Joliet Ironworks Trail & Centennial Trail

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.

Terrain

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.

Traffic

Only a few small road crossings; one busy highway at turnaround point.

Access

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.

Side Trips

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.

 

More Details

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.

 

Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start at entrance to Joliet Ironworks Trail and bike past restrooms and maps.
  • 0.3 Cross park road. Note massive ironworks and abandoned infrastructure on both sides of trail. 0.7 Trail switches to crushed limestone.
  • 1.3 Bear right over bridge, from which you can see a former I&M Canal lock. This portion of the trail is rocky and slippery.
  • 3.5 Turn right on sidewalk and cross road to the left before reaching tracks. Pick up paved trail and note Lock No. 1 on left.
  • 3.9 Shelter built by Civilian Conservation Corps across canal.
  • 4.0 Bear left to stay along canal.
  • 4.1 Pass Lincoln statue and bike behind Gaylord Building and factories, riding through parking lot.
  • 4.2 Pick up crushed limestone trail on left.
  • 4.6 You may feel lost, but just bike around parking lot to your left.
  • 4.7 Cross road and pick up the Centennial Trail. This is not a pretty section of the trail, passing between chain link fences, but it opens up soon. The path here is in great shape and uninterrupted for next three miles.
  • 5.2 Cross bridge over canal and continue north.
  • 7.7 Turn right and bike under bridge, then around it on the left.
  • 7.9 Make a big U-turn to the right to cross the Sanitary & Ship Canal.
  • 8.2 After crossing bridge, turn left to cross 135th St.
  • 8.3 On the south side of 135th St turn right (west) along sidewalk, which is also a bike path.
  • 8.6 Visit Isle a la Cache Museum.
  • 8.7 Return east along 135th St.
  • 9.1 Cross 135th St in crosswalk for bikes.
  • 9.2 Turn right onto bike path on north side of bridge.
  • 9.4 Make a big U-turn to the left to go back under the bridge.
  • 9.6 Turn left to pick up the crushed limestone Centennial Trail.
  • 12.2 Cross bridge over I&M Canal.
  • 12.6 Cross road and follow path as it turns left around parking lot.
  • 12.8 Turn right before tracks.
  • 13.0 Bike along back of factories and warehouses.
  • 13.2 Pick up brick path next to Gaylord Building.
  • 13.8 Turn right along sidewalk.
  • 13.9 Cross street to the left and pick up trail between wooden fence and canal. The next three miles have rocky, slippery stretches.
  • 17.4 End ride.
  • Trail map

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    27.266 km / 16.943 mi

    Total Distance

    91 m / 298 ft

    Total Ascent

    90 m / 297 ft

    Total Descent

    187 m / 612 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Sightseeing
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Commuter
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Gravel
    Various
    Difficulty: Intermediate (Red)
    Ride Duration: 1-2 hrs
    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: 27.6
    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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