Des Plaines River Trail (Lake County)

Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Des Plaines River Trail (Lake County)

If you’re looking for a pastoral, easy-to-follow ride through a secluded environment, it doesn’t get much better than the most northern section of the Des Plaines River Trail. In addition to a clean, attractive and well-maintained path, this trail connects bucolic woods and forest preserves that are too numerous to list all the way from Lincolnshire to the Wisconsin border. In short, this is a long, mostly rustic and enjoyable greenway through woods and wetlands, parks and prairies. We pick up the trail at Vernon Hills and ride north.

Terrain

Well maintained crushed limestone over flat terrain. Only a few spots with loose gravel or stone during the whole ride.

Traffic

Remarkably little considering the length of the ride.

Access

This ride is not readily accessible by transit.

By car, exit Interstate 94 at Half Day Road (Highway 22) going west. Turn right on Milwaukee Avenue (Highway 21). After half a mile turn right into Half Day Forest Preserve at Woodlands Parkway. Park in the lot for “Shelter B, Trailers and Oversized Vehicles,” the closest lot to the Des Plaines River Trail.

Food and Drink

There are several drinking fountains along the trail and concessions at Independence Grove. Otherwise, the lack of road crossings leads, of course, to a lack of restaurants and convenience stores. That may be a good tradeoff.

Side Trips

Visit any of the many parks and preserves along the way, in particular Independence Grove but also the Old School Forest Preserve. Nearby at 1350 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Vernon Hills there’s Cuneo Museum and Gardens, the former home of electricity magnate Samuel Insull. Built in 1918, its gardens were designed by world-renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen.

 

More Details

The Des Plaines River through Lake County is a glorious ride. The inviting pathway runs continuously for 31 miles with lots of shade and only a few road crossings. It’s less crowded than other area trails. Better yet, it connects several beautiful woods and preserves, most of which have nice bike paths that loop off from this trail, making them simple to find and easy to navigate.

The Des Plaines River Trail in Cook County (the Indian Boundary Division) is not smooth or well maintained. The trail in Lake County, on the other hand, is so cushy that it’s easy to forget you’re on crushed limestone rather than pavement. As a result, it’s tempting to go too fast, but beware: There are, inevitably, a few patches of loose stone, and it only takes one bad patch to wipeout, especially if you’re not paying attention to the road surface or if you take one of this trail’s many curves too fast.

Although you could ride this trail on a road bike, a hybrid would be safer while a mountain bike would slow you down unnecessarily. Other nice features of this trail compared with the Cook County section are exercise stations along the way and signs 100 feet, or so, before each underpass to tell you whether the underpass is open. (They will flood after a lot of rain.) Also, this trail puts you more in touch with the river since it frequently crosses the waterway.

With so many places to rest and explore along the way, make a day of it - not a Half Day! The marvelous conditions along this trail demonstrate the potential for Chicagoland’s rivers to be used as green transportation corridors for anyone who wants to get out of the traffic and connect with nature while running errands, visiting friends or going to work - on foot or by bike. 

 

Ride Log

  • 0.0 Pick up the Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT) at the end of the parking lot. For the first 0.4 miles, it overlaps the Red Trail.
  • 0.4 First of many well-marked trail intersections. Turn left onto the DPRT. The Red Trail continues straight ahead.
  • 2.2 Bear right at Y to stay on DPRT.
  • 4.9 Turn left to stay on DPRT.
  • 6.8 Cross Old Rockland Rd.
  • 7.1 Go through underpass for Highway 176.
  • 7.7 Sharp turn left to stay on DPRT.
  • 8.0 Cross Old Spring Rd.
  • 10.5 Enter Independence Grove and turn left on the paved Overlook Trail Loop around the small lakes.
  • 13.0 Turn right to return to DPRT.
  • 16.7 Bear left at Y.
  • 19.1 Cross Kilbourne Ave.
  • 22.7 Take a sharp right to stay on DPRT.
  • 23.1 Turn around and return at five mile marker.
  • 23.6 Take a sharp left to stay on DPRT.
  • 24.7 Bear left to stay on DPRT.
  • 27.1 Cross Kilbourne Ave.
  • 29.1 Take a sharp right to stay on DPRT.
  • 29.6 Turn right at T.
  • 32.8 Bear right at Y.
  • 33.1 Bear right.
  • 33.6 Turn right to stay on DPRT.
  • 36.1 Cross Old Spring Rd.
  • 37.4 Cross Old Rockland Rd.
  • 43.4 Yellow Trail merges with DPRT from the left.
  • 43.6 Turn right to stay on the DPRT. The Red Trail merges in from the left and the Yellow Trail continues straight ahead.
  • 44.0 End ride back at the parking lot in Half Day Forest Preserve.
  • Trail map

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    63.454 km / 39.429 mi

    Total Distance

    191 m / 628 ft

    Total Ascent

    191 m / 627 ft

    Total Descent

    219 m / 718 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Sightseeing
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Commuter
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Gravel
    Various
    Difficulty: Intermediate (Red)
    Ride Duration: 1/2 day
    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: 44.0
    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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