The Best Trail to Tavern Pairings in Chicago

A sampling of brews at Hunter's Brewing, the perfect place to enjoy a trail-to-tavern pint
A sampling of brews at Hunter's Brewing, the perfect place to enjoy a trail-to-tavern pint Amy Gentry
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Part of the joy of hiking comes from exploring new places. And certainly part of the growing appeal of microbrews is the enjoyment that comes from trying something unique. So it’s no surprise that the combination of hiking and craft beers is appealing to outdoor enthusiasts who have been known to tip back a pint or two. Here, we’ve created five trail-to-tavern trips in the Chicago area that include a great hiking destination followed by a place to stop for unique, locally brewed beer. So get out of your neighborhood and explore some of the best trails (and beer) the Chicago area has to offer.

1. Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve | Stockholm's Brew Pub

Following the Path of the Fox River, the paved Fox River Trail is one of the great resources for cyclists and runners in the far western suburbs. But if you want to get off the beaten path, take a detour at the Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve , which is just off the trail in St. Charles. While the preserve is a relatively small 65 acres, it offers plenty to explore, including an oak tree dating back to 1864. You’ll find mostly oak and maple forests on higher ground, a floodplain forest closer to the Fox River, and a restored prairie in former farm fields.

You’ll also find a network of trails through the fields and forested ravines, but nothing too strenuous. It’s a great place to enjoy wildflowers in the spring, and plenty of wildlife—particularly birds—any time of the year.

After the hike, head just south of St. Charles to downtown Geneva for an excellent beer choice. Stockholm’s Brew Pub offers several house-made beers made in the “Old World Tradition, cask-conditioned and un-filtered, for full balance flavor.” You’ll find about a dozen beers on the menu, usually including the Viking Red Ale, the Downtown Honey Brown, and the Older But Weisser, a Belgian White that’s certainly refreshing after some time on the trail. In addition to the beer selection, Stockholm’s offers an excellent menu for a full meal.

2. Palos Trail System | Granite City Brewery

The Palos Trail System in the Cook County Forest Preserves surrounding Palos Heights offers quite simply the best hiking experience in the Chicago area. And it’s not even close. Near the intersection of I-55 and I-294, Palos features nine significant trails—more than 20 miles worth—with hills, stones, downed trees, slippery surfaces, roots, and creeks. A few minutes away from the parking lot and you’ll forget you’re in the Chicago area.

The Granite City Brewery in Orland Park is just south of the trail system on LaGrange Road and opposite the Orland Grove Forest Preserve. It isn’t locally owned—the restaurant group got its start in St. Cloud, Minn., in 1999—but it does brew its own beer on the premises. And they certainly do a good job, with the four hand-crafted beers on the menu, including The Bennie, a German-style bock that will hit the spot after any hike.

3. Indiana Dunes State Park | Hunter's Brewing

As the name implies, the Indiana Dunes State Park is best known for its big sandy hills that line the Lake Michigan lakeshore. And yes, you have more than three miles of very nice beach among the 2,182 acres of the park, with a long-distance view of the Chicago skyline on a clear day. But the dunes next to the beach offer some of the most challenging hiking around.

The state park features seven different trails—rated from easy to rugged—which tour the dunes and the adjacent nature preserve. That means that while you can certainly attempt to tackle the towering dunes, you also can explore trails that are more suitable for hiking. Find a trail map on the second page of this pamphlet.

You’d be hard pressed to find an area with more diverse terrain. You have sandy beaches and dunes, hard-packed trails and even boardwalks over marshes in the trail system. The 5.5-mile trail No. 10 is the largest at the dunes, and it offers a big loop that goes out via the nature preserve and back along the dunes and the beach. Trail No. 9 is a 3.75-mile loop inside the preserve, with plenty of climbing.

Located just outside the park in Chesterton, Ind., Hunter’s Brewing is a nanobrewery that features hand-brewed beer from its one-barrel system. You’ll find a variety of small-batch boutique beers in its tasting room, which also offers sandwiches and snacks. With 18 taps, you have plenty to choose from, and guest beer and wines (that is, not made on the premises) are also available.

4. Kettle Moraine State Forest | 841 Brewhouse

Of course, if you’re talking about beer, Wisconsin should come to mind. If you’re up for a short road trip, the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest also offers some of the best hiking options within two hours of Chicago. The state forest contains more than 22,000 acres in southern Wisconsin, about 37 miles southeast of Milwaukee. For hikers, that means more than 130 miles of trails to explore—with lots of variety. You’ll find hardwood forests, pine plantations, and prairie.

The term “kettle moraine” is actually a geological description that comes from how the area was created. A moraine is an accumulation of rock and soil that comes from a glacier, while a kettle is a shallow body of water formed by a retreating glacier. You don’t need a degree in geology to figure out that this means the area is filled with rolling hills, valleys, and ridges. So you'll discover some great views, but also have to do some serious climbing. Keep in mind when planning your mileage that these trails can be tough.

Reward yourself afterward with a trip to the 841 Brewhouse in nearby Whitewater, Wis. You’ll find four in-house beers on tap, usually a wheat, amber, IPA, and a stout, plus plenty of other options from Wisconsin craft breweries. Their large menu is solid and filled with pub favorites.

5. Deer Grove Forest Preserve | RAM Restaurant and Brewery

Offering the best hiking trails in Chicago’s northern suburbs, the Deer Grove Forest Preserve features nearly 10 miles of off-road trails in addition to several miles of paved routes that have made this a popular escape. Some have even referred to this as “Palos North,” in reference to the bigger trail system in the southwest suburbs. You don’t have the volume of trails here, but for north suburban residents this is certainly the gem of the forest preserve system.

Located just north of Dundee Road in Palatine, Ill., the Deer Grove Forest Preserve is bisected by Quentin Road, creating east and west sections of the park. The west side is slightly bigger, and has the longest trail, the yellow, which offers a 5.4-mile, uninterrupted loop. You can connect to black and orange trails on the west side and get in a good 10-mile hike without too much repetition. On the east side, which is connected to the west via a paved trail, there’s a 2.6-mile brown loop as well as the 2.6 mile paved trail.

Head east to nearby Wheeling, Ill., and you’ll hit the RAM Restaurant and Brewery, which offers a number of seasonal beers on tap. You can even create your own personal flights served in 10-ounce glasses from its wide selection. The impressive menu has everything from pub staples like burgers and fish and chips to beef short ribs and wild Alaska salmon. Be sure to work up an appetite.

Originally written for Toad&Co.

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