Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Joliet Ironworks Trail & Centennial Trail
This isn’t the region’s prettiest ride but it’s worthwhile, especially for history buffs. Starting in Joliet, you’ll bike ride through the ironworks, a ghost town of factories and foundries; proceed along the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal to beautifully restored Lockport; and turn around at Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville. Two museums, handsome buildings and abandoned locks along nationally recognized waterways add up to a lot of attractions for just 17 miles of biking. Bring a lock so you can enjoy the sites and museums on this ride back in time.
Flat, crushed limestone paths with occasional paved sections. Parts of the trail are well maintained but there are a few spots with very loose gravel. Fat tires highly recommended.
Only a few small road crossings; one busy highway at turnaround point.
Take the Metra Rock Island District Line to Joliet. Bike north about two miles on Scott Street, the first street as you exit the station. The trailhead is well marked at Scott and Columbia streets. The Pace #505 bus stops at Chicago and Ruby, just four blocks west of the trailhead.
By car, exit Interstate 55 at Highway 53 and drive south about 10 miles. In Joliet, turn left on Ruby, right on Chicago, left on Irving and right on Scott streets.
Food and Drink
Drinking water is available at both ends of the ride and in the middle at Lockport, where you’ll also find a wealth of restaurants, in particular the outdoor café and elegant, renowned Public Landing Restaurant in the historic Gaylord Building.
Visit Pilcher Park Nature Center two miles west of the trailhead. It includes some great hiking trails. Also, visit the Joliet Area Historical Museum downtown.
In the 19th century, Joliet was known as the City of Steel and Stone. Plenty of both are still visible along this gritty ride through former ironworks and quarries as well as functioning power plants and massive transportation corridors. The ride offers a lot of natural beauty but most of it looks and feels industrial, whether past or present. The first mile takes you through the remnants of Joliet’s legendary ironworks, which was built in the 1870s and employed thousands until it was abandoned in the 1930s.
Enjoy a fascinating self-guided one-mile walking tour with interpretive panels explaining the complex process of making and molding iron objects. And, yes, in the background to the east is the Joliet Correctional Center, site of Jake Blue’s release in The Blues Brothers. The prison was opened in 1858 and closed in 2002. You can’t get in (or out!) but you can shoot a photo of Joliet Jake’s Gate. As the ride continues north along the abandoned I&M Canal there are several locks, including Lock No. 1 at Lockport, once the canal’s headquarters. Incorporated in 1853, the picturesque town built its wealth from canal traffic and water-powered mills.
Today, history and tourism dominate, with the Illinois State Museum Lockport Gallery and the attractive Gaylord Building as centerpieces. The latter houses exhibits on canal history and a lovely restaurant that would make a perfect lunch stop. After four more miles north and a mile west, there’s the Isle a la Cache Museum, which celebrates the region’s rich, colorful French heritage. Learn about a voyageur’s day on the river, examine a birch bark canoe, find out how the fur trade helped the French dominate the region, and see how metal, beads and cloth changed the Native American’s lifestyle.
The ride was cut short at the museum because the Army Corps of Engineers had closed the trail north of 135th Street to install an electric barrier on the Sanitary & Ship Canal to block the dreaded Asian carp. How curious that the once controversial reversal of the Chicago River and construction of the S&S Canal to carry wastewater away from Chicagoland are now, once again, at the center of a national controversy, this time about how to handle an invasive species.
27.266 km / 16.943 mi
91 m / 298 ft
90 m / 297 ft
187 m / 612 ft