Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Wolf Lake & Burnham Greenway
Off-the-beaten-path, this bike ride links two remarkable parks via a relatively new and hardly used bike path. Along the way you will visit some of Chicago’s industrialized Southeast Side and ride under the colossal Chicago Skyway. The bike ride is full of surprises such as a Nike missile, a U.S. Army tank, an eerie bike parking area, looming factories and blinds for waterfowl hunting - all within the city limits. Be sure to take this ride with a companion, and not too late in the day.
Flat, smooth pavement (except for two short bumpy connectors).
There are a couple of busy commercial cross streets in the middle of this ride near the Chicago Skyway. Along the greenway, however, there are several quiet park roads and small cross streets.
The CTA’s #30 South Chicago bus stops at the entrance to the William W. Powers State Recreation Area at 12400 S. Avenue O. After entering the park, bike to the lakefront and turn right. Go to the southern end of the park and turn left into the parking lot. (Do not go straight toward park office.)
By car, exit Interstate 90 at U.S. 12 east/U.S. 20 east/U.S. 41 south (Indianapolis Boulevard). Turn right on 106th Street and left on Avenue O.
Food and Drink
There is water in the parks at either end and food at plenty of stores and restaurants in the middle.
You can bike around most of Wolf Lake by taking State Line Road to the right (east) at 1.3 miles into the ride, but you’ll have to double back afterward. This road does not have a bike lane, but traffic is light.
You may have driven over or around Wolf Lake a number of times on your way to or from Indiana without realizing that it’s a natural body of water. Today, the shallow 804-acre lake that was once connected by a channel to Lake Michigan is crisscrossed with roads and dikes. It has been seriously damaged by waste and runoff from Chicago and nearby industries.
Nevertheless the lake and surrounding areas are pleasant and rich in biodiversity. Somehow, natural pockets survived despite all the pollution and dumping, trucks and trains, factories and development. In fact, Wolf Lake anchors one of Chicago’s most important biological areas. In 2002, a bioblitz of the area identified 2,200 plant and animal species living there. During a bioblitz, scientists document as many living organisms as possible within a 24-hour period. Ground zero for the event was the 580-acre William W. Powers State Recreation Area, a haven for picnicking and fishing and the starting point of this ride.
During the Cold War, the area was part of a Nike missile site, a link in an extensive air defense system for Chicago and its critical industries. That’s why there’s a Nike missile mounted at the park’s entrance. The missile site was decommissioned in the 1970s. Burnham Greenway Running through parkland and city neighborhoods, the Burnham Greenway is short, straight and open. Although the blacktop is wide and smooth, occasional cross streets prevent it from being used as a bicycle speedway. There are plans to link this section of the greenway with the longer Burnham Greenway that starts three miles south at State Street in Calumet City and runs five miles to the Illinois-Indiana border at Lansing.
Be prepared to “shift gears” after this ride hits the Chicago Skyway, one of the city’s most massive engineering works. The ride runs under this superhighway and along busy Indianapolis Boulevard for a short but memorable distance before it connects with Calumet Park, a relatively large but well-worn city park. The park’s name bears tribute to the Calumet region, which encompasses numerous South Side communities, a lake and two rivers. The word Calumet comes from chamulet, an old French word for pipe. Early French explorers who traded and lived with local Native Americans used the word in reference to their ceremonial pipes.
18.15 km / 11.278 mi
66 m / 218 ft
66 m / 218 ft
183 m / 602 ft