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Best Bike Trails And Rides In Illinois

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Cycling in Illinois can give you fantastic scenery, wildlife, urban centers and historical landmarks, all without leaving the state. But even if you want to leave the state, there’s a great trail for that too.

With the many miles of bike trails across the state, it can be difficult to narrow it down. So we’ve made a list with just a few of our top biking spots in the Prairie State.

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11 Best Illinois Biking Trails And Rides

1. Fox River Trail

Family cycling around Fox River - Flickr ImagePin

Courtesy: Joseph Gage on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Fox River Trail offers over 40 miles of bike path between Aurora and Algonquin. This paved trail travels alongside the Fox River and crosses multiple bridges as it winds through parks, nature preserves, and several small towns.

This can be a scenic trail that’s easy to access, running south from Riverfront Park in Algonquin to McCullough Park in Aurora. Parking is available at the parks at both ends of the trail.

There are plenty of places to stop along this route, whether you’re looking for lunch or a coffee, a picnic spot or even an overnight stay.

2. Chicago’s Lakefront Trail

People doing outdoor activities in Lakefront Trail - Flickr ImagePin

Courtesy: Ken Lund on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Lakefront Trail in Chicago stretches for 18 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan. It begins at West Ardmore Avenue near Kathy Osterman Beach and runs to East 71st Street.

At both ends of the trail you can connect to on-street bike routes for journeys across Chicago. Or you can loop back on yourself and follow the trail back to your starting point.

A nice feature of this trail is that it has separated lanes so that you don’t have to share a path with pedestrians, making it a little safer for everyone.

You can get great views of the city skyline and the lake, with lots of sights to see, including Lincoln Park, several harbors and views of the Willis Tower.

3. Big Marsh Bike Park

Teen bikers cycling in Big Marsh Bike Park - Flickr ImagePin

Courtesy: Steven Vance on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Big Marsh Bike Park is a recently designed mountain biking park, with several trails and paths to suit all types of riders, from beginners and kids to professional mountain bikers and BMX riders.

The park is set within a 297 acre natural area, home to various species of birds and other wildlife, next to Lake Calumet in southern Chicago.

You’ll find single-track trails as well as jump lines and pump trails for BMX riders. There are also trails that are designed for younger kids who are just learning to ride off-road. You can also ride on-street to head to the nearby Wolf Lake near the Indiana state line.

4. Bloomingdale Trail (The 606)

Men cycling around Bloomingdale Trail - Flickr ImagePin

Courtesy: Mike Linksvayer on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Bloomingdale Trail, also known as the 606, runs for three miles from east to west along an old railroad line. It begins at Western Trailhead Garden at North Ridgeway Avenue and ends at Walsh Park on North Ashland Avenue.

This is an urban route linking four Chicago neighborhoods. The elevated path features various art installations, exhibitions and community events, making it an interesting place to cycle. It also crosses through several parks and can be linked up with on-street routes across the city when the trail is at ground level in the parks.

5. Tunnel Hill State Trail

The Tunnel Hill State Trail stretches for 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak. In Karnak you can continue another couple of miles along an extended bike trail to the Cache River State Natural Area and Wetlands Center.

The picturesque route follows a former railroad line and takes you through some diverse natural scenery, including bluffs and cliffs, streams, forests and fields. It also passes through various old towns and travels through several old, narrow railroad tunnels.

There are restrooms and a couple of stores in Vienna, around 10 miles north of Karnak. You can access the northern end of the trail in Harrisburg and there is parking for the bike trail just off South Main Street.

6. Route 66 Trail

Couple and other cyclists biking around Illinois Route 66 Bike Trail - Flickr ImagePin

Courtesy: Trailnet on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Illinois Route 66 Bike Trail has been designed to follow the general path of the historic Route 66, linking various communities between Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri. This 340-mile section is the first section of the trail, but you can ride the whole Route 66 route to Santa Monica, California, covering over 2,500 miles in total.

The trail begins in Grant Park in Chicago at the Buckingham Fountain, which can be easily accessed from other bike routes around Chicago, including the Lakefront Trail.

The Route 66 Bike Trail takes you through old towns, historic landmarks as you travel westward along this famous American route.

7. Hennepin Canal Trail

The Hennepin Canal Trail can offer over 150 miles of biking path, giving you plenty of opportunities to cover either long or short distances. The historic Hennepin Canal was built between 1892 and 1907 and features many historic locks. The canal is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its importance.

The trail is part of the old towpath that runs alongside the canal. It can be a quiet place to cycle, with good opportunities to spot wildlife along the way. You’ll also find plenty of picnic spots and campgrounds.

There is parking available at the trailhead at Bureau Junction as well as at the Hennepin Canal State Park near Sheffield. You’ll also find feeder trails for extended bike rides.

8. Vadalabene Trail

The Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail is possibly one of the most picturesque bike routes in the state. The route runs for 20 miles between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton. It is a paved trail that runs alongside the Mississippi River, with its impressive bluffs and scenic vistas.

The route runs parallel with Route 100, which is the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. The trail passes through small communities and towns where you can stop for a rest and take in the stunning views.

Piasa Park in Alton has parking and restrooms and can be a good spot to access the trail.

9. Old Plank Road Trail

The Old Plank Road Trail is another former railroad that now has a new life as a bike path. Stretching 22 miles from Joliet to Chicago Heights, this can be a pleasant bike ride into the suburbs, along a predominantly tree-lined paved path.

The trail also passes through a nature preserve and alongside Butterfield Creek. Trail access can be found just off East Washington Street in Joliet, where you’ll find parking and restrooms.

The route heading east to Chicago Heights can be linked up with the Thorn Creek Trail which can add an extra 16 miles to your trip. Thorn Creek Trail is where the Old Plank Road Trail ends.

The Old Plank Road Trail is also part of the Grand Illinois Trail, which is a 500-mile looped path that runs between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.

10. Rock Island Trail

The Rock Island Trail runs for 26 miles between Alta and Toulon. There are several access points along the route, including a large parking area just off West Alta Lane in Alta.

The trail offers some fantastic scenery as it runs through forests, prairies, wildflowers, and wetlands. The natural surroundings are home to various wildlife species. Some of the side trails can let you get a closer look and can be particularly rewarding if you’re looking for different species of birds.

The path also runs through Kickapoo Creek, where there’s a primitive campground and further opportunities for nature viewing. 

11. Des Plaines River Trail

The Des Plaines River Trail trail runs for just over 34 miles alongside the Des Plaines River. The bike trail begins on Russell Road in Wadsworth, just south of the Illinois/Wisconsin state line.

This can be a relaxing ride through protected land and as many as 12 forest preserves. Wildlife can often be found all along the trail, and many animals utilize the trail as they move between the forests, so it can be worth keeping an eye out for some of the smaller creatures.

You can easily connect to some of the other trails within the various forest preserves.

Bike Rentals And Tours Around Illinois

If you don’t have your own bike, there are a few places you can rent one close to some of these great trails. Bike tours and bike-sharing stations are also available in Chicago.

Illinois Bike Laws

We have put together a quick guide to some of the laws for cycling in Illinois. However, you should always do your research, as this is not legal advice and some local area laws may differ.

  • Helmets are not legally required to be worn by cyclists in Illinois, unless you are a bike messenger. This applies to both adults and children. However, it’s recommended for your own safety that you wear a helmet at all times while biking.
  • Lights are required for riding at night. You need a white headlight and either a rear red light or red reflector.
  • Bikes have the same rights as cars on the road, which means you should follow all the rules of the road that apply to motor vehicles, including stopping at red lights and stop signs.
  • On sidewalks where cycling is permitted, bikes have the same rights as pedestrians but have to yield to pedestrians and alert pedestrians audibly before passing. Not all sidewalks allow cycling, usually in cities, but these are often signposted.
  • DUI laws do not apply to cyclists unless there is a motor on your bike. If you are caught riding a bike while under the influence of alcohol, you may not receive a DUI charge but you may be charged with disorderly conduct.
  • Group riding on roads is allowed with no more than two abreast as long as you are riding at the same speed as traffic. Some local areas may have different rules that limit riding to single file.
  • E-Bikes are legal in Illinois but they require registration. E-bikes are not allowed to be ridden on sidewalks but they can be ridden on designated bike paths and bike lanes. These bikes can also be ridden on the right side of the road, like a traditional bike.

Final Words

Illinois has some great bike trails, with scenic routes that can be linked with other routes for long-distance trips. You can even join an Illinois trail and make your way across the country on an epic journey to the West Coast.

Whether you’re after urban or country routes, there are hundreds of miles of trails across the Prairie State that can offer great rides.

Let us know which one you’re ready to tackle first. And remember to share this to help others enjoy the outdoors.

Glenn Harper
Glenn Harper
When I’m not contributing articles to Bike Push, I can often be found cycling on the rural roads around me. If I can help you benefit from bicycling in some small way, I’ll consider it a win.

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