Cycle Chicago, Mountain Bike Ride, Palos Forest Preserve Trail
Palos Forest Preserve in Willow Springs offers the best mountain bike paths in Chicagoland. It also offers miles of wide, flat multi-use paths, so this bike ride combines the two types of paths. Be forewarned that the six-mile mountain biking section of this bike ride is not for beginners. For an introduction to mountain biking see the Arie Crown Trail Ride. Here you will find deep gullies, steep hills, and dirt trails studded with rocks and roots. If that’s not your thing, the ride is structured so you can skip the mountain bike portion.
This ride includes the roughest, toughest paths in Chicago. Most of the ride is over rugged crushed limestone paths, but more than one-third of it is over a hilly, jagged, narrow dirt path.
Very little. There are only two roads to cross twice (out and back). Otherwise, you will hardly see or hear any traffic.
Exit Interstate 55 at La Grange Road going south. Turn right at 95th Avenue and left on Willow Springs Road (also known as Flavin Road and 104th Avenue). After about half a mile, turn right following the sign for the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center at 9901 Willow Springs Road.
Food and Drink
None except for drinking water in the nature center.
The Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center is a must see. Built in 1886, this school held classes until 1948. Today the building is still used to teach people, but not as a school. Exhibits and programs aimed at kids highlight local plants and animals. Many of the displays in this bright, lively center are hands on.
With an amazing 15,000 acres, Palos Forest Preserve dwarfs all other preserves in Chicagoland. It’s a magnificent natural haven offering myriad miles of uninterrupted biking. Because it’s so big and dense with a significant amount of elevation it’s heaven for fat-tire friends and fiends. The multiuse trails come in a variety of surfaces: dirt, grass, gravel, crushed limestone and pavement. Watch out for grooves and ruts. Hills on the multiuse trails are gradual so your legs won’t burn but your heart rate will increase a bit.
The rugged mountain bike trails are more challenging. You will have to “keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes upon the road.” Be prepared to dismount or even carry your bike. Wear a helmet, gloves and goggles and bring a compass, spare inner tube and cell phone because you could get lost if you veer onto a side path. What makes biking in this preserve tricky is the fact that what appears to be a major trail on the official map often switches from a wide multiuse trail to a narrow mountain bike path. If you want to play it safe, stick to this route for your first visit. Two-thirds of it runs over crushed limestone multiuse trails and one-third over a craggy mountain bike trail.
The latter is a loop so if you’d rather skip the mountain biking just omit the portion of the ride from 1.3 miles to 7.2 miles out. Always yield to bikers coming downhill and respect the trail-use rules, which tend to be pronounced here because some mountain bikers like to blaze new trails. Park officials will ticket bicyclists riding on unapproved paths. One sign here reads, “Closed when wet. If you leave an imprint, turn around. Erosion leads to trail closures.”
That’s no idle threat as dozens of miles of trail in this preserve have been closed. More pleasant is a sign along the wide, shaded Beige Trail that reads, “I’m an old country lane. Now I’ve been officially vacated and closed. (I never liked automobiles anyway!) I invite you to walk, as folks have walked for generations. Please be friendly with my trees, flowers and wild creatures.”
21.761 km / 13.522 mi
293 m / 962 ft
291 m / 954 ft
225 m / 739 ft