Chicago is not exactly road or off-road nirvana for cyclists so we take what we can get but there are some good rides. I was introduced to one by Fabio Orlandi – the Des Plaines River Trail which runs from North Ave. on the west side of Chicago to the Wisconsin border. The often beautiful 54.8 mile long route (110 miles round trip – Calling Doug McLaren!) covers mostly flat terrain that varies from mostly wide & fast 1-2 lane hard pack, to smooth single track, crushed gravel, occasional pavement… you can master blast full speed through killer sharp but fast corners, pound away on the flat or find one of the many spurs that can get mildly technical and more into the forest. There’s often stunning views of the river, ponds, with several bridges crossing the river on the northern half and a few tunnels on the southern quarter. Traffic is usually pretty mild with the occasional walker, other cyclists, bird watchers… do be respectful as this is a multi use trail. Enjoy!
View Des Plaines River Trail in a larger map
Des Plaines River Trail – image gallery – pics from my rides. The full Des Plaines River Trail is approximately 57 miles long and is divided into Northern and Southern sections. North is more developed overall while the south may provide more off road riding. Both sections have excellent riding and scenery with lakes, bridges, tunnels, wetlands, ponds, and off-road spurs. You can also hop off the trail and hit some long stretches of pavement for speed/road work. I hit the trail at Euclid/Lake and River Road, depending on my mood I head north or south, either way I can get a solid 1.5 – 2hr ride in just by staying on the trail. You may see deer, hawks, eagles, waterfowl, cranes, fox.
Trailville.com page for DPRT – covers north and south branches.
North – Lake County section: The main multiuse trail on the northern section is generally wide and crushed gravel. I have yet to make it to this branch – see note for Southern Lake County below. Trail Map
North – Southern Lake County – Lake Cook Road to Half Day Road: This is where the Coook County section ends at the Cubbe Bear on Milwaukee and the Lake County begins. At the Cubby Bear you ride two blocks on grass along Milwaukee Ave. to bridge the two sections. I’ve made it as far north as Half Day Forest Preserve. – DPRT Trail Notes – Trail Map
North – Cook County section: The main multi-use trail on the northern section is generally wide and varies from crushed gravel to very fast hardpack & singletrack. If ridden during non peak hours you can fly on this trail. Wetlands, dense forest, bridge crossings, some small hills, some good curves. Very nice ride and no where near as boring as a flat straight Rails to Trails ride. There’s also some nice single track spurs, keep your eyes open! Trail Map
South – Cook County section: The souther sections of the trail vary from crushed gravel to single track to semi serious off roading. Parts of this trail you can absolutely fly on hardpack through high speed curves under a beautiful forest canopy. Wetlands, dense forest, bridge crossings, tunnels, some small hills, some good curves and some excellent offroad. Several single track spurs veer off the main trail, take them! There’s also several trails developed by off roaders – keep your eyes open! Trail Map
*Critical Note – bridging the trail at Rand, Dempster, 294 and Busse highway is tricky. See the gap in southern most section of this map. Between Ballard and Dempster you need to come out of the woods on Rand Road, ride south and cross Dempster taking Rand towards the 294 on ramp. On your right will be a blocked access road – take it. Ride the trails south towards Belleau Lake. Once to Belleau Lake you need to take the trail to the west of the lake and cross Busse Highway and the Railroad tracks. You ride a short single track spur that will place you back on the main trail. Fabio Orlando gets credit here, I don’t think I ever would have figured it out on my own!
**Updated – The City of Des Plaines put in a River Walk trail that connects here – Head west on Ballerd Road, follow the river walk and you’ll end up on Camp Ground Rd which connects back to trail.
For you and me the spurs are where it’s at – single track off shoots that run deep into the woods. Some are built by Mountain bikers, BMX riders or motorcyclists. I’ve been checking them out for years and while many are simply access paths or dead ends to nowhere but many are kick butt off road trails.
Sample 1: On the South branch at Oakton St. there is a good single track run on the north & south east sides of Oakton and one on the south west side – all are with yards of the street. The south east loop was built and maintained by some wildman who I’ve seen doing table tops off the ramps he builds. The trail starts right off with an excellent jump and proceeds back into the woods with several hand built ramps/jumps banked corners tight trail fast open sections and more.
Sample 2: On the North branch just past the access trail for Patawatomi Pond you can find a small trailhead that runs deep into the forest. Fast single track with sharp corners dismounts (for crossers, jumps for MTB’ers?).