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.
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.
There are a lot of cross streets along this ride. Most are quiet but be prepared for several busy streets, too.
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.
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.
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.
56.08 km / 34.846 mi
117 m / 383 ft
117 m / 385 ft
215 m / 707 ft