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Illinois Country Living

Re-experience the Prairie State on Foot
By Ty Poppenhouse


Grab your most comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots, throw on a pair of jeans and a light jacket and head out the door. Spring means it’s time to go hiking.

The spring season offers a great opportunity to experience some beautiful scenery while exploring the Illinois landscape. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) boasts a variety of more than 270 hiking trails totaling more than 700 walkable miles.

We’ve all been sitting cozy in front of the TV-away from the windows and draped with our favorite blanket letting our legs get used to being lazy. Keep that in mind when you step out for your first hike. Not all of us can jump out of bed the first Saturday of nice weather and pump out a six-mile hike. We need to work our way up to that, and trust me, there’s plenty of time.

Start Slowly

Whether your goal is to finish that first three-miler or hike the 170-mile River-to-River trail by the end of autumn, one thing you must remember: work your way up!

If you haven’t been walking long distances, start slow. Make your first hike a walk around the neighborhood. Once you start feeling comfortable with your body’s walking ability, start your search for a local hiking trail. You can find trails in Illinois by going to the IDNR Web site at

Plan Ahead

Know the weather before you head out. Nothing can ruin a day hike like an April shower that you didn’t know was coming. However, nothing can beat the smell of a spring rain when you’re prepared to be smack in the middle of it with a poncho and some waterproof boots. Illinois weather is fairly predictable, but you should still be in the know with the forecast to be properly prepared.

Plan ahead and know where you’re going. If you’re leaving the neighborhood for your weekend trek, find a map for your destination. If you’re heading to a state park, most trails are marked and maintained so you shouldn’t have trouble finding your way once you’re on them. You should at least know if the trail is a loop or a one way and also how long the trail is round-trip. Several books are available on hiking trails in Illinois, and most come with directions to the trailhead and directions through the trail. Learn everything you can about a potential trail and bring any helpful material with you.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is a top priority. Becoming dehydrated can stop any hiker mid-step. For any hike, you should be taking at least one liter of water with you. If you’re planning on hiking five miles, take at least two liters. Use your best judgment when deciding how much water to take. Remember, even though it may be cloudy and not very hot, you are still losing water as you hike. It’s also a good decision to drink a lot of water BEFORE the hike as well. Remember, your body mass is about 60 percent water – you should keep it that way.

Park Guidelines

Each park may have its own guidelines for hiking on their trails. Here are some basic guidelines to always remember:

  • Check with park officials ahead of time to learn what they want you to know. For example, some parks close trails periodically for special hunts and maintenance.
  • Don't forget to tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back before you head out.
  • Always stay on the designated trail.
  • Whatever goes in with you comes out, even if it's biodegradable or food waste.
  • Keep your pets on a leash at all times (this keeps them safe and helps keep you on the trail).

Enjoy Yourself

Last, use your senses, literally. We often take for granted what we expect to get out of a day hike. At first thought it's about the views, which can be repetitive and lead to boredom, but there's more. We don't always stop and think about the changing smells of budding pine and blossoming prairie flowers. We also become obsessed with the highest view or that waterfall we're hiking to. Don't forget about the journey to the destination.

For more information on hiking and to learn about its plentiful health benefits, visit:



© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
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