The Run Down
Imagine Chicago with mountains in the distance. Nobody would ever leave. While we don't have mountains, there are still places to hike to get a little bit of elevation. For this guide, we're headed about 1.5 hours outside the city where we're going to hike through 3,400 acres of bogs, wetlands, and up these large, ancient land formations called kames. Here are the details.
1. Trail head @ Lost Valley Visitor Center
There are a few different entry points into this 3,400 acre conservation area, but a good place to start is at the Lost Valley Visitor Center that gives you easy access to multiple trail heads.
Here’s the front entryway to the visitor center. It’s right off from the parking lot so you can’t miss it. To get your bearings, head inside and pick up a trail map. The visitor center also has a lot of exhibits if want to learn a little more history of the area.
One other tip. If you’re visiting in the winter, you can also rent snow shoes from the visitor center to do some winter hiking.
The trail we’re going on takes us directly Camelback Kame, the highest kame in the park. The trail head starts at the visitor center and a minute or so into the walk, you’ll see the trail split into two directions. The trail goes in one big loop so you can take either route.
If you head to the right, you’ll start the journey through a hilly forested area before reaching the Kames.
Head to the left and you’ll make your way through prairie fields and circle these bogs before reaching the kames. More pictures of this route below.
This part of the trail through the prairie fields has a couple of off-shoot trails. If you want to reach the Kames, be sure to pick up a trail map and follow it so you don’t accidentally make a wrong turn. Even if you make a wrong turn, you’ll probably run into some other natural wonder that might make that wrong turn worth it.
2. Camelback Kame
About 20 minutes into the hike, you’ll finally reach Camelback Kame. For more background about Kames, here’s a trusty wikipedia page to get you up to speed. In short, Kames are large hills made primarily of gravel deposited by the glaciers over 10,000 years ago. The Camelback Kames are named so because there are two humps shaped like a camel’s back.
From a distance, these can be a bit hard to spot as they can blend into the rest of the landscape. As you get closer, you can spot others ahead of you that put things into perspective.
A view from the bottom of the kame with outlines from a few people at the top. Keep following the path and you’ll find yourself on a gravel trail going straight to the top of the kame. Although you’re getting a bit of elevation, it’s an easy and gradual walk to the top.
Once you get to the top, keep going and you’ll eventually circle all the way back to the visitor center.
3. Canoe Landing
From top of Camelback Kame, you’ll notice a meandering river running through the park. That’s Nippersink Creek. You also might spot a few canoes and kayaks floating by too. If you’re still up to explore after this hike, we’re onto the last part of this guide, which gets us on the water.
Unless you’re bringing up your own kayak, there’s a rental place nearby called Skull and Oars that can get you on the water. Here are a few notes to get you going.
– You can rent a kayak for a 4 hr paddle trip ($55 / person)
– The launch point is at Keystone Road Landing and the end destination is Pioneer Road Landing for the 4 hr paddle (7 miles). Check out this map for details.
– If you have your own kayak, they do a pick up and drop off service for $15.
– You reserve in advance and park your car at the end destination. They pick you up at the end destination (Pioneer Road Landing) and bring you to the launch point.