Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, North Branch Trail to Botanic Garden

This is one of the region’s most popular bike rides. Both the journey and destination pay off! Even if you don’t make it all the way to the Botanic Garden, you’ll enjoy trying given all the forests and meadows, sights and sounds, vistas and waterways along this long corridor as it runs from Chicago to Glencoe, passing through Edgebrook, Morton Grove, Northfield and Winnetka. Incredibly, this trail has a dense, remote feel despite its proximity to the city and the fact that it passes through heavily developed suburbs.

Terrain

Flat, paved path with a short stretch on a paved service road.

Traffic

Occasional cross traffic, most of which is slow and quiet.

Access

Take the CTA Yellow Line to Dempster and bike west about a mile. Shortly after Cale Avenue/Lake Street, turn right into Linne Woods and bike to the map at the western edge of the parking lot. Or, the Pace #250 Dempster bus could drop you off at Linne Woods. Metra also serves the area. Take the Milwaukee District North Line to Morton Grove and bike two blocks north to the start.

By car, exit Interstate 94 at Dempster Street going west. After a little less than one mile, turn north into Linne Woods and find map at western edge of the lot.

Food and Drink

Plenty of water in the parks and several eateries and convenience stores along the way.

Side Trip

Chicago Botanic Garden. You won’t regret it!

 

More Details

If such a long ride seems intimidating, note the many potential starting points. I chose one in the middle because it offers the opportunity to cut the ride short on the way back. It also offers a midway point to picnic, reapply sunscreen, refill your water bottle with something other than water and retrieve an extra roll of film from your car. (Just kidding about that last one.)

A highlight of the ride is Skokie Lagoons, a sevenmile series of interconnected lakes that feed the North Branch of the Chicago River. Originally a marsh, the 190-acre area was transformed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s for flood control and recreation. More than 2,000 workers lived at Camp Skokie Valley and excavated seven million cubic yards of earth, making this the nation’s largest CCC project. A 4.4-mile trail encircles the lakes, which offer great fishing and boating, with canoes and kayaks available for rent right beside the trail 8.2 miles into the ride. The other highlight is the glorious 385-acre Botanic Garden.

Admission is free, but arriving by bike via the bike trail/service road will save you at least $20 in parking. Don’t be put off by the notion of a service road. In fact, the road is the biking entrance and affords stunning views of the Waterfall and Japanese Gardens looking west. Plan extra time to visit the garden’s grounds and exhibits or to lunch at the Garden Café. A tram tour might be just the ticket to rest your legs for the ride back to Linne Woods. The trail passes through lovely heavily wooded forests that hide the nearby roads and buildings. A couple of highway overpasses provide the only elevation. In the fall, the thick foliage is colorful but results in wet leaves on the pavement that can make the ride slippery.

Volunteers are restoring Miami and Bunker Hill woods by clearing buckthorn, garlic mustard and other invasive species and planting native grasses. To get involved, visit www. northbranchrestoration.org. If you’re looking for mountain bike trails and are willing to risk getting lost and don’t mind backtracking for washouts and floods, try any of the several unpaved paths that crisscross the trail.

 

Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start at map along western edge of parking lot, biking north.
  • 1.8 Cross Golf Rd.
  • 4.9 Stay on Red Trail straight ahead.
  • 5.0 Cross Happ Rd and follow trail to left alongside road.
  • 5.4 Slow down for underpass, which is dark, even when lights are working.
  • 8.0 Bike straight through intersection with Black Trail, taking the loop counterclockwise.
  • 8.2 Chicago River Canoe & Kayak rentals on right.
  • 10.3 Bear left to stay on Black Trail.
  • 10.4 Turn right and cross Dundee Rd at light. Go around the gate for cars and enter Botanic Garden via Service Road, which doubles as an official bike entrance.
  • 11.2 Start of gorgeous scenic lookouts on left.
  • 11.4 Go around gate and turn left on Service Road following the sign for Bike Parking, even though signs say “Do Not Enter; Service Vehicles Only.”
  • 11.6 Large bike parking area in front of Visitor Center. Lock your bike and explore gardens, or turn around and return via service road.
  • 11.8 Turn right on Service Road and go around gate. Cross Dundee Rd and turn right onto Black Trail.
  • 15.1 Turn right, back onto Red Trail.
  • 16.7 Cross Willow Rd.
  • 17.6 Slow down for dark underpass.
  • 18.1 Slow down for sharp right turn by salt dome. Pick up Red Trail across street to the right.
  • 18.2 Turn right on Purple Trail, a short spur.
  • 18.7 Turn around at Winnetka Rd.
  • 19.2 Turn right, back onto Red Trail.
  • 21.0 Cross Glenview Rd.
  • 22.2 Cross road and pick up trail/sidewalk.
  • 22.4 Turn right into woods, continuing on Red Trail.
  • 24.1 Back at starting point, continue south and turn right on Dempster St along sidewalk.
  • 24.3 Cross Dempster St and turn right into woods, following Red Trail.
  • 26.9 Slow down for sharp left onto sidewalk. Cross river and then turn right to cross Touhy Ave.
  • 27.4 Sharp right to stay on Red Trail.
  • 29.4 Turn around at end of trail at Devon Ave.
  • 30.7 Turn left to check out Green Trail, a short spur.
  • 31.1 Turn around and return.
  • 31.5 Turn left, back onto Red Trail.
  • 32.2 Sharp left.
  • 32.7 Cross Touhy, turn left on sidewalk and right, back onto Red Trail.
  • 35.6 End ride.
  • Trail map

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    51.987 km / 32.303 mi

    Total Distance

    123 m / 405 ft

    Total Ascent

    127 m / 416 ft

    Total Descent

    196 m / 643 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Sightseeing
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Commuter
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Difficulty: Intermediate (Red)
    Ride Duration: Full 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: 56.0
    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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