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.
Flat, paved path with a short stretch on a paved service road.
Occasional cross traffic, most of which is slow and quiet.
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.
Chicago Botanic Garden. You won’t regret it!
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.
51.987 km / 32.303 mi
123 m / 405 ft
127 m / 416 ft
196 m / 643 ft