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Best Bicycle Paths in Chicago

chicago-bike-path-trails If you're a bike enthusiast, you know that Chicago has some of the best biking trails in the country. But it can be hard to navigate these paths as a tourist or resident.

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Regardless of whether you are an experienced cyclist craving a challenge or simply enjoying the thought of taking in the scenery during a recreational ride on a paved path, you may be surprised at just how accommodating Chicago and its suburbs have become to those looking to hit the trails.

The City of Chicago was recently ranked as the fifth friendliest city in the country for bicyclists. The city plans to become even more attractive to cyclists over the next five years with the addition of over 600 additional miles of trails and street bike routes.

If you are looking to hit the trails but don't know which trail is for you or where to begin, consider the following paths and trails located in or near the city.

The Chicago Lakefront Trail Along Lake Michigan

If you want to avoid the streets of the city but still want to take in the sights, are a tourist looking for an exciting way to explore the city or want to take a long-distance ride along the lake, the Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan is a wonderful place to begin.

This trail spans roughly 18.5 miles along Lake Michigan and will lead travelers past numerous monuments and notable landmarks in the city.

If you take a trip down this trail, you will be within riding distance of the following:

  • Numerous parks include Lincoln Park, Grant Park, and Jackson Park. Lincoln Park is also renowned for its zoo, which attracts millions of visitors each year.
  • The Belmont and Monroe harbors and world-famous Navy Pier: Navy Pier is home to many tourist attractions and a host of events and activities, including boat rides, a gigantic Ferris wheel, and Chicago's Shakespeare Museum.
  • Many museums and attractions include the Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Botanic Garden, Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, and Soldier Field— home of the Chicago Bears.
  • Several neighborhoods include Forest Park, River Park, Morgan Park, Deer Grove, South Branch, Highland Park, West Pullman, Morton Grove, River Grove, Hyde Park, South Shore, and Lake View.
  • Lake Michigan bike trails wind around scenic parks and sandy beaches with spectacular views.

The North Branch Trail

This beautiful trail allows city residents to access the sereneness and beauty of nature even though it is in the center of a metropolis. Suppose you are looking for an escape from the noise and crowds and want to reconnect with nature.

In that case, you should consider a ride along this 20-mile North Branch trail that follows a portion of the Chicago River and ends at the Chicago Botanical Garden at its northernmost point.

Other features riders have access to include the following:

  • Resting areas and public bathrooms for bicyclists that desire a pit stop or to take a break to take in the scenery
  • Access to alternate dirt paths where visitors may choose to ride on horseback
  • Connection to the Green Bay Trail for riders looking to extend their bike hikes

North Shore Channel Trail

This 10-mile trail is located at the northern end of Chicago and runs parallel to its namesake, North Shore Channel.

The area is a beautiful natural space that serves as an oasis of greenery in an otherwise crowded environment. Those who want to escape from the stresses of city life will be delighted by this scenic path, which allows riders to travel through forests and over bridges.

This trail is an important part of the area's transportation infrastructure, as it serves bicyclists, runners, walkers, and single-occupant automobiles seeking to avoid heavy traffic on nearby streets.

The trail also runs across several major streets to connect with various neighborhoods within the city. This trail is a popular travel route for Edgewater, Lincoln Square, North Park, and Albany Park residents.

Other nearby attractions include the following: The Chicago Botanic Garden, located just five miles to the south. In addition, Wilder Woods Forest Preserve provides an escape from city life with its numerous hiking trails.

The Howard Branch Trail connects to the Des Plaines River Trail.

The Airline Trail

This trail is only a little over 10 miles in length and runs from Lemont to Brookfield. It was named after the former right-of-way that ran along the path used by the Chicago, Aurora, & Elgin railway company that went out of business in 1962.

This trail runs through wooded areas and over waterways, allowing you to experience nature's beauty within the city.

Neighboring sites include Pullman National Monument, which is located 10 miles southwest of the trail. The Chicago Portage National Historic Site is located three miles southeast of the path. Visitors can also stop at Caldwell Woods, which is only six miles east of the trail.

The North Shore Channel Trail runs parallel to its namesake, North Shore Channel; it is a beautiful natural space that serves as an oasis of greenery in an otherwise crowded environment. Those who want to escape from the stresses of city life will be delighted by this scenic path, which allows riders to travel through forests and over bridges.

This trail is an important part of the area's transportation infrastructure, as it serves bicyclists, runners, walkers, and single-occupant automobiles seeking to avoid heavy traffic on nearby streets. The trail also runs across several major streets to connect with various neighborhoods within the city.

Valley Line Trail

This paved trail is 6.5 miles in length and runs through the suburb of Elmhurst, which lies just west of Chicago. This trail winds through woodlands and along waterways that run underneath elevated roadways.

If you're looking to take in the serenity that nature has to offer while still within commuting distance of Chicago, Il, these paved trails may be the perfect destination.

Other attractions along this Valley Line Trail include The York Woods Forest Preserve, located two miles from the trail's easternmost point. In addition, Garfield Park Conservatory can be found just one mile from its westernmost terminus.

Skokie Valley Trail

This multi-use path is a 17.5-mile stretch that runs from Old Orchard Mall at Skokie Boulevard in Skokie to the Lake County line near Green Bay Road.

This easy access trail fills the gap between the North Shore Channel Trail and Des Plaines River Trail as it allows riders to travel from one area of Chicago's north side to the other.

Sites near this Lake County trail include Mount Mary University in Wheeling, a few miles west of Skokie Boulevard. In addition, the Chicago Botanic Garden is a short distance north of Green Bay Road and provides riders with many natural features to explore.

Robert McClory Bike Path

This path is a relatively small stretch of bike trail that runs from Fort Sheridan to the Wisconsin border.

However, this path ranked as one of the best in Chicago due to its location next to Northeastern Illinois University and its proximity to other popular biking paths.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

This natural oasis is perfect for riders looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. This forest preserve offers visitors a variety of trails that range in distance and difficulty level, so all users can find an area that suits their needs.

The Preserve is located within the boundaries of West Chicago Community High School and is a five-minute walk from the school's athletic fields. You can also make a stop at West Chicago Public Library, which is a 10-minute walk from the Preserve.

Whether you are new to biking or have been an avid cyclist for decades, these popular trails provide an ideal way to enjoy outdoor experiences along with all the comforts of modern life.

Illinois Prairie Path (IPP)

This trail is the largest and most popular bicycle path in the state of Illinois. It has over 60 miles of paved trails that connect Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties.

The health benefits of using this trail include:

  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Strengthen leg muscles
  • Improved mood
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Improved flexibility and endurance

This trail allows riders to connect with other nearby trails like the Fox River Trail and the I&M Canal Trail. The IPP is an important part of Chicago's bicycle infrastructure and has been designated a "Ride Center" by the American College.

The Green Bay Trail

This nine-mile trail is an excellent extension for long-distance riders who don't want to cut their experience short after riding the North Branch Trail. It also has plenty to offer to novice or recreational riders.

What gives this trail exceptional utility is that it runs parallel to the Metra commuter rail so that cyclists can travel as far north on the trail as they wish before having the option to take the rail home.

Other features of this trail include the following:

  • Numerous restaurants, stores, and community parks provide ample opportunity for riders to take a breather or to explore the beautiful neighborhoods they pass through.
  • This trail is child-friendly and a great path for families to ride along together because of its vicinity to the rail and numerous locations where families can rest, eat and explore.
  • Access to the Metra should make you feel too tired to ride back to where you began.
  • Instead, you can hop onto the next train and relax.
  • Proximity to Ravinia includes an open-air pavilion used for numerous live musical performances, including a diverse range of music genres.
  • The option to connect to the Robert McGlory Bike Path is another feature.

The Robert McGlory Bike Path

You may find that even those who know their way around Chicago are conflicted when asked where this trail is located because it has numerous names in the past.

One of those names is the Green Bay Trail, which it connects to at its southern point. Many also know it as the North Shore Bike Path, even though another path now exists by that name. If you travel along this 26.5-mile-long trail to its end, it will take you into Wisconsin.

Some of the most notable features of this trail include the following:

  • A route along the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee railroad corridor is a famous stretch of the railroad running from the north side of Chicago into Wisconsin. The old towers, electrical cables, and notable landmarks that adorned the railroad are still intact and make up most of the scenery along this route.
  • Brief sections of trail that converge with city streets, providing a more urban feel and experience.
  • Community gardens bring beauty to great stretches of the trail, and as you progress, the path slowly moves from urban and industrial to the open country.
  • At the trail's end, the cityscape turns into prairies and fields before ending at a patch of forest.

The Illinois Prairie Path

If you want to experience history firsthand, there is no greater way than to travel the famous 61-mile-long Illinois Prairie Path, which runs along the route of historic railroads that have since been converted to paths.

There are numerous ways to choose to travel this path, and it includes three main branches with a total of five connections, allowing you to travel the trail numerous times while having different experiences.

The length of Illinois Prairie Path suggests that it may be most appropriate if you are an experienced cyclist if you wish to ride its entire length. However, it may not be the best choice if bringing along children as the trail includes steep hills and drops.

Depending on the branch you choose to travel along, this trail stretches along urban streets and through the western suburbs on its main branch or through older neighborhoods, prairies, and woodlands along its Aurora branch.

Finally, the Elgin branch connects Wheaton and Elgin and features a mixture of forests and residential zones. The main branch features gorgeous train depot houses that have been restored to provide a historic element to your journey.

These historical landmarks also provide rest areas and access to water so that you can rest or fill up on water before continuing your bike hike.

If you travel the entire trail, your experience will truly be diverse. The trail cuts through urban and rural areas, providing the perfect balance between immersion in nature and access to the suburbs.

The trail ends at Volunteer Park, which is the perfect place to end a 61-mile long trek as the park is located where three active rail lines converge, allowing you to hop on a train and rest up on your way home if you so desire.

The Hennepin Canal Parkway

If you are looking for a rustic, urban and historical experience, this bike trail is worth exploring. The path features a 105-mile-long canal that was quickly abandoned after being built at the turn of the twentieth century to connect the Illinois River to the Mississippi.

Most of the structures that accompanied the canal are still intact. It represents a unique piece of Chicago's history— most notably how the railroads forced many other modes of transportation out of business.

If you choose to ride this trail, consider the following:

  • This trail is suitable for most bikes, but you will find it easiest to travel on a hybrid bike.
  • The path does not feature many hills and is consistently flat, making it an easier option if you wish to bring children along or are a novice cyclist.
  • You will need to pack water and snacks because few locations along this trail provide access to food or drinks.
  • On hot days, make sure that you stock up on water so that you and your group do not become dehydrated.
  • The best time to travel this path is maybe during the fall because it travels through a diverse backdrop of forest, prairie, and farmland. You are also less likely to face severe heat during an autumn ride.

The Jane Addams Trail

If you have any appreciation for nature at all, you need to jump on the opportunity to travel this beautiful 15-mile-long trail. It is also a wonderful bike path to ride if you want to travel with your family as it features densely wooded areas perfect for bird watching and populated with deer.

Many educational field trips are conducted along this trail because of its immersion in a natural environment generally undisturbed by humanity.

Keep the following in mind when traveling this trail so that you choose the right time and are aware of its key features:

  • The trail starts in Freeport and runs into Wisconsin, where it connects to the Badger State Trail.
  • Unless you wish to continue to Madison, the best place to end your trip is in Orangeville, where you will have access to shelter, food, and drinks so that you and your party can rest up.
  • The abundance of deer attracts hunters, so the trail is closed during the fall for your safety. Keep this in mind when planning a bike hike on this path.
  • If you have the opportunity, you may want to visit the childhood home and burial site of Jane Addams, the philanthropist, and Nobel Prize winner for whom the trail is named.
  • Environmental features include wild owls, hawks, and other birds of prey, as well as an array of four-legged creatures that you can spot along the trail. In addition, you may run into deer as they are common in the area.
  • This trail connects you to the Pecatonica Prairie Trail near Freeport and the Badger State Trail, ending at the Wisconsin border.

The North Shore Channel Trail

For a shorter and easier ride, you may want to consider the North Shore Channel Trail, which stretches 6.7 miles along the North Shore Channel and combines scenic nature with an urban landscape.

This trail has numerous branches that allow bicyclists of differing experience levels to enjoy themselves, and many additional activities and landmarks can be accessed along its path.

Those features include the following:

  • Dirt paths that lead into wooded areas for mountain bikers and more experienced cyclists
  • A dock where travelers can choose to go canoeing or kayaking along the channel
  • Mixed landscapes include an urban industrial zone and several parks and wooded areas where bicyclists can connect with nature
  • The option to incorporate city streets into your route or to cut down on the number of street crossings you come across by using the east side of the trail
  • Playgrounds, parks, and a baseball stadium all provide amenities to make for a great family experience

The Major Taylor Trail

If you desire a distinctly urban experience, the Major Taylor Trail is perfect. It allows riders to explore areas south of the city rather than taking the northern routes afforded by most of the other trails in the city. Just 7.2 miles long, this trail begins on the southwest side of Chicago and ends at the Little Calumet River, where it connects to the Cal-Sag Trail.

Features of Major Taylor Trail include the following:

  • A purely industrial and urban feel that includes the opportunity to explore the southwestern areas of the city
  • Parking at both ends of the trail so that travelers can easily access the trail
  • Access to Bronzeville, home of Marshall "Major" Taylor, an African-American bicyclist who set the world record for the 1-mile sprint

The Des Plaines River Trail

This 56-mile-long trail is another option you should consider if you enjoy constantly changing scenery along your route that links suburbia with multiple preserves, parks, and prairies.

In addition, the trail offers protection to many river animals, fish, and lizards along the Des Plaines River. Its features include the following:

  • Numerous access points allow bicyclists to park and enter the trail at their desired locations. It is great if you only wish to travel a portion of the trail rather than the entire 56 miles but also affords you the option to ride as far as you would like.
  • Diversity of terrain includes urban neighborhoods, rivers, and lakes, forests containing an abundance of aged trees, lowlands, and open fields.
  • Access to parks and forest preserves to take in the surroundings and rest up if you feel worn out.

Bloomingdale Trail

For a truly unique experience, you should consider the Bloomingdale Trail. Officially known as the 606, this trail is almost entirely elevated and affords you views that can be found in a few other places in Chicago.

The trail is 2.7 miles long and connects four city neighborhoods while also offering bicyclists access to several parks and trails. Some of the landmarks you will be able to see along the trail include the following:

Homes occupy many different architectural styles; some are contemporary while others are more traditional. A bird's eye view of several parks, two abandoned railroad corridors, and Three Sisters Park offers unique views of downtown Chicago.

The North Branch Trail Alliance is rich with various wildlife during the spring and summer, including raccoons, deer, and birds.

This trail is in a densely populated area of Chicago. Still, it provides you with a different view from above while also providing access to many city areas through its number of intersections with other trails and streets.

North Branch Trail System

Yet another option for those who want to enjoy the scenery provided by the water's edge as they travel through the north branch of the Chicago River on the North Branch Trail System.

This 52-mile-long trail links neighborhood parks, multiple parks, and preserves throughout Cook County, affording bicyclists a chance to quit their ride and explore any of these conveniently located areas if they so desire or continue on their journey without interruption.

The recreational areas and amenities located near the path include access to parks, ponds, and forest preserves that offer recreational opportunities such as fishing. The ability is to cross waterways via multiple bridges if you wish to avoid riding on streets or stopping at traffic lights.

Historic places and buildings that help tell the story of Chicago's past.

The Cal-Sag Trail

If you want to take your bike ride to the water, this trail may be for you. Travelers can enjoy biking or walking along the Cal-Sag Trail, which stretches 36 miles across the South Side and connects four forest preserves, numerous parks, and several neighborhoods in Chicago.

The trail offers travelers access to each area via their intersections with other trails containing pavilions, pavilions, drinking fountains, and parking areas.

Here are some of the features travelers can expect to find along this trail:

  • Riverside Picnic Grove offers drinking water and restrooms that allow bicyclists to enjoy their trip even further
  • Three Mile Dam Park provides benches for rest as well as access to the river itself
  • Casino Park is a great spot to stop for picnics or rest in the shade of its numerous trees

The trail contains over 22 access points that are well marked to help you easily find the nearest access point if you are not traveling along the entire path.

This trail is a great option for bicyclists who want to take their trips off the beaten path. In addition, these trails provide travelers with access to areas of interest throughout Chicago and unique scenery that can be found in very few other places.

The Millennium Trail

If you've already explored many of the existing trails throughout the Chicago area, you may want to add the Millennium Trail to your list. This trail is still under development and is expected to be 35 miles long upon completion, but over 28 miles are currently open and accessible to the public to enjoy.

The Millennium Trail begins in Lindenhurst and runs a southern route that passes by numerous historical landmarks and forms of terrain. The features include the following:

  • The Bonner Heritage Farm is a great place to bring children: Scottish immigrants settled in the middle of the nineteenth century and currently provides children with an educational experience about how the farmers lived and produced food that includes interaction with barnyard animals.
  • The McDonald Woods Forest Preserve is one of the first features you encounter along this route and is the first of several forest preserves that include wetlands, lakes, and gentle hills.
  • Open prairies and pastures that intertwine with tree groves to provide a mixture of cooling shade and open-air throughout your ride.
  • Access to a frisbee golf course along the trail's route offers an opportunity for your family to rest while enjoying some recreation.
  • Access to the Lakewood Forest Preserves at the trail's end. This Preserve offers a nine-mile horse path, fishing, and picnic areas where you can take another break and enjoy a meal before beginning the journey back to where you began.

This guide provides only a glimpse at the trails available to bicyclists throughout the greater Chicago area. The City of Chicago has promised to add another 600 miles of paths over the next five years.

For more information about the paths available or how to get the most out of your biking experience, check with the Divvy trail map, which provides residents with access to bikes and maps so that they can hit the trails even if they do not currently own a bicycle.

You may also find more information about the numerous Chicago IL trail maps throughout Illinois, click here.

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The promise ensures that you will owe us nothing if we do not win your case. Our legal team is ready to help you fight for the justice you deserve.

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