Cycle Chicago, Mountain Bike Ride, Des Plaines River Trail (Indian Boundary Div.)

This challenging but exciting ride runs from River Forest to Des Plaines along the overgrown banks of the Des Plaines River. Except for occasional road crossings, you’ll be so immersed in nature that you may forget you’re in a major metropolitan area. You won’t just see a deer, but herds of deer. You may lose the main trail, but don’t panic; most side paths lead back to the main trail. The river floods every spring, so save this ride for late summer or after a dry spell.

Terrain

Single-track and multi-track dirt paths with occasional patches of crushed limestone added to help maintain the rugged trail. Expect a lot of ruts and roots, fallen branches and other obstacles.

Traffic

Several cross streets, most of which you can avoid if the underpasses are not flooded.

Access 

Take the CTA Green Line to Harlem. Bike two miles north and half a mile west to Evans Field at Thatcher and Bloomingdale avenues in River Forest. Or take Pace 305 bus to Thatcher and Bloomingdale avenues.

By car, exit Intestate 290 at FirstAvenue and drive north to NorthAvenue. Turn right and after about half a mile turn left on Thatcher Avenue, the first street after the bridge. Evans Field will be one-quarter mile on your left.

Food and Drink

Nothing along the path, but there are convenience stores and restaurants at North and Thatcher avenues, near the trailhead.

Side Trip

Visit the Trailside Museum at 738 Thatcher Ave. in River Forest. Built in 1874, this was once a finishing school for young ladies and later an institution for young men from broken homes. In 1917, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County bought the building for its headquarters. In 1931, the building was turned into a museum with displays of native plants and animals, and even some live animals.

 

More Details

On this ride, expect mud and mosquitoes, flooded underpasses and fallen trees. What fun, if that’s what you’re looking for. That said, don’t try to bike this trail between North Avenue and Madison Street, despite the fact that other guidebooks and maps might encourage you to try doing so.

That would be too much “fun.” South of North Avenue, the trail is a foot path more suitable to the Native Americans who once plied this river bank. You would end up pushing or carrying your bike over logs and through brush, not to mention the fact that the trail disappears entirely as you approach North Avenue from the south. The Yellow Trail starting north of North Avenue at Evans Field is challenging enough. It is pretty well marked but be on your toes. When in doubt about which direction to take stay along the river - except when it’s obvious that the main trail goes away from the river. This Ride Log is a little more detailed than others to help keep you on track.

After you become familiar with the trails, you may want to explore the myriad side paths, some of which are quite tough. There are nine road crossings on this ride. Most of them have an underpass, which is great as long as it’s not flooded. If that’s the case, go up to the road and cross with care since there may not be a light or even a crosswalk. This trail derives its name from the fact that in 1816 the Ottawa, Ojibwa and Potawatomi ceded to the American government a 20-mile-wide tract of land running from what’s now Chicago southwest to what’s now Ottawa.

The northern boundary of this tract passes through this ride where Grand Avenue intersects the trail. From that point, this line continues northeast to Rogers Avenue in Chicago, passing Indian Boundary and Potawatomi parks along the way. Technically, from Touhy Avenue to Algonquin Road this ride runs through the Des Plaines Division of the vast Des Plaines River Trail System. This ride extends over these two divisions because the border is seamless but ends at Algonquin Road, where the trail hits a dead end. You can pick up that trail about a mile north at Ballard Road in Des Plaines, from where you could ride it north nearly uninterrupted to the Wisconsin border.

 

Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start at the map at the western end of the parking lot for Evans Field, which was once an Indian village. Take the spur west toward the river.
  • 0.3 Turn right onto main Yellow Trail.
  • 0.8 Go through underpass for First Ave and bear left. (Right takes you up to the street.)
  • 1.7 Follow path along river under the bridge for Grand Ave.
  • 2.0 Go through the underpass for railroad bridge. (Alas, if this tunnel is flooded, there is no option for crossing here.)
  • 2.4 Go through underpass for Belmont Ave.
  • 3.6 Go through underpass for Irving Park Rd.
  • 4.4 Good example of where a small path may be inviting, but instead of bearing left along the river go right to stay on the main Yellow Trail.
  • 4.5 When trail hits parking lot, turn right and circle around the parking lot following the single track.
  • 4.9 Bike right on the Yellow Trail to go through the underpass for Lawrence Ave.
  • 5.6 Bear left at intersection with the Red Trail.
  • 5.9 Bear right to stay on Yellow Trail.
  • 6.1 Bear right to stay on Yellow Trail.
  • 7.1 Cross Higgins Rd.
  • 7.8 Go through underpass for Devon Ave.
  • 8.2 Cross road in parking lot.
  • 9.0 Go through underpass for Touhy Ave.
  • 9.6 Cross gravel road and bear right to go through underpass for Interstate 294.
  • 10.3 Cross Oakton Ave.
  • 10.8 Picnic shelter ahead but bear right to stay on Yellow Trail.
  • 11.1 Turn around at Algonquin Rd.
  • 15.4 Slow down for sharp right at end of incline.
  • 15.9 Turn left at Y.
  • 17.0 After crossing Lawrence Ave, bike east beside the street.
  • 17.2 Bear right onto the single track to circle the field and parking lot.
  • 17.4 Turn left with parking lot on your right.
  • 17.6 Turn right following arrow painted on tree.
  • 20.0 Go through underpass at railroad bridge. (Again, if this tunnel is flooded, there is no option for crossing here.)
  • 20.4 Bear left onto single track.
  • 22.0 Bear left to return to Evans Field.
  • 22.3 End ride at trailhead.
  • 22.3 End ride at trailhead.
  • Trail map

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    26.007 km / 16.16 mi

    Total Distance

    126 m / 413 ft

    Total Ascent

    124 m / 407 ft

    Total Descent

    197 m / 645 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Sightseeing
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Commuter
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Difficulty: Advanced (Black)
    Ride Duration: <1 hr
    Fitness Level: Ultra Fit
    Terrain:
    Shared Bike Path - Paved
    Shared Bike Path - Dirt
    On-Road Bike Lane
    On-Road
    Off-Road - Fire Trail
    Off-Road - Rail Trail
    Off-Road - Single Track
    Off-Road - Downhill
    Mobile Coverage: Limited
    Estimated Distance: 26.0
    Services:
    Water
    Food
    First Aid
    Toilets
    Bike hire facilities
    Carparking
    Bike servicing
    Accessible by bike
    Accessible by car
    Accessible by public transport
    Accessible by shuttle / uber

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