Like mustard on a Chicago-style hot dog, hiking and beer simply go together. It’s hard to beat that first sip of a crisp, cold brew after logging some hard-earned miles on the trail. In the Chicago area — where our hiking trails fly under the radar but our craft breweries garner national attention — there are plenty of places to head out on a hike and find a local beer nearby afterward.
We’ve rounded up seven of our favorite regional hikes with a local brewery less than 15 minutes from the trailhead — many of which have an outdoor space or patio, too. We’ve included a few options nearby and some further afield in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Looking for new friends to hit the trail with? Local organizations such as Outsiders Chicago, the regional chapter of Outdoor Afro, and Women Who Explore Illinois host outdoor meet-ups and group hikes throughout the year.
Willow Springs, Illinois in Cook County; 30 minutes from downtown Chicago
The Trail: Hike some of the hilliest terrain you’ll find around Chicagoland within the Palos Trail System, an expansive wilderness area southwest of downtown. The Palos Trail System includes 40 miles of mixed-use trail over 15,000 acres. The shorter yet popular 2.8-mile Purple Loop trail winds up and down deep ravines showing off the trail system’s stunning landscape sculpted by glacial movement thousands of years ago in one bite-sized chunk.
For a longer trail option, opt for the 10-mile Yellow Loop but keep an eye out and make way for mountain bikers who frequent this popular trail. If you’re into camping, stay overnight at nearby Bullfrog Lake Campground. You’ll find 26 RV-friendly sites, six tent campsites, eight small cabins and three large cabins sitting adjacent to Bullfrog Lake. They offer a view you can’t beat being a stone’s throw from downtown Chicago.
The Taproom: Only four minutes from the Palos Trail SystemPurple Loop trailhead sits Imperial Oak Brewing in Willow Springs. With barrel hightops and picnic tables, the parking lot patio is no frills, but the brewery offers several popular summer brews. The Buzz Lite Beer is a slightly sweet honey golden ale made with locally-sourced honey. Hazy beer lovers should try the Crank It Hype, a full-bodied New England-style IPA that’s more juicy than bitter.
You won’t find food in the brewery but you can order in a woodfired pizza from right next door at Pizza 750.
Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood; 25 minutes from downtown Chicago
The Trail: If you’re looking for a local park and pint pairing within the city that’s reachable by the CTA, then check out the Horner Park Nature Area river path, a short yet beautiful walking route that runs along the bank of the North Branch of the Chicago River. The half-mile point-to-point trail winds through native plants and prairie grass along a well-maintained woodchip path. If you start your hike at the south trailhead (on the southeast corner of the Horner Park dog park off of Irving Park Road), you will finish up near Burning Bush Brewery, just a short 0.1-mile walk over the West Irving Park Road bridge on the east side of the river.
The Taproom: You can see Burning Bush Brewery from the Horner Park Nature Area trail. The brewery’s bright space and sun-soaked patio are both family and dog friendly, and you can catch live music the first Saturday of the month in the main taproom. Founded by a former Presbyterian pastor in 2020, Burning Bush Brewery serves a diverse mix of beer styles named after pithy biblical references. Always-on favorites include the Smooth Serpent IPA, a hop-forward American IPA and the Lion’s Den, a citrusy Hazy IPA full of tropical notes like pineapple.
Deer Park and Long Grove, Illinois in Lake County; 45 minutes from downtown Chicago
The Trail: Wander over 4 miles of intertwining, crushed limestone and boardwalk trails within the small but scenic Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve. Known for its biodiversity that blends Illinois’ native prairie, marsh, woodland and savanna ecosystems, you’ll get a taste of what hiking across the state is like in a one-mile radius.
The preserve also offers an amazing bird watching spot: It attracts waterfowl and migratory birds thanks to wetlands that make up a large piece of the landscape. If you go, don’t pass up one of the small dirt spur trails at the center of the preserve that leads into a dense grove of pine trees. It’s the perfect spot to hang a hammock or cool off in the shade.
The Taproom: Head to the heart of the historic district of Long Grove to Buffalo Creek Brewing, just 6 miles west (14-minute drive) of Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve. Paying homage to the city’s rich German history, the brewery serves up traditional German styles on tap yearround, like the Long Grove Lager, a light and malt-forward lager with subtle sweetness, and the Angelic Helles, a crisp and clean traditional Munich Helles beer. On Saturday nights, the brewery hosts live bands on an outdoor stage, starting at 6 p.m. There’s no kitchen, but food trucks pull up most Friday and Saturday evenings.
Bloomingdale, Illinois in DuPage County; 30 minutes from downtown Chicago
The Trail: This small but mighty preserve features 2.5 miles of gravel and dirt trails and sits right next door from its brewery companion. Hike the popular 1.5-mile gravel loop trail around Maple Lake at Meacham Grove Forest Preserve or follow the North Central DuPage Regional Trail west to hike the short 0.5-mile Savannah Trail and back.
Not enough trail time? Hike hop to the nearby Mallard Lake County Forest Preserve in Hanover Park to add 4 miles, or Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve in Bartlett to add 5.6 miles. You can also opt to link the two preserves via the North Central DuPage Regional Trail for a total of 9 extra miles.
The Taproom: After your hike, head across the street to Wolfden Brewing, a cozy taproom nestled inside a historic Civil War-era farmhouse built in 1851. Katie and Krystov Wolf turned their homebrewing hobby into the real deal in 2018 and have been brewing up craft beer and community ever since. Mainstay beers like Foggy Thoughts, a New England-style IPA made with tangerine purée, and Boujie Früt, a fruited sour made with blackberries and raspberries, are loved by brewery regulars and newcomers.
The brewery also has a haunted backstory: According to staff there, a resident spirit named “Jack,” who is suspected to have died on the property during war times, makes his presence known by pushing 50-pound grain bags around and showing face among the shadows.
Sawyer and Stevensville, Michigan; 1 hour and 25 minutes from downtown Chicago
The Trail: You can’t drive up Michigan’s west coast without pitstopping at the beach. Lucky for you, Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Mich. (83 miles from Chicago’s Loop), and Grand Mere State Park (90 miles from Chicago’s Loop) in Stevensville, Mich., are not only beautiful beachfront parks but they are located near one of Southwest Michigan’s best-kept brewery secrets. Sandy trails at both state parks lead to quiet beach areas on the shore of Lake Michigan. Hardcore hikers can challenge themselves with a 260-foot sand dune climb on the 4-mile Mt. Randall Loop in Warren Dunes State Park.
If you’re up for camping, Warren Dunes also has two state park campgrounds with over 180 campsites. The even quieter Grand Mere State Park attracts hikers for its 4-mile loop trail that combines the Grand Mere Beach Trail and Nature Trail. The route winds along dirt paths through wooded forest area, on sandy stretches of trail to the beach and along the shoreline before making its way back to the main parking lot.
The Taproom: Snag a picnic table and cheers to outdoor beers at Watermark Brewing Company in Stevensville, Mich. — the perfect post-hike summer hangout. The brewery is 10.6 miles (14 minute drive) from Warren Dunes State Park and 1.6 miles (four-minute drive) from Grand Mere State Park. Their dog-friendly and massive beer garden has tons of room to spread out, occasional live music and events and food trucks right out front all summer long. Watermark brews a wide range of beers, from bold and bitter IPAs to unique and limited-run sours. They even serve beer slushies, if you’re into that sorta thing.
During the warm-weather months, food trucks pull up for dinner on Tuesday through Friday nights and for lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday. Bonus: From this side of the lake, you can catch the sunset. Start your hike later in the afternoon to watch the sun dip below the horizon at the beach before heading to the brewery.
South Haven, Michigan; 2 hours from downtown Chicago
The Trail: Avoid crowds and soak in complete solitude on a hike along land conservancy trails. The Black River Preserve (125 miles from Chicago’s Loop) in South Haven, Mich., is one of 17 preserves managed by the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, a nonprofit that conserves private land for public use.
This choose-your-own-adventure trail system through pristine wilderness and wetlands means there’s no specific path you must follow. Recommended routes include linking the River Trail (.75 miles) and the Oxbow Seasonal Trail (.5 mile), which run adjacent to the Black River, and returning on the Mainstem Trail (.75 miles) to make a 2-mile loop. Or follow the Mainstem Trail to the Two Ravines Trail (.75 miles) for a slightly shorter 1.5-mile loop. More than 400 plant species, most native to Southwest Michigan, can be found throughout the preserve. Dogs on 6-foot leashes are welcome too.
The Taproom: With 20 rotating beers and six ciders on tap, there’s a flavor for everyone’s palette at Harbor Light Brewing. This casual brewery inside a historic 130-year-old building is a 10-minute walk to North Beach and the brewery’s namesake: a stoic lighthouse at the tip of the South Haven pier. You’ll always find Ursa Major, a strong imperial IPA, and Ursa Minor, an equally strong American IPA, on the menu. An eclectic mix of live music is on tap on Saturday nights between 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
For weekend warriors, we highly recommend a glamping stay outside of town. Soak in cozy modern cabin vibes at a Getaway House or camp with creature comforts in an Off Map canvas tent, both 20 minutes from downtown South Haven.
Belleville, Wisconsin; 2 hours and 30 minutes from downtown Chicago
The Trail: Hike a small slice of the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail (143 miles from Chicago’s Loop) south of Madison, Wis., on the Montrose Segment of the Ice Age Trail. The Ice Age Trail snakes across the entire state from Potawatomi State Park on Green Bay in Door County to Interstate State Park on the St. Croix River in Polk County in Northwest Wisconsin.
Along the 7.5-mile Montrose Segment, hikers get a bite-sized taste of the full trail as they travel next to stunning bedrock outcroppings, take in sweeping views over native prairies and duck in and out of dense sections of wood broken up by farm fields. The route briefly passes over the Badger State Rail Trail, a 40-mile bike and mixed-use rail trail that connects Madison to the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
The Taproom: Visit a true hidden gem 12 miles south of Madison. Hop Garden Tap Room is connected to the historic Paoli Mill, in Paoli, Wis., a small community known for its friendly hospitality and farm roots. Brewery owners Rich and Michele Joseph, with the help of their friends and family, run a 20-acre farm and 1,800-square-foot greenhouse where they grow a variety of hops for the brewery, seasonal vegetables and other farm-to-table ingredients used at Molino Taqueria on-site. Many Hop Garden brews rotate in and out seasonally. Mainstays include Smooth Operator, a crisp and light lager, and the Fuzzy Goat, a classic hazy IPA.
Correction: Watermark Brewing Company is located in Stevensville, Mich., not St. Joseph.