Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Old Plank Road Trail

Smooth. Flat. Wide. Straight. Paved. Shaded. Easy to follow. This path through a former railroad right-of-way from Park Forest to Joliet has a lot going for it. It even has its own bike shop. Relatively new, this gem is rapidly becoming known and appreciated throughout Chicagoland’s bicycle community. As with most other suburban bike paths in the region, there are several road crossings, but these are easier to handle than elsewhere because most of them provide good visibility as you approach, and most of the roads are quiet.

Terrain

Flat, paved well-maintained surface. There are a number of cracks but all have been filled, a practice other park and trail jurisdictions should emulate.

Traffic

Several cross streets, but most are small with good visibility.

Access

Take the Metra Electric Line to Matteson and bike 1.3 miles east to the official beginning of the trail - and this ride - at Western Avenue.

By car, exit Interstate 57 eastbound or Highway 394 westbound at Highway 30. Turn south on Western Avenue. After half a mile, you’ll pass the trailhead on the right but there’s no parking. Turn right on the next street, North Street. As soon as the road bends north, turn right into the parking lot for Logan Park. If you can’t park here, try the Metra lot in Matteson. 

Food and Drink

Numerous drinking fountains along the way, and several shops and restaurants on or near the trail in Frankfort.

Side Trip

Visit the cities and suburbs through which the trail passes. If you want more biking or a change of pace from the flat straight Old Plank Road Trail, try Hickory Creek Forest Preserve’s hilly, windy trail 12.2 miles into the ride.

 

More Details

Welcome to the Old Plank Road Trail, one of the best pedals in Chicagoland. The path began as a wooden plank road for farmers to transport their grain and produce. They had to pay a toll, but the plank road was a big improvement over the muddy or dusty roads that were common at that time. The Michigan Central Railroad laid tracks through the corridor in the 1850s.

A series of rail lines, including an interurban, Penn Central and Conrail, used the right-of-way until it was abandoned in 1972. The first portion of this biking and walking trail was opened in 1997 thanks, in part, to funds from the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act, which encourages non-motorized forms of transportation.

This convenient and easy-toride trail certainly does replace vehicles with bicycles across the suburbs it serves. One thing that makes this trail so pleasant is that it’s mostly shaded. Although the path is relatively wide, the corridor is narrow so you will feel embraced and covered by nature as you bike through the canopy of trees.

The shade is broken up occasionally by open sections that take you by farms and fields, ponds and lakes, restored prairies and other remnants of the rich and diverse native landscapes, including oak woods. In addition, there are many manmade attractions to break up the 41-mile ride, including several lovely community parks, local libraries, a caboose, shopping malls and numerous connections to other bike trails.

Highlights include the attractive Frankfort Historic District, with Breidert’s Green, restaurants, the Plank Road Cyclery and a picturesque downtown nearby; the Prairie Park, with a play lot, nature walk and interpretive panels; and a connection to the Hickory Creek Bikeway with the Schmuhl School, the last oneroom school house in the area. At the very least, plan to stop at Frankfort, midway out or back, since it has done the most to celebrate Old Plank Road Trail. Bicyclists will feel very welcome there and find several options for shopping, food and drink.

 

Ride Log

  • 0.0 Ride north a few feet from the Logan Park parking lot to the Old Plank Road Trail and turn right to bike to the very beginning of the trail half a mile east. At Western Ave, turn around and set your odometer to zero so that your readings will match those of the mileposts.
  • 1.3 Commuter parking on left extending to
  • 1.5 miles.
  • 1.7 One of several small road crossings. I will only list the major ones.
  • 2.9 Swing left to cross Cicero Ave at the light using the crossing signal. Then pick up the trail on the right.
  • 9.1 Frankfort Prairie Park.
  • 9.4 Frankfort Historic District. Enjoy the village green, restaurants and bike shop.
  • 9.9 Go straight and over the big bridge.
  • 11.4 Cross busy road.
  • 12.2 The path on the right would take you to the Hickory Creek Forest Preserve trails and the one-room Schmuhl School.
  • 16.2 Slow down, curve right and cross the highway. Crossing has poor visibility.
  • 16.7 Cross busy road. 17.8 Cross busy road.
  • 18.4 Cross busy road.
  • 19.5 Cross road, which has very poor visibility.
  • 20.5 Turn around and return.
  • 21.5 Cross road with very poor visibility.
  • 24.8 Slow down and cross highway with poor visibility.
  • 37.8 Swing right to cross Cicero Ave at the light with crossing signal. Then pick up the trail on the left.
  • 40.4 Return to parking lot at Logan Park or continue to the very end of the trail at Western Ave.
  • 41.0 End ride at Western Ave.
  • Trail map

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    33.714 km / 20.949 mi

    Total Distance

    98 m / 323 ft

    Total Ascent

    143 m / 468 ft

    Total Descent

    230 m / 754 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Sightseeing
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Commuter
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Difficulty: Beginner (Green)
    Ride Duration: 1-2 hrs
    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: 34.0
    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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