Northwestern University Trail

Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Northwestern University Trail

Although this pleasant ride in Evanston is short, a big portion of the path is on a loop so you can lengthen the ride as much as you like. The loop circles a serene section of Northwestern University overlooking Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. Although the loop is on campus, you’re likely to see many other people biking, walking and unwinding here besides students. They’re all drawn by the safety and tranquility of this lakeside haven, a great place to kick back.


The path is primarily paved but some of it is a little bumpy over crushed gravel.


Take the CTA’s Purple Line or Metra’s Union Pacific North Line to Main Street, bike one block north to Lee Street and six short blocks east to Elliot Park.

By car, take Sheridan Road to Evanston, turn east on Lee Street and drive one block to Elliot Park.

Food and Drink

Water is available throughout the park in the first half of the ride.

Side Trip

Check out the Charles G. Dawes House at 225 Greenwood St. in Evanston. Dawes was the U.S. Vice President under Calvin Coolidge and winner of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize for helping Europe recover from World War I. His mansion is quite impressive.


More Details

Tucked away on the campus of one of Chicago’s great universities, this ride is easy and relaxing. Northwestern University has certainly made the most of this priceless piece of lakefront property. And preserving the tradition of keeping the lakefront open to the public, this private university generously shares this idyllic setting and multiuse trail with others.

It allows the site to be used for occasional charitable walks and community events as well as by casual users - like you. OK, the legalistic wording on the signs posted at entrances to the trail is not very welcoming, but the signs make it clear that the trail is open to more than just university students and employees. Although this trail is off the beaten path, check it out. Bring a picnic, a book and/or a game because you’ll want to linger here. The view of the Chicago skyline is spectacular, and the wide-open access to the lake is breathtaking.

Here you can sit looking out on the lake without the roar of traffic behind you and without houses and tall buildings detracting from the majesty of the mighty Lake Michigan. While you’re in the neighborhood, tour the campus, which was founded in 1851 and has expanded a lot over the years, partly through landfill. The university currently enrolls about 17,000 students.

You could also run into town and visit Evanston, a dynamic, eclectic suburb full of bookstores, cafes, restaurants and other attractions, including bike shops. The CTA’s Purple Line “L” through Evanston takes its name from Northwestern’s school colors. The ride begins and ends in Elliot Park, a local park in Evanston that reflects the local residents’ diversity and love of nature. If you’re feeling extra energetic, the path through the park is equipped with several exercise stations.

And in case you want to swim or sunbathe, the beach in the park maintains a guarded bicycle corral during the summer. Bike parking is free but use of the beach costs $8 a day, unless you live in Evanston and have a beach token.


Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start at Lee St and Lake Shore Blvd. Bike north on the crushed gravel path.
  • 0.1 Bear right on paved path.
  • 0.4 Bear left to cross Dempster St, with boathouse on right.
  • 0.6 Follow path to left around toilets.
  • 0.7 Bear left to stay on main paved path.
  • 0.9 Bear left, again, to stay on main paved path.
  • 1.0 Bear left, staying on new pavement.
  • 1.1 Cross quiet road.
  • 1.2 Bear right onto Northwestern University’s campus. Stay right with the parking lot on left and lake on right.
  • 1.3 Turn left, with boathouse on right.
  • 1.5 Bear left at Y. As you loop around the pond, stay on path closest to the water.
  • 2.0 Bear left at Y heading toward lake. Turn left going north along lakefront.
  • 2.2 Turn around.
  • 2.3 Bear left through three turnoffs to stay along lakefront.
  • 2.6 Bike straight to complete the loop and enjoy the great view of Chicago skyline.
  • 2.7 Turn left and cross causeway. Turn left, again, immediately after causeway.
  • 2.9 Turn right.
  • 3.0 Bear left to exit campus and then turn left back onto the park path.
  • 3.1 Bear right onto the pavement.
  • 3.8 Cross Dempster St.
  • 4.1 Pick up the crushed gravel path.
  • 4.2 End ride.
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    6.604 km / 4.104 mi

    Total Distance

    72 m / 237 ft

    Total Ascent

    72 m / 237 ft

    Total Descent

    184 m / 603 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Difficulty: Easy (Blue)
    Ride Duration: <1 hr
    Fitness Level: Low
    Shared Bike Path - Paved
    Shared Bike Path - Dirt
    On-Road Bike Lane
    Off-Road - Fire Trail
    Off-Road - Rail Trail
    Off-Road - Single Track
    Off-Road - Downhill
    Mobile Coverage: Excellent
    Estimated Distance: 6.0
    First Aid
    Bike hire
    Bike servicing
    Accessible by bike
    Accessible by car
    Accessible by public transport
    Accessible by shuttle / uber
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