Step Outside - Illinois WELCOME TO STEP OUTSIDE! Find the best outdoor fun near you! en-us 30 Step Outside - Illinois 144 144 Sat, 20 Oct 2018 03:35:45 -0500 Best Places to Fish in the Midwest This Fall Walleyes and a variety of salmon are on the autumn menu in the Midwest as anglers have a last chance to fish open water before the winter freeze starts to set in. Fishing for either species can be excellent; how the weather and the water temperatures line up are more critical where salmon are concerned, but the fall run extends well into November.

Walleyes aren’t so picky, and all the traditional waters such as the Mississippi River, Big Saint Germain Lake in Wisconsin, Otter Tail Lake in Minnesota and Great Lakes feeder streams give up tons of  ’eyes in the fall.

One Last Salmon Fling

The big attraction nowadays is king (chinook) salmon that make their fall spawning runs up rivers and creeks. Whether fishing from a small boat or a Great Lakes charter boat, latching on to a 20- or 30-pound king can quickly warm up an otherwise chilly fall day.

Hot Spots To Fish: Michigan’s Grand River, which empties into the eastern side of Michigan, is a prime destination for salmon. Getting Bit Guide Service (616-570-2946, in Grand Rapids is a good starting point. In fact, any port of call along Lake Michigan on either the east or west sides is likely to have plenty of knowledgeable salmon guides or charters. Fishing from jetties or piers – such as the famed McKinley Pier in Milwaukee – is also productive during the fall salmon runs.

In northwestern New York, the Salmon River lives up to its name through mid-October, but the run might linger into November in the Lake Ontario feeder, depending on the weather. Coho and steelheads also are in the mix too.

The Yankee Angler (315-963-2065, in Pulaski, N.Y. keeps tabs on the fishing. In the big waters of Lake Ontario’s southern shore at Rochester, N.Y., give Reel Em In Sportfishing Charters (585-317-5325, a call.

Farther to the northwest, the waters and feeders of Lake Superior near Sault Ste. Marie are teeming with big salmon. One of the benefits here is that you can always slip in to the St. Mary’s River System to get away from those rough autumn nor’ westers. Live To Fish Charters (906-440-7797) can help make it happen.

New York rivers and inshore waters are teeming with big salmon in the fall.

Tackle You’ll Need: Salmon tackle and striped bass tackle (see above) are practically interchangeable. Fish might range from a few pounds to well over 20 pounds, and rods and reels should be in the medium- to-heavy range. A light- to-medium spinning outfit capable of holding a couple of hundred yards of 10- to 14-pound-test monofilament or 30- to 50-pound-test braid should do for most applications, especially when casting lures. Try the Okuma Epixor XT-20 with a matching rod.

Quick Tip: Just to hedge your bets, tie a foot-long section of 2x mono to your streamer hook and add a beadhead Prince nymph or similar pattern to the other end. When salmon are finicky, they might flash at a streamer, but not take it. Sometimes, a smaller mouthful such as a nymph trailer will seal the deal.


Best Lures/Bait: For the most part, spawn-run salmon hit spoons, crankbaits or roe bags out of reaction rather than hunger. Shiny lures, such as the Luhr-Jensen Twinky Rig behind a flasher, the Acme Kastmaster Spoon and a variety of soft-plastic swimbaits or hard crankbaits, will elicit strikes. Fly fishermen favor Dahlberg Divers, Wooly Buggers, Hex Nymphs and Glo Bugs.

Walleyes Are Hungry and Willing

In similar fashion to bass, walleyes follow baitfish from the bigger lakes to feeder creeks and rivers with current.

Hot Spots To Fish: The Van Hook Arm of Lake Sakakawea (701-421-0360, in North Dakota is a prime walleye destination, as is Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago (920-598-0586,

Tackle You’ll Need: Power fishing it’s not. Though walleyes might fatten up to well over 10 pounds, 2- to 4-pound fish are more the rule. Depending on the average size of the fish, 4- to 10-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon will do.

For spinning enthusiasts, the Quantum Vapor PT with matching rod will work. If you prefer trolling to casting, or bouncing a weight and natural bait on the bottom, try a baitcasting outfit such as a Fenwick/Pflueger Night Hawk or Iron Hawk combo.

Quick tip: Trolling at night with diving jerkbaits, such as the Storm Original ThunderStick or Lucky Craft Pointer 110, is a great way to catch walleyes. Troll in patterns from deep to shallow and back again, as the fish tend to relocate up and down drop-offs and channel runs depending on bait movement.


Best Lures/Bait: Leeches, nightcrawlers, minnows and everything from crankbaits to spinners will find favor with hungry fall walleyes. Top picks include: Rapala’s Shad Rap, Berkley’s Flicker Shad, Mepps’ Black Fury, Rapala’s Husky Jerk and Northland Fishing Tackle’s Forage Minnow Jigging Spoon.

Photograph Courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources Walleyes weighing more than 10 pounds apiece are routinely caught in the fall, but most fish are "good eating size," averaging about 3 pounds. Thu, 11 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500
The Ultimate Guide to Beginner Hiking in Illinois Thousands of acres of forest, sparkling waterfalls, rolling plains—Illinois is a hiker’s dream. Whether you’re looking for spectacular foliage or a wildlife-observing adventure, look no further. Check out our beginner’s guide to hiking in Illinois.

Thousands of miles of trails await you. If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. We're here to help you narrow things down. From waterfalls to prairies to woodlands, here are a few of the very best hiking opportunities in Illinois.

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As a hiker, the last thing you want is to get all blistered up from a pair of uncomfortable boots. The proper footwear on a hike will make or break your experience. Here are a few of our favorite brands.

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Lush foliage, astounding geological formations, and so much more. The tremendous foliage hikes of Illinois are something to experience. So what are you waiting for? Get on the trails!

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Grab those binoculars. When wildlife accompanies your journey, it makes the experience all the more special. Spot great horned owls, hawks, herons, and more on these beautiful birdwatching hikes.

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Looking for a good place to pick up those new boots? A backpack? The perfect lightweight jacket? These well-stocked and expertly-run retailers have your back.

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10 Best Archery Outfitters in Illinois Illinois is fortunate to have a great selection of high-quality archery gear stores throughout the state. No matter your archery style or experience level, the following archery stores will meet your needs. They all feature personalized customer service, very experienced staff, and a wide selection of bows and archery accessories. If you need your bow repaired, customized, or serviced in any way, the following archery outfitters are your answer. Here are the best in the state.  

Select Archery is one of the best archery gear stores in Central Illinois. The friendly staff treat all the customers with respect, offering honest recommendations and personalized attention. Their tech department is extremely knowledgeable and capable, plus the archery lessons are very reasonably priced. 

This full-service archery shop and range is a local favorite for many reasons including their top-notch coaching, excellent customer service, and fair prices. The staff members at BowDoc Archery are very accommodating to customers and provide a safe environment for kids to learn archery. They do a great job of getting you set up with a bow suitable for your skill level and needs. 

Whether you just need your bow restrung or desire to purchase an entire new bow, Fox Valley Archery is worth the visit. It’s run by people who are passionate and knowledgeable on everything related to archery. They are very helpful at restoring and servicing bows, answering archery questions, and offering honest advice. 

For personalized attention, look no further than Archers Alley in Decatur. The staff spends as much time as necessary to ensure your archery needs are satisfied, from setting up your bow to making sure you know how to use it. Their huge variety of merchandise and long distance range also make Archers Alley a great local archery store. 

If you’re new to archery, check out Archery Custom Shop in Forest Park. They offer personal service, competitive prices, and honest recommendations on archery gear. Their expert staff members are very seasoned on everything archery-related and also offer archery lessons for every style of archery. Don’t forget to check out their indoor shooting range, as well. 

Another Central Illinois gem, Wolf Hollow Archery in Chillicothe is recognized for their outstanding customer service and archery knowledge. They offer a fantastic selection of inventory and will set up your bow the same day. Whatever your archery needs, they will take care of you and answer any questions you have. 

This family-owned company is known for friendly, helpful customer service and insightful recommendations. Their certified bow techs are able to service any bow, perform arrow repairs, customizations, and anything else you could possibly need. They also offer archery lessons by certified archery instructions and have an indoor 20-yard shooting range. 

For a professional archery shop with superior customer service, look no further than Chicago Archery. You’re always in good hands as the staff is extremely knowledgeable, caring, and helpful. They make honest suggestions and don’t try to push expensive products on you. Patrons highly recommend the lessons here, as well. 

T.A.Z. Archery is a one-stop shop for all your archery needs. Their staff members are very patient with beginners and willing to spend extra time helping with bow set-ups, repairs, and customizations. The laid-back range environment makes T.A.Z. an awesome place to shoot, as well, and they sell top-quality bows. 

Just call me Katniss Everdeen. #Archery #BowAndArrow #HungerGames #KatnissEverdeen #Fun

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Strictly Archery offers a wide selection of leading bow brands and provides services such as bow repairs and adjustments. Located in Shorewood, Strictly Archery also offers affordable archery lessons for both adults and children. Their new indoor archery range features 3D and portable targets, allowing archers of all experience levels to sharpen and perfect their skills. 

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5 Gorgeous Beach Campsites in Illinois Illinois offers dozens of beautiful campsites throughout the state, but nothing is quite as relaxing as a lakeside campsite. The following lakeside campgrounds offer sandy beaches and recreational activities such as swimming, hiking, boating, and more. A few of these campgrounds are located nearby or within state parks, as well, adding even more scenery and adventure to your trip. Here are our five favorites. 

Experience over six miles of beautiful, unspoiled sandy shoreline around Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park. Located in northern Illinois, this unique natural setting features a diverse natural landscape, plentiful wildlife, and many recreational amenities including scuba diving, swimming, skiing, and fishing to name a few. They also offer 241 premium campsites with access to electricity, showers, and bathrooms. 

Wolf Creek State Park is a gorgeous camping spot with many recreational activities including boating, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and swimming. There is a developed swimming beach surrounded with beautiful scenery ideal for relaxing and spending time with family or friends. They also provide nearly 400 class A and C campsites and two family tent camping sites. 

Kayak Morris Campground is known for their beach camping and kayak tours. This tent-only campground is only an hour away from Chicago’s suburbs and provides a relaxing, family-friendly environment with plenty of shaded picnic areas, kayak rentals, and a nearby boat launch. 

For the perfect beach, look no further than Comlara Park. This natural water play park offers 2.5 acres of water for swimming and four acres of beautiful beach for volleyball, sunbathing, picnicking, and relaxation. The scenic campground offers 144 campsites including 94 electric sites, 23 non-electric sites, nearly 30 primitive sites, and a group tent area. Other nearby activities include hiking, boating, fishing, and more. 

This peaceful campground offers plenty of shady spots, beautiful views, and shoreline fishing. They accommodate RVs up to 60 feet and offer full hook-ups along with a dump station. Although seven miles from the Illinois River, Condit’s Ranch features four lakes—one is designated for swimming and has a sandy beach. They also offer many amenities including a game room, recreation barn, playground, and camp store. 

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5 Beautiful Backpack Camping Spots in Illinois Illinois offers plenty of opportunities for backpacking in the many scenic landscapes throughout the state. With such a wide variety of landscapes and natural habits available, backpackers are afforded a diversity of camping experiences. From state parks to wilderness areas, Illinois makes an excellent place for primitive camping. Here are five beautiful backpacking spots in the state. 

Panther Den Wilderness was designated as such by Congress in 1990. The River to River Trail system is a highlight of the area, which is well-marked and features several loops. But proceed with caution as the hiking can be a bit strenuous. Primitive camping, with no fees, is permitted at Panther Den. Be sure to camp and wash 150 feet away from the lakes and streams. There is no primitive camping in the designated natural areas of research natural areas.  

Located in Shawnee National Forest, Pounds Hollow Lake has several electric and non-electric campsites. There are no reservations accepted here, so sites are available on a first-come, first served basis. The fees are $10 a night. Be sure to only camp at the designated camping areas with a maximum of two tents, eight people, and two vehicles per site. 

Ideal for water lovers, Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area is located on approximately 6,000 acres—half water and half land. This beautiful landscape consists mainly of bottomlands, bluffs, and backwaters abundant in wildlife and vegetation. Tent camping is available. Many backpackers enjoy camping on the islands, as well. 

For a truly rustic camping experience, Silver Springs is a prime option. There is plenty of opportunity for boating, canoeing, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, fishing, and hiking at Silver Springs. Enjoy a beautiful four-mile scenic trail that winds along the river and through the woods.  

Walnut Point State Park offers a perfect combination of water, woods, and wildlife. Located in east-central Illinois, backpackers appreciate the hiking trails, cross-country skiing opportunities, wooded picnic areas, and relaxing natural scenery. Tent camping areas are available with access to drinking water and showers. 

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5 Awesome Campgrounds for Families in Illinois Camping creates fond family memories, and Illinois is home to many great campgrounds for your next family getaway. Whether you’re looking for a campground full of amenities and activities, or a more relaxing spot in nature, you’re sure to find the perfect recreational area in Illinois. The following sites are top-rated by guests and are owned by folks who have the campers’ best interests in mind. Here are a few great family-friendly campgrounds in the state. 

As an award-winning campground several years in a row, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Pine Lakes offers the best in family fun. Kids love the inflatable water playground on the lake, and paddleboards, paddleboats, and kayaks are available. They also offer other fun activities including tie-dying, horseshoe pits, outdoor movies, live music, hiking, biking, hay rides, crafts, games, and much more.

I love sunsets on lakes ๐Ÿ˜

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This amenity-filled camping resort is perfect for families with kids of all ages. They offer rental units at affordable prices and wide variety of family-friendly activities including fishing, tubing, kayaking, rafting, arts and crafts (every weekend), and mini golf to name a few. This camping resort also has two heated pool, two playgrounds, and even an arcade. 

Whether you want to “rough it” or enjoy a comfortable camping getaway, Crazy Horse makes a memory-filled family experience. With plenty of wide open nature, this family-oriented campground offers fishing and a remodeled lodge with pool tables, board games, books, arcade games, food, and hot breakfast every weekend morning. They also have themed weekends throughout the season.

Camp on a modern ranch at Hansen’s Hideaway. This family-friendly campground is located on 100 acres of scenic landscape with a swimming pond, playground, game room, snack bar, and more. They also offer horse boarding, hay rides, nature trails, covered picnic pavilions, and horseshoe pits. Hansen’s Hideaway is a great family getaway spot. 

Lincoln Trail Family Campground is the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature. While they don’t offer the many amenities and activities as the other campgrounds featured here, this serene campground is surrounded by lush vegetation and features a beautiful lake. They host many annual events and the owners really care about the quality of the camping experience. 

FotoTravel/ Mon, 13 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Awesome RV Campsites in Illinois RV camping provides the perfect opportunity to get away from the daily mundane routines and stresses of our modern lifestyles. Illinois offers many beautiful forests and scenic areas that feature some awesome RV campsites full of activities and amenities. Many of these campgrounds offer swimming pools, lakes or rivers, family-friendly activities, and attractions in nearby local communities. 

Crow Valley Campground is the perfect spot for family camping on the Rock River. They offer spacious RV sites equipped with water and electricity at very affordable nightly, weekly, and monthly rates. Campers have access to plenty of amenities including a pool, game room, Wi-Fi, playground, and store. Choose from a plethora of family-friendly activities such as volleyball, basketball, horseshoes, fishing, and more. 

Fun times #camping this weekend!

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For modern amenities in rustic resort environment, look no further than Whittington Woods Campground. This RV campground offers full hook-ups and a salt water pool for registered campers. They also offer a fully-stocked store, pavilion with several picnic tables and fire pit, playground, and basketball. Campers can also take advantage of the nearby attractions, which include museums, shops, and dancing. 

Located in scenic western Illinois, Driftwood is nearby the Mississippi River and also surrounded by many lakes and streams for plenty of recreational activities. This beautiful RV park offers full hook-up sites, free hot showers, clean bathrooms with private dressing rooms, and a swimming pool for relaxing. Hiking, boating, fishing, and hunting are all nearby this family-friendly campground. 

Sycamore RV Resort provides a quiet, relaxing getaway for the entire family. This lakeside campground offers a full range of camping activities including boating, swimming, fishing, picnicking, and more. The campground is also conveniently located near many local attractions such as the Sycamore “Turning Back Time” Classic Car Show, Sycamore Speedway, and Great Western Trail. 

This family-owned RV park is open year-around and provides a scenic spot for anyone wanting some peace and quiet. Archway provides a variety of full hook-up sites, laundromat, handicap-accessible bathrooms, Wi-Fi, a playground, and fishing pond for campers. It’s also conveniently located near restaurants and retail stores. 

Aleksey Stemmer/ Mon, 13 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Camping Done Right: 7 Best Outdoor Stores in Illinois Choosing the right camping gear is an essential part of planning any camping trip. Whether you’re just going down to the creek for a night under the stars or planning an extended hike through Shawnee National Forest, the proper camping gear is a necessity. Embarking on a camping trip unprepared is both foolish and dangerous. For high-quality gear and expert advice from a knowledgeable staff, check out these seven great camping stores in Illinois. 

If you’re looking for high-quality camping gear, head to Uncle Dan’s with locations in Chicago, Evanston, and Highland Park. This store offers everything you need for camping including backpacks, tents, sleeping gear, cooking supplies, lighting, camping furniture, tools, and more. Customers appreciate the great selection of gear and helpful customer service. 

Camping goals. โ›บ๏ธ๐Ÿผ

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WildCountry is a family-owned business that only carries the best brands in outdoor and camping gear. Their staff is trained in the gear sold in their stores, so you’ll get the best information about the camping products you’re looking for. And if they don’t have the products you need in-stock, they’ll try their best to get it for you. 

Since 1947, Champaign Surplus has been providing the outdoorsperson with high-quality gear at affordable prices. This store carries everything from tents, sleeping bags, and cookware, to lanterns, trekking poles, and knives and tools. Find all of your favorite brands like Mountain Hardwear, Osprey, and KEEN.  

For the newest, most innovative camping gear, head to Erehwon Mountain Outfitter. They specialize in outdoor apparel and bags, but also offer camping essentials like lanterns and sleeping pads. Here you’ll find the best brands in outdoor apparel such as Chaco, Columbia, and Eagle Creek, and excellent customer service. 

Since 1979, Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitters has been providing the community with high-quality camping and outdoor gear at competitive prices. This locally-owned shop is the place to visit if you’re planning on camping in the Shawnee National Forest. They carry hiking and climbing shoes, tents, packs, outerwear, canoes, kayaks, and much more. 

This store sets out to do exactly what its name implies: Camping Comfortably. The supplies provided by Camping Comfortably are seemingly endless: camping chairs, coolers, tents, bedding, lanterns, stoves, grills, fire pits, heaters, tools, and knives, the list goes on. Find brands such as Coleman, ALPS Mountaineering, Blackpine Sports, and more. 

For knowledgeable and courteous staff, look no further than Dunn’s Sporting Goods in Marion. This family-owned and operated sporting goods is the place to go if you’re planning on doing any fishing, hunting, or archery on your camping trip. They also offer camping apparel, bags, footwear, firearms, and ammunition. 

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5 Awesome Trail Running Spots in Illinois Nothing beats running on a nature trail through wilderness. Illinois offers hundreds of running trails, all of which boast scenic views around every corner. Varying in length and terrain, these five awesome trail running spots in Illinois each bring a unique experience for adventurous runners. 

Busse Forest Trail winds through the 3,558-acre Ned Brown Forest Preserve, circling around lakes and meadows. This trail is over 11 miles-long and ideal for running or jogging. Runners can choose to take the main loop, which is approximately eight miles, or the shorter side loops leading to the edges of the forest. 

The Des Plaines River Trail winds along the Des Plaines River and is suitable for both novice and experienced runners. This long, lush trail is over 56 miles long and features diverse terrain for an adventurous run on a variety of trail surfaces including crushed stone, pavement, and dirt paths through forests. Runners can also catch glimpses of native wildlife such as deer, turtles, and birds. 

This 13-mile trail is ideal for runners seeking both natural and industrial scenery. Centennial Trail features a historic swing bridge and offers both paved and crushed limestone surfaces. Runners can experience woodlands and ample wildlife, particularly birds, and wildflowers in the warmer months. This trail is also very peaceful and quiet. 

The Hennepin Canal State Trail is ideal for a historic run along an old canal. Runners can also experience abundant wildlife and lush vegetation that is particularly vibrant during the fall. More advanced runners often try the 4.5-mile trail in the main complex, which features more diverse landscapes including grasslands, marshes, and tall timbers. 

The Chicago Lakefront Trail offers some of the most beautiful views of Lake Michigan and Chicago. This 18-mile trail is often frequented by commuters, tourists, and recreational enthusiasts regardless of the season. Runners appreciate the interesting sites including beaches, museums, and parks, in the area. The trail starts at the South Shore Cultural Center and ends at Kathy Osterman Beach. 

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5 Energizing Hikes in Illinois Working out at the gym can get mundane for outdoor enthusiasts, so many decide to pursue invigorating hikes in nature. From rock formations to scenic canyons, Illinois offers several challenging trails for hikers seeking a refreshing outdoor experience. Many of these hiking trails are located within state parks, but each is scenic and offers a fantastic cardio workout for fitness lovers of all experience levels. Here are five energizing hikes throughout the state. 

Experience the ultimate lower body workout at Swallow Cliff. This natural area features a 100-foot-tall bluff, drawing visitors seeking a challenging hike or run up the steep limestone stairs. The trail also passes through an 800-acre forest preserve with hilly terrain. 

Known for its steep limestone bluffs. Apple River Canyon State Park features a scenic canyon area formed by a vast sea that used to exist in the area. The park offers five hiking trails that wind through the woods. These trails are several miles long and can be hazardous, so they’re more suitable for advanced hikers looking for an energizing workout. 

Giant City State Park is famous for its huge rock formations and lush landscapes. Although hikers can enjoy several trails through the park, the Red Cedar Hiking Trail offers a more challenging 12-mile hike with an overnight campsite. This hike is ideal for an invigorating workout for more experienced hikers. 

Garden of the Gods is one of the most beautiful scenic areas in the state. Located in Shawnee National Forest, this natural wonder was created from over 300 million years of erosion. Now hikers can experience these sculptured rock formations and breathtaking views from the Observation Trail, which offers an energizing hike for all fitness levels. 

There are three unpaved and two paved trails at the Deer Grove Forest Persevere. The Yellow Trail is the longest in the area at 5.4 miles. According to its site, this historic 1,800-acre preserve attracts everyone from “serious botanists to weekend joggers.” This is an excellent place for a refreshing hike among beautiful wildlife. 

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Start Your Trek: 10 Best Hiking Retailers in Illinois Before undertaking any hiking trip, one must be equipped with all of the proper equipment. From the right boots, the right layers, to the right hydration gear, you’ll find all you’re looking for and more at the great hiking retailers of Illinois. Here are our 10 favorites in the state. 

This family-owned sporting goods business has been a local favorite for years. Presleys offers plenty of high-quality hiking gear such as shoes, backpacks, canteens, and more. Patrons appreciate the large gear selection, knowledgeable staff, and friendly customer service. 

For a wide selection of hiking gear at affordable prices, check out Army Navy Sales. This military surplus store has been in business for many decades and offers high-quality military gear. Check out their tents, apparel, camping equipment, flashlights, and other outdoor gear. 

This family-owned business has been serving the Champaign area for three generations. Champaign Surplus carries a wide variety of brand-name hiking apparel, accessories, and gear. Customers appreciate the price-match policy, helpful staff, and high-quality merchandise. 

Grab everything you need for your next hiking trip at Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitters. Known for its friendly owner, this local sporting goods shop carries a wide selection of brand-name hiking gear at affordable prices. The owner will price match any price, whether online or another local store.

Angelo’s Outdoor Sports Center is recognized for its friendly staff and great prices on all outdoor gear. Pick up your sunscreen, sunglasses, water bottle, apparel, and other hiking equipment here. Aside from hiking gear, they also carry a wide variety of bait and are very generous with it. 

Camping Comfortably offers high-quality camping gear and customer service. You’ll find hiking backpacks, camping tents, cookware, binoculars, personal care items, and other hiking essentials here. Patrons appreciate the affordable prices, pleasant store environment, and kind owner. 

WildCountry carries all the gear you need for a rugged outdoor hiking expedition. They offer the best brands in outdoor gear such as the North Face, Columbia, and Woolrich. Their knowledgeable staff really cares about providing customers with the best information on all the products.

Known for their welcoming and knowledgeable staff, Arc’teryx is the go-to local shop for outdoor gear in Chicago. They carry very high-end products and go out of their way to help you find what you need. Although their gear is on the expensive end, it lasts for many years and is worth the price. 

Although primarily known for bicycles, Bushwhacker carries a lot of great hiking and outdoor gear. This locally-owned store offers a wide selection of outdoor clothing, footwear, backpacks, tents, water bottles, and camping accessories. Patrons appreciate the patient, knowledgeable staff and consider the store an asset the area. 

Sierra Trading Post is the perfect place to shop before you next hike. The carry high-quality hiking boots and shoes, clothing, trekking poles, walking sticks, backpacks, daypacks, hydration packs, and more. Customers love finding name-brand products at discounted prices here. 

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SPOTLIGHT: Things to Do in and Around Fox Ridge State Park Sprawling across thousands of acres with twinkling lakes and lush vegetation, Fox Ridge State Park is the ideal escape. Whether you’re looking for a camping getaway, pristine hiking trails, or unmatched scenic views, check out all the best things to do in and around Fox Ridge State Park. 

Located in East Central Illinois, Fox Ridge State Park is known for its lush valleys and steep ridges. This 2,064-acre park is a beautiful destination year-round and offers a variety of recreational activities including hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing. So, whether you’re planning on a short hike and picnic or an extended vacation, Fox Ridge State Park is sure to provide a relaxing and memorable outdoor experience. 

Trails are a great way to view the abundant wildlife and vegetation at Fox Ridge State Park. The Loop Trail is nearly five miles long and is moderately difficult due to the steep descents and numerous steps. It’s accessible year-round and features many wooden bridges, which are sometimes out of service. Several rest benches are available. 

Every park features a scenic spot, and Eagle’s Nest is one you can’t miss at Fox Ridge. Eagle’s Nest is located on top of a very steep bluff overlooking the river below. You’ll have to climb 144 steps to access the deck and experience the amazing panoramic views year-round. 

Fox Ridge offers ample camping including two rustic cabins and over 40 campsites with access to a sanitary dumping station, toilet facilities, and shower building. Picnic tables, drinking water, and cooking grills are also available for campers. 

Take a look into the past at the Dudley House in Charleston. This historic home was built in the late 1800s and features Queen Anne style architecture, which is rare in Illinois. The home is completely restored to its original splendor with fixtures, furniture, and art dating back to the late 19th century. 

Known as the oldest house in Coles County, the Five Mile House is a tourist attraction offering a glimpse into the 19th history. The home was built around 1840 and has a rich history worth discovering. This landmark was restored to its original appearance with modern updated added for functionality. 

Built around 1860, the Greenwood School building is a one-room schoolhouse that held classes from 1895 to 1948. The schoolhouse has undergone restoration since 1975 and is now open to the public. This museum is another piece of Charleston history and interesting attraction near Fox Ridge State Park. 

Located nearby Fox Ridge State Park, Mac’s Uptowner is a great place to relax after a long day of recreation. They offer a large drink selection, friendly bartenders, and live music most weekends. This joint is Charleston’s main music venue. You’ll also find pool tables, video games, and great food. 

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5 Best Birdwatching Hikes in Illinois Illinois is home to hundreds of bird species thanks to the diverse habitats throughout the state. The preservation of these wetlands, prairies, beaches, forest, and marshes has protected these birds and allowed them to thrive. Many bird sanctuaries in Illinois offer refuges for migratory birds as well as endangered/threatened species. The following trails in Illinois are ideal for birdwatching! 

Located in the Little Black Slough, the largest state-owned natural area, this trail is nestled within the forests featuring incredible wildlife diversity. More than 100 endangered and threatened plant and animal species occupy this incredible area, which has remained undisturbed for centuries. Hikers and bird observers can view many species of birds here including herons, mallards, geese, great horned owls, bald eagles, hawks, vultures, and doves. 

Located in Madison County, Horseshoe Lake State Park offers some of the best birdwatching in the state. The area’s close proximity to the Mississippi River allows an ideal habitat for over 300 bird species including wading birds, waterfowl, numerous shorebirds, over 15 gull species, and many others. Hiking trails are available on Walker’s Island, where the Eurasian tree sparrow has been sighted. 

Visitors come to the Jelke Creek Bird Sanctuary to enjoy a birdwatching adventure unlike any other. This protected area serves as a refuge for migrating birds needing a resting place. The public trails are accessible by foot, bike, and horseback, allowing visitors the opportunity to encounter birds flying overhead, swimming in ponds, and perched in trees. Many bird species including cardinals, woodpeckers, doves, chickadees, robins, and wrens have been spotted in this area. 

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This tiny site on located in Chicago on the Lake Michigan shoreline is actually a birdwatching hot spot throughout the year. Featuring over 200 bird species, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary attracts migrant songbirds, water birds, and much more. Visitors are advised to remain on the hiking trail to avoid disturbing the wildlife in this small area. 

Located 50 miles southwest of Chicago, Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area is mainly a dedicated natural preserve and nesting habitat for threatened or endangered birds. Visitors can hike along seven miles of trails through the prairie and view a variety of birds including waterfowl, blackbirds, marsh birds, killdeer, great blue herons, great egrets, and the Henslow’s sparrow. Migrating birds including warblers, eastern kingbirds, and catbirds are prevalent in this beautiful area, as well. 

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5 Great Hiking Trails in Illinois Illinois’ diverse natural landscapes and abundant state parks have led to the many great hiking trails around the state. With thousands of miles of trails available in Illinois, hikers have endless opportunities to explore woodlands, savannas, prairies, lakes, forests, and other ecological wonders left untouched from millions of years ago. The following hiking trails are all unique in landscape and offers up-close glimpses of wildlife.

Waterfall Glen is a 2,492-acre forest preserve formed by glaciers that covered the Chicagoland area millions of years ago. Today this impressive open space includes savannas, prairies, and woodlands featuring hundreds of native plant species, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Waterfall Glen offers 11 miles of beautiful trails for hiking and exploring this natural wonder.

Dashing through the woods

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Experience nature at its finest on the Des Plaines River Trail. Located in Wadsworth, this 31-mile trail is perfect for hiking, skiing, horseback riding, bicycling, and snowmobiling. Experience a diverse array of natural landscapes from river views to beautiful woodlands, savannas, and prairies throughout the journey.

Rock Cut State Park is best known for Pierce Lake and Olsen Lake, which together cover over 200 acres of the park. The rolling plains of the park are filled with wildlife such as deer, fox, beaver, waterfowl, muskrat, raccoon, and birds. Dozens of wildflowers and tree species also make vibrant displays each year at Rock Cut. Visitors can access 40 miles of hiking trails, 23 miles of biking trails, and 14 miles of equestrian trails at this history-filled state park. 

This special preserve features pristine woodlands supporting many rare, endangered, and threatened species, making it an exceptional natural area. The northern flatwoods forest is a rare landscape visitors can explore at Ryerson. This area also has a small farm, rain gardens, and many educational opportunities for families. There are over six miles of scenic trails that lead past historic buildings, through dense woodlands, and along the Des Plaines River. 

The Busse Forest Trails are approximately 12 miles long and include shorter trail segments. With asphalt surfaces, these trails are perfect for biking, skating, and hiking through the Ned Brown Preserve. A 590-square-foot lake known as the Busse Reservoir is the focal point of this 3,700-square-foot wooded preserve.

hightowernrw/ Wed, 08 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Beautiful Scenic Hikes in Illinois Scenic hikes are relaxing, inspiring, and invigorating for both new and experienced hikers. There are hundreds of hiking trails throughout Illinois thanks to the many state parks. The following scenic hikes are found in various landscapes ranging from sandstone bluffs to swampy wetlands. These hikes also range in length and skill levels. Explore these five beautiful scenic hikes and don’t forget to capture the natural beauty with your camera! 

Matthiessen State Park is home to beautiful canyons, streams, waterfalls, and other natural geological formations. Hikers can explore five miles of marked trails, choosing from various routes over the bluff tops or into the dells. The wide variety of vegetation and wildlife provide additional scenic variety to hikes through the park, as well. 

Known for its diverse and breathtaking terrain, Shawnee National Forest offers many miles of hiking trails through woodlands, hills, and sandstone formations. The Rim Rock National Recreational Trail is an exceptionally beautiful scenic hike that winds around the top rim of a rock. Its historic values led to its designation of a national recreation trail in 1980. 

Ferne Clyffe State Park offers an extraordinary variety of plant life and wildlife, making it a haven for nature lovers. Big Rocky Hollow Trail is an easy hike that leads to a beautiful, 100-foot waterfall. The total length of the trail is just under a mile. Each of the 18 trails in the park are assigned a number and name to prevent any confusion with hikers. 

The Des Plaines River Trail spans over 30 miles through 12 forest preserves and a variety of natural habitats. This gravel trail follows the Des Plaines River until connecting with the Cook County Forest Preserve trail. Hikers can experience diverse landscapes including prairies, savannas, valleys, and woodlands. 

From forested swaps to shallow wetlands, Cache River State Natural Area is dominated with beautiful trees. The Big Cypress Tree Trail is a short hike that showcases a bald cypress tree over 1,000 years-old. The tree’s base has a circumference of over 40 feet, making this natural wonder a destination for both novice and experienced hikers. 

Oleksandr Koretskyi/ Wed, 08 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500