Written: April 25, 2007
Original SunTimes article: (http://www.suntimes.com/jump/355330,BikePaths_042507.article)
Lakefront Path Perk: one of the city's best features. An obvious choice for biking satisfaction, this 18.5-mile path serves as the dividing line between the bustle of the city and that big lake that humbles it all. From sleek cycling pros to families out for a Sunday ride, the path accommodates every cyclist; hit the path early or late on pleasant days to avoid peak crowds. If the long haul seems a little too long, make a pit stop at Navy Pier or Buckingham Fountain, or cut west and make a neighborhood stop for an ice cream cone or a coffee. In an Indiana or bust mood? Go for it; the path winds down at the Indiana state line, just south of 100th Street.
North Branch Bicycle Trail Perk: bike to the Botanic Garden. The only forest preserve path accessible (by means of peddling) from the city, you'll need to head northwest to Caldwell and Devon to access its start. Seasonal timing is key if you want take in-bloom advantage of its direct route to the Chicago Botanic Garden. You'll peddle through 20 miles of prairie calm to reach it—and then 20 miles back, so be sure to pack snacks for the ride, then head east along Devon upon your return for a well-deserved Indian dinner or ice cream cone.
Illinois Prairie Path Perk: the longest ride of the bunch. As the first rails-to-trails conversion in the nation (built in the '60s), you're looking at 61 miles of crushed limestone path. And since it's only a 20-mile drive from the city, there's really no better option for you long-distancers. It crosses three counties—Cook, DuPage and Kane—and several diverse towns, allowing for an endless array of pit stops. We recommend taking a first-Saturday tour of the Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville, a half-mile from the path, or swinging by the Kane County Flea Market while cruising through St. Charles. (map)
Des Plaines River Trail Perk: gets you to Wisconsin. This set of trails will take you just about all of the way into the land of cheese. The northern end is located just south of the Wisconsin border in Wadsworth, Ill.; peddle south along the river for the trail's 31 miles and you'll end up in Deerfield. According to the Lake County park district, plans are in the works for a final one-mile trail that would connect the trail, uninterrupted, to Cook County Forest Preserve trails. A cluster of restaurants and shops sit at the intersection of Routes 60 and 21, should you need to refuel.
Salt-Creek Perk: ends at the Brookfield Zoo. This is another trail worthy of a drive to get to, unless you want to brave Golf Road all the way to Brookfield on a bike. Aside from the plus of no hills (should easy riding be your thing), you'll find two big perks: one, it follows the banks of, yes, a creek, complete with summertime canoes and row-boats available for rent; two, it deposits you steps from the Brookfield Zoo. As the trail is only 6.6 miles long, if you head out early you could easily combo your ride with a half-day at the zoo.
I & M Canal Bicycle Trail Perk: runs along a canal. Short for Illinois and Michigan, the I & M is a manmade canal built in the mid-19th century to allow cargo ship access from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River. Not to be confused with Will County's 61-mile I & M Canal State Trail (a good pick if you want to venture further from home), the I & M Canal Bicycle Trail is a nine-mile ride made up of two skinny loops and a two-and-a-half mile sprint connecting it all. There's trail access near the Willow Springs Metra stop.
Tinley Creek Bicycle Trail Perk: spend a day in the prairie. Just shy of 20 miles long, this trail requires a little automobile trip down to Palos Heights (131st and Harlem) and stretches past I-80 in Matteson. You'll spot lots of oak trees, tiny lakes and marshes…and the George W. Dunne national golf course, if you want to squeeze in a front/back nine. Towards the north side of the trail over the namesake Tinley Creek is the sweet spot: a 285-foot bridge with superb views of Illinois wetlands.
Thorn Creek Bicycle Trail Perk: a nice quick ride. Located in the southern part of Cook County, this is a dual-trail system—a 4.7-mile trail in the Sauk Trail Lake area and a 4.6-mile trail in the Lansing Woods and North Creek Meadow—that unfortunately does not connect. Plans are in the way to do so, which will boost the mileage to 17. Historical bonus: Part of the system used to be an old Native-American trade route called Sauk Trail.
Busse Woods Bicycle Trail Perk: awesome views of nature. This northwest suburban trail, spread out over 11 miles, is best accessible from the Kennedy near Schaumburg. Otherwise a congested area—largely due to Woodfield Mall—Busse provides a nice sanctuary, complete with a lake large enough for sailboats and woods deep enough for herds of elk. The double whammy of flat, paved terrain and incredibly beautiful surroundings (including some lovely bridges) can lead to heavy weekend crowds, making an early-morning start a wise one.
Palos Forest Preserve Perk: one for the mountain bikers. This wild card is one for the mountain bikers. The area, where I-294 and I-55 meet, is a result of remnants of the same glacier that flattened out Chicago, hence the sandy clay deposits and chewed up hills. Singletrack is only open when the trails are dry; riding must be done on pavement and crushed limestone in wet conditions. If you're a mountain biking fan, check out the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers site, which organizes work days to improve the trails.