnicking
  • climbing the bell tower or exploring the covered red bridge (look for bats!)
  • sledding or cross country skiing in the winter
  • meandering through the (free) Museum of the Grand Prairie
  • playing foot golf (or regular golf) with your big kids”

Kickapoo State Park 

Don’t be fooled by its name; Kickapoo state park is an awesome option for nature lovers that is about 45 min from campus. Since it’s a state park, it is beautifully taken care of and aesthetically pleasing, perfect for a day out of the city with location after location for epic Instagram pics. According to, “Whether you love to fish, camp, hike or simply sit on a park bench and feel like you’re in another world, Kickapoo is an awesome (close!) getaway in Central Illinois. This Illinois Department of Natural Resources State Recreation Area is an old mining area that was restored to state park status decades ago. The lush grounds span 2,842 acres of woods and water. The park is basically a series of different ponds and trails with lots of wide-open spaces in between.” 

Get your fishing gear ready and your hiking boots on; this place is so close you don’t want to miss it. 

Sangamon River Corridor Reserve 

This reserve (yes, no preserve!) is right around the corner from campus and has become a local favorite spot to visit. It’s a massive reserve with tons of newly planted trees and restored areas; their website says it features  “renewed floodplain forest which is a natural water filter, helping ensure a healthy river and a clean water supply.” You can also “Hike to the Sangamon River on the raised Bruce Hannon Levee Trail. The reserve offers birding, fishing, and nature study.” Only a hop, skip, and a jump away from campus Sangamon River Corridor Reserve is the perfect place to visit and feel like you can see what an awesome difference conservation makes in communities. 

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