Where am I going to hike?!

4:58 a.m. on August 19, 2015 (EDT)
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I am moving to Chicago for work in two months, and while career wise (and city life wise), this is an incredible opportunity... a quick look at a topo map of the area leaves me a bit confused!

Will I be relegated to planning longer distance trips and flying out, or have I missed something?

9:07 a.m. on August 19, 2015 (EDT)
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There are lots of forest parks around Chicago. Southern Wisconsin is not far away. For some wilder country, try northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

10:27 p.m. on August 19, 2015 (EDT)
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Many lakes and waterways north of you.  You might enjoy a kayak or a canoe. You don't have to lug a heavy pack!

6:32 a.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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My Uncle used to live there, and we made several trips up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. However, my favorite BWCA trip was backpacking...beautiful forests and so quiet with everyone else on the water. I think it was about 8 hrs from Chicago. I would have to dig to find the details...been 20 years now. Probably a little busier now. I know we used designated camp sites but can't remember if that was required or our choice back then.

8:16 a.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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well congrats on the job TJ!

mountains will now involve travel for sure. You're about 9 hours from the Smokies by car. At least you are near a major airport which usually makes air travel more convenient and often cheaper...

10:06 a.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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The upper Midwest is the Land of the Northwoods. Great traditions. Learn to canoe if you can. The fall is wonderful with few bugs and great fishing. I think I will have a Linekuegals.

11:52 a.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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I guess its going to be mostly woods and lakes then. I will pack my fishing gear. I guess I can also drive through the Adirondacks on my way to visiting my folks up in Canada for some medium size mountains.

Also looks like O'Hare to Denver international is a pretty quick and easy flight if I feel like big mountains.

2:15 p.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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I lived in Chicago for 7 years.

You are a good 3-4 hours drive to any place aside from car camping. No hills to speak of anywhere until you get to the Ozarks, and even those are elevations of 1,700'. 

But, you're in luck! Because if you want to go to Shawnee National Forest or the Ozark Mountains, you have your friendly neighborhood G00SE to go with you! 

2:50 p.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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My experience in the Midwest (Illinois, Nebraska) made me think you could watch your dog run away for three days.  Hopefully the great job can fund a few plane tickets occasionally.  Chicago is one of my favorite cities though.  Good luck.

9:54 p.m. on August 20, 2015 (EDT)
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Denver might be closer than most trails you would drive to from Chicago.  5 hours from waking up and you could be going for 14,000' at any one of a number of trail heads.  Denver REI is almost on the way to most places.

Motel Friday night within an hour of a trail head.  Take a well earned sick/crippled day Monday.

I had a friend who worked at TRW - near LA Airport.  She'd leave work Friday night drive 5-6 hours, sleep in her car at 9,300', get breakfast and be at the trail head by 7-8am.  Returning Monday morning, grabbing a shower at the office gym. 

She managed to accumulate enough consecutive weekends in the Sierra (and other places) to earn a Guinness World Record.  She has local awe and inspiration in that she went 5 years without a traffic infraction - other than parking.

5:08 a.m. on August 21, 2015 (EDT)
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You answered it yourself..Colorado...I think you would like it..Your cup of tea...:)

5:49 a.m. on August 21, 2015 (EDT)
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Looks like Colorado it is then, I better start putting aside a flying fund!

Goose, I will also definitely take you up on that offer!

11:43 a.m. on August 21, 2015 (EDT)
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TJ, if you visit the eastern part of Shawnee you're only an hour or so from me as well.

Also, you can take the train directly to Shawnee from Chicago (if you like going up and down at really sharp angles you'll love Shawnee). When I lived in Chicago a few years ago (still work there sometimes) it cost about $70.00 for round-trip (weekdays).

12:36 p.m. on August 21, 2015 (EDT)
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Northern Wisconsin in a canoe.

Otherwise you will never get to know the region you live in. You need to have a sense of place.

Climbing 14,000 foot mountains is over-rated, especially if you come from sea level for the weekend.

11:03 a.m. on August 31, 2015 (EDT)
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If you're into topography, just head a little west. Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois have this interesting geologic feature called the "Driftless" area. The geology is significantly older than the rest of the surface geology of the area and shows beautiful eroded landscapes (like Appalachia, only without the major fault line). Glacial moraines can also provide some interesting climbs. 

Here are my recommendations:

Mississippi Palisades State Park. Savanna, IL 3 hours form Chicago

This is where we went as kids to get in shape for backpacking the mountains. There are some excellent secluded hike-in campsites as well as your usual state park accommodations. 

Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby, IL 1.5 hours from Chicago

Rife with bluffs and canyons, this is a great park. However, its proximity to Chicago makes it overrun with people on weekends during the summer.

Devil's Lake State Park, Baraboo, WI 3.5 hours from Chicago

There are a few challenging climbs here, and some of the best scenery in the area. This is where you message your friend Siltloam to go hike with you.

White Pines State Park. Mt. Morris, IL 2 hours from Chicago

This probably doesn't have what you're looking for, but I practically grew up in this park. It's beautiful, and historic, and you can drive over the river which cuts a beautiful small canyon. It also has lovely cabins and a great restaurant for non campers.


Like everyone said though, paddling is the best. If you want to get into paddling the area, I highly recommend going to Canoecopia this March in Madison, WI (3 hours from Chicago). It's the world's largest paddlesports expo with a large showing of people from Illinois and Wisconsin. They have equipment on display to try - everything from boats to pfds to water filters. There are outfitters and DNR reps there. The classes are always top notch! One of my favorite team of presenters does videos on paddling So. Wiscosin and No. Illinois. They have a lot of their stuff on their YouTube Channel as well: https://www.youtube.com/user/morrallriverfilms 

1:24 p.m. on August 31, 2015 (EDT)
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I want to go hiking with Siltloam.

Great canoe culture in Madison.

We all miss Ralph Freise at Chicagoland Canoe Base.

11:02 a.m. on September 4, 2015 (EDT)
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TJ1984 said:

I guess its going to be mostly woods and lakes then. I will pack my fishing gear. I guess I can also drive through the Adirondacks on my way to visiting my folks up in Canada for some medium size mountains.

Also looks like O'Hare to Denver international is a pretty quick and easy flight if I feel like big mountains.


I do the O'Hare to Denver flight most of the time I have a Western US destination. Be aware that flights are ALWAYS delayed leaving Denver. You'll have no problem getting TO Denver, but always give yourself a few hours of flex time coming back, and there's really only a few good places to have a drink in the Denver airport.

12:13 p.m. on September 4, 2015 (EDT)
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Awesome, thank you for the suggestions. I will probably want to do some winter overnighters to start with. 

I need to start getting some proper topo maps so I can get planning!

12:14 p.m. on September 4, 2015 (EDT)
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As for paddling, I do like doing that... but I grew up in Ontario, where I was never far from fishing and the water, so while very enjoyable it doesnt really call out to me as its something I can always do when I go back to visit my folks.

2:17 p.m. on September 4, 2015 (EDT)
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I can't advise you on the area you will be in, I have never been there.

However, I can empathise.

When I moved from Tennessee with mountains everywhere to the South Carolina coast I was left a bit dumbfounded. There are almost no trails, and there are no hiking clubs, and many people look at you funny if you mention hiking or backpacking.

Here watersports rule, kayaking, stand up paddle boards are very popular, etc.

I finally just made my own sport, so to speak. I have combined canoeing and off trail backpacking in order to get out into wilderness areas. We have water trails for kayaks with markers on trees just like hiking trails, but once you are off the water you have to make your own way on foot, no foot trails.

We have one state wide trail that is very cool, and a very few local trails, but they are mostly leisurely loops.

Anyhow it was a big adjustment for me, I really miss the mountains, but I have adapted to my new environment and found it has a lot to offer, and a lot of cool things to learn about.

The wetlands & tidal areas I now go into have a huge amount of bio-diversity and learning about it all has been fun.

I especially like the Cypress trees that grow out in the water, and learning about all the big wading birds like Egrets & Herons.

I bet you will be able to adapt as well, and might even develop a fondness for a new type of environment as I did, even though you would not have convinced me of that at first!

I wish you all the best, Mike G.

11:26 a.m. on September 5, 2015 (EDT)
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When I lived in Colorado, I made a trip to the Boundary Waters for a Northwoods canoeing experience on the Trail of the Voyageurs. Sometimes people are drawn to what is far away. Don't overlook what is in your own backyard. This is especially true if you are only there for a few months.

9:57 a.m. on November 18, 2015 (EST)
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Be sure to check out Wisconsin Dells. It's a tourist trap to be sure, but has some pretty cool natural features.

I grew up in Wisconsin... hunting, water sports, and winter sports are the big deals in that area. MANY people from IL make the trip to northern WI on a regular basis. We called them "FIB's" (I can't elaborate on that due to it being indecent).

Anyway, good luck with the new job, and with finding places to hike- and let us know how it goes!

10:14 a.m. on November 18, 2015 (EST)
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I had an outdoor career and spent plenty of time dragging duffles, coolers and equipment through airports. I hate airports and avoid them, and rarely fly. Backpacking equipment would not be that hard to get on a plane, but your stuff gets beat up. Then you have to rent a car. Car camping is very difficult. To each his own.


3:44 p.m. on November 20, 2015 (EST)
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Ii now hike mostly in the Sierras which tend to be steep with lots of elevation gain with altitudes in the 7,000-10,000 foot range. Recently we did a trip to Oregon which is more volcanic and flatter topography, was only around 4,000-6,000 feet. It was remarkably easier to get around with a pack.

The Northwoods are glaciated with elevations more like 1,000-2,000 feet. The terrain is flatter still with features of glacial erosion and deposition like eskers, drumlins, and all of those beautiful deranged lakes. Chicago is a few hundred feet. Flying to Colorado for the weekend, the highest state is going to be hard on you. Just some things to think about.

11:44 a.m. on November 21, 2015 (EST)
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ppine, while I appreciate your advice, the nature of my work means 60-70 hour weeks, with little vacation time. The good news is I get to choose how to do those hours.. so I can put in 5 13 hour days in a row, then I can take a full weekend. That doesnt leave much for romantic exploration of nature, but it does mean I can sneak in a carefully planned overnighter and some peak bagging. Its not ideal, but thats my reality. To me, this is still monumentally better than hanging around a congested city on my days off. 

I had to do this before while I was in Europe (but admittedly, the work hours and vacation days were WAY more flexible than they are in the USA), but I would still do 2-3 day trips to the alps at 10 000+ feet after going from sea level in the UK. Its a big change, but my body is accustomed to it.

For the moment, all I have planned is some stuff in Ontario when I visit family for Christmas, and a trip to southern Illinois with a coworker in January. I need to carefully work out my logistics with such a narrow time window, especially before heading out west. Anywhere that I have to waste 5-6 hours driving to starts to put a real strain on my time.

10:12 a.m. on November 23, 2015 (EST)
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Okay TJ I get it. Personally I would much rather drive for 5-6 hours and arrive at my destination with my truck and camping gear ready to go, than drive to the airport, wait, fly, rent a car and carry all of my camping gear for 6 hours.

10:13 a.m. on November 24, 2015 (EST)
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TJ, First of all, how are you enjoying the great Midwest?

With the snowfall last weekend that means it's almost Cross Country Skiing season! There's a park with lights here in Madison that I like to go skiing at after work on weekdays. It's just a city park, but it's nice to have a little 2 hour escape mid-week. You should look for any lighted area with groomed trails near by. 

10:18 a.m. on November 24, 2015 (EST)
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Or use a headlamp.

10:45 p.m. on November 25, 2015 (EST)
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I'm a bit more settled in now, so starting to enjoy it more.

There are some nice little parks in my area right by the lake. I plan to do some more exploring this weekend.

February 26, 2020
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