Erie Lackawanna Trail & Little Calumet Trail

Cycle Chicago, Road Ride, Erie Lackawanna Trail & Little Calumet Trail

This rail-to-trail conversion is different than others in the region. Rather than a straight and narrow strip covered by an arc of trees, this former railroad right-of-way is wide and open. The trail designers made the most of this feature by creating a curvy, winding path. The broad corridor also allowed for attractive landscaping and decorating such as the striking, inlaid tile markers and overhead signs celebrating the trail’s namesake, the Erie Lackawanna Railway.

Terrain

The southern section of this trail is smooth pavement. The eastern section is crushed limestone, with some rocky parts. And the northern section is bumpy pavement due, in part, to many cracks that run perpendicular to the path.

Traffic

There are a lot of cross streets along this ride. Most are quiet but be prepared for several busy streets, too.

Access

This ride is not accessible by transit. By car, exit Interstate 80/94 at Kennedy Avenue going south. After 1.25 miles, turn right on Highway Avenue, which quickly merges into Ridge Road. Three-quarters of a mile after turning right, turn right again into Wicker Memorial Park opposite Prairie Avenue. Park at the far end of the lot, which will leave you relatively close to the starting point at the “Pavilion” building.

Food and Drink

Ample food and drink on the southern section of the ride but very little on the other sections, which tend to be residential or industrial.

Side Trip

Visit the excellent Indiana tourist information center on Kennedy Road just south of Interstate 80/94. Staff there will offer many suggestions, from dunes to amusement parks and picking fruit to visiting Amish Country.

 

More Details

The highlight of this ride is the southern section from Highland, Ind., to Crown Point, Ind. The southern section of this trail is smooth pavement. The eastern section is crushed limestone, with some rocky parts. And the northern section is bumpy pavement due, in part, to many cracks that run perpendicular to the path. The ride is comprised of three distinct sections in this order: Highland south to Crown Point; the Little Calumet Levee Trail, running east-west from Highland; and Highland north to Hammond, Ind. It’s a demanding ride, so take it in pieces if you prefer.

The route is structured so you can bike any combination of these sections, using the large and lovely Wicker Memorial Park in Highland as your base. Begin with the easiest and prettiest section of the Erie Lackawanna Trail (ELT) from Highland to Crown Point. The first half of this section to Griffith, Ind., is residential and industrial while the remainder is tranquil and green. The entire section is wide, which allows for impressive and landscaping artistic touches. The many trees, benches and flower gardens along the way dedicated in memory of loved ones are touching. Presumably, many of those honored were cyclists.

Before returning to Wicker Park, this ride offers the option of going east on the Little Calumet Levee Trail. This section of the ride is industrial, bumpy and occasionally hard to follow. At the same time, it’s scenic and unusual for the area. For example, you’ll ride atop levees built to control the flood waters of the Little Calumet River (which apparently isn’t so little, after all!). Portions of this section may make you feel as if you were biking atop dykes in the Netherlands, with small towns on one side below the level of the water on the other side.

Alas, the price you’ll pay for biking here - off the beaten path - will be the need to pay close attention to the Ride Log. Once back on the ELT, zigzag back to Wicker Park and head north. This final section is a more traditional, narrow rail-to-trail conversion and alternates between residential and industrial. As you approach downtown Hammond the trail takes on an urban feel but fellow cyclists assure me that the trail is safe and well traveled. The trail is improving as parts of the route are being constructed, connected and modified.

Taken together, the three sections will give you a good feel for the area, introduce you to some often overlooked biking opportunities close to Chicago and, perhaps, interest you in exploring other bike trails southeast of Chicago. The Erie Lackawanna Railway, itself, was incorporated in 1960 and went bankrupt in 1976, but it and its predecessors had a long, colorful history. 

 

Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start at the park’s “Pavilion” building and bike north on the yellow-striped path along a chain link fence that runs next to the golf course.
  • 1.1 Turn left onto a dirt path under a bridge that seems to go through a construction site. Pick up the paved trail going east.
  • 1.4 Riding in the street, cross tracks and a street. Turn right on the trail that passes to the left of Grand Park. Zigzag through a line of utility towers.
  • 1.7 Go straight through the trail intersection.
  • 2.1 Cross road and pick up trail at other end of parking lot.
  • 2.2 Cross Kennedy Rd.
  • 2.7 Cross Lincoln St.
  • 2.8 Cross small bridge with metal grill surface.
  • 4.4 Bike either right or left around garden.
  • 5.1 Cross busy Main St.
  • 5.2 Bike through Griffith Bike Trail parking lot and cross multiple railroad tracks.
  • 5.4 Bike lane ends. Cross Broad St to the left and pick up trail going east on the side street.
  • 5.5 At end of the side street, turn right to pick up the paved bike trail.
  • 6.3 Cross busy Colfax St.
  • 7.9 Cross 73rd Ave then Burr St.
  • 11.0 Turn around at end of trail.
  • 14.0 Cross Burr St then 73rd Ave.
  • 16.5 Turn left on side street.
  • 16.6 Turn right on Broad St.
  • 16.7 Bike lane ends. Turn left, crossing Broad St into the Griffith Bike Trail parking lot. Pick up trail at the north end of lot.
  • 20.3 Turn right on blacktop trail going east under electric power lines.
  • 20.4 Bear left to stay on the bike trail rather than ending up in the street.
  • 20.5 Cross busy Kennedy Ave.
  • 21.5 Cross quiet street and enter an abandoned parking lot. At the end of the lot, turn left and walk your bike around the right side of the fenced-in enclosure. Take the footpath north as it leads up to the bike trail.
  • 21.7 Pick up the crushed limestone bike trail on top of the levee.
  • 21.9 Cross small road to stay on crushed limestone trail.
  • 23.3 Turn right on service road and pick up trail ahead and to the left. Trail will be marked with a sign saying “No motor vehicles”.
  • 23.5 Turn right and cross bridge following sign for “Nature Trail”.
  • 23.6 Walk your bike down the dirt embankment and cross Kennedy Ave going west. A tourist center will be on your right.
  • 23.7 Pick up the westbound trail at the southwest corner of 179th St and Kennedy Ave. It’s tricky. Again, the bike path will be indicated by a sign that says “No motor vehicles”.
  • 23.8 Turn left and cross bridge. Follow path down the incline, biking south.
  • 24.3 Before passing Grand Park, turn right on Grand Blvd and cross tracks.
  • 24.6 Bike under the bridge.
  • 24.7 Back at Wicker Park, turn right onto what will now seem like a bike super highway after the rough paths you have just negotiated. The ride is much easier to follow from here on.
  • 25.0 Turn right (north) onto the blacktop trail.
  • 25.2 Cross the bridge and turn left, following sign for “Nature Trail”.
  • 25.7 Slow down and walk your bike down a gravelsurfaced connector to the paved bike path that is just on the right.
  • 26.4 Take a sharp left and bike through tunnel.
  • 27.7 Cross 169th St.
  • 28.1 Cross Southeastern Ave, 167th St and Columbia Ave. Pick up the path on the left.
  • 28.9 Cross Conkey St and Calumet Ave in order to pick up the trail kitty corner.
  • 30.4 Turn around at Dan Rabin Transit Plaza on Sibley St in downtown Hammond.
  • 31.3 Note the old Erie Lackawanna steam locomotive, railroad cars and railroad tower on the left, in case you didn’t notice them on the way out.
  • 31.8 Cross Conkey St and Calumet Ave in order to pick up the trail kitty-corner.
  • 34.3 Slow down for the tunnel and make a sharp right after passing through the tunnel.
  • 34.9 Walk your bike up the gravel connector to the bike path and follow the trail around to the left.
  • 35.5 Cross the bridge and turn right following signs for “Nature Trail”.
  • 35.6 Slow down and turn right onto Parkway Dr.
  • 36.3 End ride back at the “Pavilion” in Wicker Park.
  • Trail map

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    56.08 km / 34.846 mi

    Total Distance

    117 m / 383 ft

    Total Ascent

    117 m / 385 ft

    Total Descent

    215 m / 707 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Sightseeing
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Commuter
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Gravel
    Various
    Difficulty: Intermediate (Red)
    Ride Duration: 2-4 hrs
    Fitness Level: High
    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: 57.0
    Services:
    Water
    Food
    First Aid
    Toilets
    Bike hire
    Carparking
    Bike servicing
    Accessible by bike
    Accessible by car
    Accessible by public transport
    Accessible by shuttle / uber

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