Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Skokie Valley Bikeway & Middlefork Savanna

Tucked away behind impressive suburban mansions and contained between major highways crisscrossing Lake Forest and its surrounding North Shore communities sits a relatively small yet largely attractive preserve. The lush Middlefork Savanna provides a peaceful place from which to admire nature. At 670 acres, it does not allow for a long bike trail. Therefore, I’ve linked this ride with the Skokie Valley Bikeway, which runs through a completely different setting and offers a complementary style of riding.Together they make up a ride with lots of miles and variety.

Terrain

Flat crushed gravel trail in preserve and smooth, even flatter pavement along bikeway.

Traffic

About 10 road crossings, most over quiet streets - not bad considering the length of the ride. This ride has a nearly traffic-free feel.

Access

Not easily accessible by transit, but you could take Union Pacific’s North Line to Lake Forest and bike two miles west and half a mile north to trailhead.

By car, exit Interstate 94 east or Highway 41 west at Highway 60. Turn north on Waukegan Road. After a mile turn left on Middlefork Drive/Westmoreland Road. At the curved end of that road, turn left into Elawa Farm parking lot, which doubles as Middlefork Savanna parking.

Food and Drink

Oddly enough there’s no water in either nature area, so pack an extra bottle. There is food for sale along the North Shore Bike Path connecting the preserves.

Side Trip

Visit Elawa Farm, owned by the City of Lake Forest, billed as a community

 

More Details

Middlefork Savanna

As its name implies, this ride courses through a tallgrass savanna. More than 25 acres of this forest preserve are considered the nation’s highest quality tallgrass savanna, a globally threatened ecosystem. In fact, the preserve is reportedly the best “black soil” savanna left in Illinois.

The preserve also features woodlands, prairies and diverse wetlands. Don’t linger too long at the well done interpretive signage, however, or the mosquitoes will get you! Mosquitoes are just one of the 1,105 species of plants and animals that were found in the preserve through a BioBlitz in 2008.

During a BioBlitz scientists and volunteers descend on an area en masse to identify and record as many living organisms as possible within a single 24-hour period. The fact that one was held here is a testament to the preserve’s rich biodiversity and great environmental importance. Also, the prestigious magazine Chicago Wilderness has named Middlefork Savanna one of the most important sites for biodiversity in northeastern Illinois.

Skokie Valley Bikeway

Skokie Valley Bikeway is not on many top-10 lists of favorite places to bike. Its virtues: flat, straight and smooth through a relatively quiet and secluded rightof-way. True, the path parallels utility lines and railroad tracks, but there are only five small street crossings over 10 miles! This is possible because someone went to the expense of building bridges and underpasses over and under the major highways that the trail crosses. Furthermore, the trail is in very good condition, with only a few significant bumps or cracks. And marked with yellow stripes down the middle, the path is easy to follow.

Once you know where the cross streets are you can pour on some speed and get in some great training. In addition to the utility lines and railroad tracks there are plenty of trees and bushes along the way so buy some polarized sunglasses and log some miles while enjoying the greenery.

 

Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start at western edge of parking lot and head west on the crushed gravel trail. 500 ft Turn north at information kiosk.
  • 0.6 Cross first of several small bridges.
  • 2.5 Merge onto the North Shore Bike Path and follow path going east.
  • 3.5 Turn right onto Skokie Valley Bikeway following sign for Highland Park.
  • 4.8 Pass through small tunnel under railroad tracks.
  • 5.0 Bear right, staying on main path.
  • 6.5 Cross bridge over highway.
  • 6.9 Cross Wesleigh Rd.
  • 8.0 Cross Elm Rd.
  • 9.4 Cross bridge over busy Half Day Rd. How nice not to have to deal with the traffic.
  • 9.5 Bike straight through T.
  • 10.3 Cross Park Ave West.
  • 11.0 Follow tunnel under major highway. Again, how nice!
  • 11.3 Cross Old Deerfield Rd.
  • 12.5 Cross Clavey Rd.
  • 13.2 Turn left and continue to the end of trail and turn around.
  • 23.7 Bear left on trail going down to Middlefork Savanna.
  • 26.2 Continue straight, passing parking and kiosk on left.
  • 27.2 Turn right onto small loop.
  • 27.5 Turn right coming out of the loop.
  • 27.7 Turn left at T.
  • 28.0 Turn around at end of trail.
  • 28.2 Turn right to rejoin main trail.
  • 29.5 Turn right at information kiosk.
  • 29.6 End ride at parking lot.
  • Trail map

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    46.726 km / 29.034 mi

    Total Distance

    79 m / 258 ft

    Total Ascent

    78 m / 257 ft

    Total Descent

    213 m / 700 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Sightseeing
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Commuter
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Difficulty: Intermediate (Red)
    Ride Duration: 1/2 day
    Fitness Level: Medium
    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: Excellent
    Estimated Distance: 29.6
    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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