The MHM Blog

Springtime Hiking and Exploring: Nature Adventures around UIUC

Posted April 24, 2024
Man walking on hiking path

When the chill of winter finally gives way to the warmer spring air, students, teachers, and locals alike start crawling out of their houses and into the sunlight. With 4-5 months of cold, the emergence of spring is a much-needed mood boost to help propel you to the warmer months. 

People are excited to start embarking on outdoor adventures once again, and what better place to live during the spring than UIUC? From quiet and serene woodlands to beautiful lakeshores, the region offers special access to the beauty of the spring season. Check out our list of local spots that will get you out of your house and into the beauty of nature once again. 

Allerton Park and Retreat Center

Allerton Park is considered a hidden gem of Champaign and deserves the top spot on our list for the best springtime hiking and exploring.  With over 1500 acres of woodlands and gardens, the park in the Spring enlightens all your senses, with flowers and trees blooming all through April and May. There are miles of scenic trails that follow alongside the winding forest, and it even features a sunken garden, which is the park’s main attraction. Whether you visit for a hike, wildlife spotting, or to stop and smell the roses, Allerton Park was named by the Huffington Post as the most underrated tourist destination in all of Illinois. “Entry is free; go hiking, check out the formal gardens, hunt for the sculptures, have a picnic, or grab a bite at the Greenhouse Cafe.” 

Kickapoo State Recreation Area

Kickapoo State Park is an incredible option for nature lovers that is about 45 min from campus. Since it’s a state park, it is beautifully maintained and aesthetically pleasing, perfect for a day trip with location after location for scenic photoshoots, chill hiking, and adventure.  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 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. 

Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve

Another option for a scenic backdrop and easy hiking that’s within 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.”

Busey Woods

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

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 the flowers in full bloom, it will be a scenic and peaceful day in-store when you visit Busey Woods. It’s a great option to get away from campus and enjoy a day to yourself, challenging yourself to a hike or leisurely enjoying the scenery.

Meadowbrook Park

If you are looking for an adventure a little closer to home, Meadowbrook Park is just a few minutes from campus and is known for its sprawling prairie lands that feature wildflowers, grasses, and wildlife. According to, “The current park features include a farmstead, 80 acres of recreated tallgrass prairie, McCullough and Douglas creek corridors, paved and unpaved walking trails, the Timpone Ornamental Tree Grove, organic garden plots, a sensory garden, an herb garden, the Freyfogle Overlook, the district’s largest play structure PrairiePlay and the Wandell Sculpture Garden”. With vast amenities and a stellar location, Meadowbrook is the perfect spot to spend a gorgeous Spring day.

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