Palos Forest Preserve Trail

Cycle Chicago, Mountain Bike Ride, Palos Forest Preserve Trail

Palos Forest Preserve in Willow Springs offers the best mountain bike paths in Chicagoland. It also offers miles of wide, flat multi-use paths, so this bike ride combines the two types of paths. Be forewarned that the six-mile mountain biking section of this bike ride is not for beginners. For an introduction to mountain biking see the Arie Crown Trail Ride. Here you will find deep gullies, steep hills, and dirt trails studded with rocks and roots. If that’s not your thing, the ride is structured so you can skip the mountain bike portion.


This ride includes the roughest, toughest paths in Chicago. Most of the ride is over rugged crushed limestone paths, but more than one-third of it is over a hilly, jagged, narrow dirt path.


Very little. There are only two roads to cross twice (out and back). Otherwise, you will hardly see or hear any traffic.


Exit Interstate 55 at La Grange Road going south. Turn right at 95th Avenue and left on Willow Springs Road (also known as Flavin Road and 104th Avenue). After about half a mile, turn right following the sign for the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center at 9901 Willow Springs Road.

Food and Drink

None except for drinking water in the nature center.

Side Trip

The Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center is a must see. Built in 1886, this school held classes until 1948. Today the building is still used to teach people, but not as a school. Exhibits and programs aimed at kids highlight local plants and animals. Many of the displays in this bright, lively center are hands on.


More Details

With an amazing 15,000 acres, Palos Forest Preserve dwarfs all other preserves in Chicagoland. It’s a magnificent natural haven offering myriad miles of uninterrupted biking. Because it’s so big and dense with a significant amount of elevation it’s heaven for fat-tire friends and fiends. The multiuse trails come in a variety of surfaces: dirt, grass, gravel, crushed limestone and pavement. Watch out for grooves and ruts. Hills on the multiuse trails are gradual so your legs won’t burn but your heart rate will increase a bit.

The rugged mountain bike trails are more challenging. You will have to “keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes upon the road.” Be prepared to dismount or even carry your bike. Wear a helmet, gloves and goggles and bring a compass, spare inner tube and cell phone because you could get lost if you veer onto a side path. What makes biking in this preserve tricky is the fact that what appears to be a major trail on the official map often switches from a wide multiuse trail to a narrow mountain bike path. If you want to play it safe, stick to this route for your first visit. Two-thirds of it runs over crushed limestone multiuse trails and one-third over a craggy mountain bike trail.

The latter is a loop so if you’d rather skip the mountain biking just omit the portion of the ride from 1.3 miles to 7.2 miles out. Always yield to bikers coming downhill and respect the trail-use rules, which tend to be pronounced here because some mountain bikers like to blaze new trails. Park officials will ticket bicyclists riding on unapproved paths. One sign here reads, “Closed when wet. If you leave an imprint, turn around. Erosion leads to trail closures.”

That’s no idle threat as dozens of miles of trail in this preserve have been closed. More pleasant is a sign along the wide, shaded Beige Trail that reads, “I’m an old country lane. Now I’ve been officially vacated and closed. (I never liked automobiles anyway!) I invite you to walk, as folks have walked for generations. Please be friendly with my trees, flowers and wild creatures.”


Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start at Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center and walk your bike south along the White Oaks Trail. (Biking is not allowed on this and other trails.) After a few dozen feet, you’ll intersect the Yellow Trail. Turn right, set your odometer at zero and, riders, start your engines.
  • 0.4 Bike past Green Trail on left.
  • 0.6 Bike past Black Trail on left.
  • 0.9 Bike past Black Trail, again, on left.
  • 1.2 Bear left at Y where Yellow Trail splits. (Yellow Trail to the right is rugged.)
  • 1.3 Cross park road and pick up Orange Trail straight ahead.
  • 1.7 Bear left to stay on Orange Trail.
  • 2.5 Take a sharp left to stay on Orange Trail, which at this point switches from multiuse to mountain biking.
  • 2.7 Bear left to stay on Orange Trail.
  • 3.0 Bear right to stay on Orange Trail, with Brown Trail cutting off to the left.
  • 3.2 After descending a short paved section, make a sharp left to follow Orange Trail into the forest. Do not continue straight ahead on Black Trail.
  • 5.2 Bear right to stay on Orange Trail. Do not take Purple Trail straight ahead.
  • 6.1 Bear right to stay on Orange Trail, with Red Trail cutting off to the left.
  • 7.2 Turn right back onto Yellow Trail.
  • 7.3 Continue straight ahead on the wide, multiuse Yellow Trail, not the single-track Yellow Trail on left.
  • 8.4 You’re back at the White Oaks Trail, which leads to the nature center on the left.
  • 8.5 Cross Willow Springs Rd (also known as Flavin Rd and 104th Ave) and bear left onto the single-track dirt trail, which soon turns to gravel and then to crushed limestone.
  • 9.4 Cross Beige Trail and bear left to stay on Yellow Trail.
  • 10.2 Bear left to stay on Yellow Trail, with Brown Trail on right.
  • 11.1 Cross 95th St.
  • 11.6 Turn left on Yellow Trail where it intersects with Orange and Red trails.
  • 12.0 Turn left on Beige Trail. 12.7 Cross 95th St again.
  • 13.4 Turn right onto Yellow Trail.
  • 14.2 Cross Willow Springs Rd.
  • 14.3 End ride at intersection of Yellow and White Oaks trails.
  • Trail map

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    21.761 km / 13.522 mi

    Total Distance

    293 m / 962 ft

    Total Ascent

    291 m / 954 ft

    Total Descent

    225 m / 739 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Difficulty: Intermediate (Red)
    Ride Duration: 1-2 hrs
    Fitness Level: High
    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: Limited
    Estimated Distance: 22.5
    First Aid
    Bike hire
    Bike servicing
    Accessible by bike
    Accessible by car
    Accessible by public transport
    Accessible by shuttle / uber

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