Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Des Plaines River Trail (Lake County)
If you’re looking for a pastoral, easy-to-follow ride through a secluded environment, it doesn’t get much better than the most northern section of the Des Plaines River Trail. In addition to a clean, attractive and well-maintained path, this trail connects bucolic woods and forest preserves that are too numerous to list all the way from Lincolnshire to the Wisconsin border. In short, this is a long, mostly rustic and enjoyable greenway through woods and wetlands, parks and prairies. We pick up the trail at Vernon Hills and ride north.
Well maintained crushed limestone over flat terrain. Only a few spots with loose gravel or stone during the whole ride.
Remarkably little considering the length of the ride.
This ride is not readily accessible by transit.
By car, exit Interstate 94 at Half Day Road (Highway 22) going west. Turn right on Milwaukee Avenue (Highway 21). After half a mile turn right into Half Day Forest Preserve at Woodlands Parkway. Park in the lot for “Shelter B, Trailers and Oversized Vehicles,” the closest lot to the Des Plaines River Trail.
Food and Drink
There are several drinking fountains along the trail and concessions at Independence Grove. Otherwise, the lack of road crossings leads, of course, to a lack of restaurants and convenience stores. That may be a good tradeoff.
Visit any of the many parks and preserves along the way, in particular Independence Grove but also the Old School Forest Preserve. Nearby at 1350 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Vernon Hills there’s Cuneo Museum and Gardens, the former home of electricity magnate Samuel Insull. Built in 1918, its gardens were designed by world-renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen.
The Des Plaines River through Lake County is a glorious ride. The inviting pathway runs continuously for 31 miles with lots of shade and only a few road crossings. It’s less crowded than other area trails. Better yet, it connects several beautiful woods and preserves, most of which have nice bike paths that loop off from this trail, making them simple to find and easy to navigate.
The Des Plaines River Trail in Cook County (the Indian Boundary Division) is not smooth or well maintained. The trail in Lake County, on the other hand, is so cushy that it’s easy to forget you’re on crushed limestone rather than pavement. As a result, it’s tempting to go too fast, but beware: There are, inevitably, a few patches of loose stone, and it only takes one bad patch to wipeout, especially if you’re not paying attention to the road surface or if you take one of this trail’s many curves too fast.
Although you could ride this trail on a road bike, a hybrid would be safer while a mountain bike would slow you down unnecessarily. Other nice features of this trail compared with the Cook County section are exercise stations along the way and signs 100 feet, or so, before each underpass to tell you whether the underpass is open. (They will flood after a lot of rain.) Also, this trail puts you more in touch with the river since it frequently crosses the waterway.
With so many places to rest and explore along the way, make a day of it - not a Half Day! The marvelous conditions along this trail demonstrate the potential for Chicagoland’s rivers to be used as green transportation corridors for anyone who wants to get out of the traffic and connect with nature while running errands, visiting friends or going to work - on foot or by bike.
63.454 km / 39.429 mi
191 m / 628 ft
191 m / 627 ft
219 m / 718 ft