From heart-pounding adventures like zip-lining and mountain biking to serene natural activities like bird watching and fossil hunting, there’s outdoor fun to be had around every bend of The First Hundred Miles. Here’s an itinerary that connects you with the best outdoor places to ‘stop and smell the roses’ along this stretch of Historic Route 66.
8400 W 31st St, Brookfield, IL
Located only 15 miles west of Chicago, this 200+ acre zoo is widely regarded as one of the best in the nation, thanks in no small part to its accessibility and amazing array of animals. Opened to the public in 1934, Brookfield’s unique design utilized moats in place of bars and cages resulting in an up-close experience, unlike anything visitors had seen before. Now, with over 450 species represented by more than 2,500 animals, everyone is sure to find one of their favorite creatures. Brookfield also features a variety of souvenir shops and on-site food venues, serving up everything from fried chicken and hot dogs to cool drinks and treats.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
I55 & Lemont Road, Lemont, IL
Whatever your favorite outdoor activities might be, Waterfall Glen in Lemont has it all. With over 11 miles of meandering trails, you can enjoy everything from hiking, to horseback riding to cycling, all just a short drive from the Mother Road. If your dog is accompanying you on your cross-country trip, this is the perfect place to stop. This popular picnic and fishing area is also dog-friendly. Discover the park’s beautiful tiered waterfalls while enjoying the 740+ documented species of native plants. If you’re a fan of birding, Waterfall Glen hosts hundreds of species of feathered friends every year.
The Forge: Lemont Quarries
1001 Main Street, Lemont, IL
Get ready for some real adventure at ‘The Forge’ in Lemont, Illinois. Built in and around the Lemont Quarries, this area is action packed, offering rope courses, zip-lines, climbing walls, mountain biking and an assortment of running trails, perfect for entertaining visitors of all ages and abilities. And if zipping down a cable does not peak your interest, then you and your family can enjoy the outdoor dining and picnic area where you may catch some music or other seasonal entertainment.
I&M Canal State Trail
Access Huse Lake near Joliet Street & IL 351
Running through three counties, Will, Grundy and LaSalle, the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail is one of the most historic natural spaces along the Route 66 corridor. A popular biking and hiking trail, visitors can enjoy fishing and other activities along this mid-19th century waterway. Popular winter activities like snowmobiling and cross-country skiing can also be enjoyed along the canal. All these great outdoor activities can be enjoyed on this 79 mile former mule trail. A precursor to Route 66, The I&M Canal was once the most important transportation hub for commerce and passengers in Illinois. After the development of the railroad, this long forgotten commodity was transformed into a spectacular outdoor recreation area.
Rock Run Preserve
3669 Black Road, Joliet, IL
Explore Illinois as it was centuries ago at Rock Run Preserve, a wetland prairie with direct access to the I&M Canal. Conveniently located just outside of Joliet, this park is a major destination for those looking to picnic, fish, hike and bike a rambling 320+ acre site. You’ll find a diverse natural habitat featuring wetlands, prairie and forest landscapes, open to the public year round.
Joliet Iron Works Park
Columbia Street, Joliet, IL
When you visit the Joliet Iron Works Park, you’ll never guess that at one time this was the site of the second largest steel mill in the USA. Opened in 1869, Joliet Iron and Steel Works employed over 2,000 laborers until it’s closure in 1936. Adopted by the Forest Preserve of Will County, this factory-turned natural space now boasts almost 2 miles of paved trail and is an access point for the 12 plus mile I&M Canal Centennial Trail. Interpretive signage takes the visitor through the heyday of this location’s history. Sheltered picnic areas (with electric), fresh water and bathroom facilities can be found on site.
554 Brook Forest Ave, Shorewood, IL
Located directly on Old Route 66 in Shorewood, Illinois, Hammel Woods provides tubing, canoeing and kayaking down the picturesque DuPage River. Visitors can also enjoy a run along the park’s 1.6 miles of natural surface trails. Additional activities permitted at the park include cycling, hiking, running, in-line skating, fishing and cross-country skiing when weather permits. Covered shelters can accommodate 25 on a first-come, first-served basis with no need for a permit. If you’re a fan of Geocaching, Hammel Woods is a great place to stop for a quick hunt.
Des Plaines Dolomite Prairies Land and Water Reserve
24621 N River Road, Wilmington, IL
With a free skeet shooting and archery range, Des Plaines Dolomite Prairies Land and Water Reserve is a unique and diverse sporting park. With over 5,000 acres of land and 2,000 of water, there is plenty of room to enjoy your favorite pastimes, like horseback riding, jet skiing and boating. The Des Plaines Dolomite Prairies Land and Water Reserve is known as an excellent spot for hunting and fishing, provided you have all the necessary licensing to do so. The park also features a peaceful selection of on-site camping, which can be reserved online in advance.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
30239 S State Rt 53, Wilmington, IL
Known as ‘The Largest Prairie Restoration Site East of the Mississippi River’ the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is also the single largest open space in Illinois. Managed by the US Forest Service and recognized as a US National Grassland, Bison were reintroduced back on the prairie in October of 2015, making this gorgeous plot of paraire even more authentic. While it’s not guaranteed, every visit offers the opportunity to see these elusive animals as they roam throughout the prairie.