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10 bike trails for when the Lakefront Trail doesn’t cut it

Bike through forests and ride along rivers

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Lakefront Trail, we love you, but sometimes we need a break. Don’t get us wrong—between the 19-mile Lake Michigan-adjacent path, the 606, and plenty of low-stress routes in city limits, Chicago is an excellent city to be a cyclist.

But there’s no harm in branching out, right? Whether you’re sick of the crowds, crave some shade, want to pedal on a dirt path, or just want to shake things up a bit, the surrounding area has plenty of great bike trails in nearby forest preserves.

When you’re sick of the heavily trafficked city paths, try out one of our 10 favorite bike trails near the city. Oh, and did we mention they’re all accessible by Metra or CTA?

This list is arranged geographically from north to south.

Green Bay Trail

698 Poplar Drive, Wilmette, Illinois

How to get there: Metra (UP-N) to Wilmette; Purple Line to Linden
Length: 8.9 miles

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Bikes are only the latest in a long line of transportation modes that have used what is now called the Green Bay Trail. The path was created in the 1830s as a stagecoach route between Chicago and Green Bay, before being converted into train track for the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad. Today, the path runs parallel to Metra’s Union Pacific North line, from Wilmette, through Kenilworth, Winnetka, and Highland Park, passing a wealth of shops and restaurants in each town center.

The Green Bay Trail begins at the intersection of Poplar Drive and Wilmette Avenue in Wilmette, and ends at St. Johns Ave and Sheridan Road in Highland Park. The majority of the path is paved, though there is a short portion in Glencoe that surfaced with crushed limestone. The trail is a great way to get to Ravinia, the country’s oldest outdoor music festival. There’s also a handy connecting trail to the Chicago Botanic Garden that runs along Lake-Cook Road.

Deer Grove Forest Preserve Trails

1599 Pepper Tree Drive, Palatine, Illinois

How to get there: Metra (UP-NW) to Palatine
Length: 13.6 miles

Ride through woods, wetlands and prairie in this 1,800-acre green space, which was the first forest preserve in Cook County founded in 1916. Deer Grove contains bike loops both paved, 4 miles total, and unpaved, 9.6 miles total, allowing cyclists to take in bird and amphibian sightings in the vernal ponds and wetlands which are only around in the springtime. The forest preserve is about an 11-minute bike ride from the Palatine Metra station, here’s the full trail map.

North Branch Trail System

5538 W. Devon Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

How to get there: Metra (MD-N) to Edgebrook
Length: 33.5 miles

Great day for a nature walk! #northbranch #northbranchtrail #chicago #lokithegoberian

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Originally a small dirt horseback riding path, this sprawling system of trails is now used by cyclists, hikers, cross-country skiers and equestrians alike. The paved bike trail begins in Northwest Chicago, winding through the Caldwell Woods in Edgebrook, then continues up through Niles, Skokie, Golf and Northfield until it connects with the Skokie Lagoons in Winnetka and Glencoe. There, the trail becomes a scenic, 4.4-mile loop around the lagoons. It’s dotted by lots of bathrooms, picnic areas, and parking lots too—here’s the complete trail map.

Busse Woods Trails

E. Higgins Road, Elk Grove Village, Illinois

How to get there: Blue Line to Rosemont, connect to #600 or #606 Bus
Length: 12.6 miles

Situated within the 3,700-acre Ned Brown Forest Preserve, this paved bike path circles the Busse Reservoir. The idyllic swath of nature borders Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Elk Grove Village, making it a favorite among northwest suburbanites. You can also rent row boats, kayaks, canoes, and motor boats as well as fishing equipment at Busse Reservoir. Just watch out for the resident herd of elk on the east side of the preserve. Find the full trail map right here.

North Shore Channel Trail

4885 N. Francisco Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

How to get there: Brown Line to Rockwell
Length: 6.7 miles

For north siders looking for a Lakefront alternative within city limits, this is your most convenient option. The North Shore Channel Trail begins in west Lincoln Square, in River Park, right along the North Branch of the Chicago River. From there, it follows the river up through North Park and West Ridge, and nearly all the way through Evanston until it terminates at the intersection of Green Bay Road and McCormick Boulevard. To reward your biking with a hard-earned Instagram, tack another 1.7 miles up past the trail end to the Baha’i House of Worship in southern Wilmette. As an added bonus, the trail also passes through the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park. Take note that the trail is mostly paved, though includes some dirt stretches.

Des Plaines River Trail

8600 W Forest Preserve Avenue

How to get there: Blue Line to Rosemont; #77 Bus; Metra (UP-NW) to Des Plaines
Length: 56 miles

This Northwest Side trail is more of a chain of paths and wooded areas than one cohesive trail per se, but still offers scenic takes of a B-side Chicago waterway: the Des Plaines River. Technically, the pathway begins at North Avenue and 1st Avenue in River Grove, then stretches all the way up and into Lake County. For city-dwellers’ convenience, we recommend starting out in Rosemont and riding an out and back in either direction. The trail is largely unpaved (it’s covered in dirt and crushed limestone) in the Cook County portion. Plan your trip with the trail map.

Illinois Prairie Path

620 W. Park Avenue, Wheaton, Illinois

How to get there: Blue Line to Forest Park; Metra (UP-W) to Wheaton
Total length: 61 miles

This is the largest bike path beginning in Cook County, spanning nearly 61 miles from Forest Park into DuPage and Kane Counties. The Illinois Prairie Path touts itself as one of the first rail-to-trail conversion in America; beginning in the mid-1960s, enthusiastic community leaders transformed the abandoned Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Electric Line into a public use path.

The IPP winds through prairie (of course), wetlands, woods, and towns. It is surfaced in asphalt, hard-packed crushed limestone, and sometimes bike-friendly sidewalks. The trail starts at the end of the the Blue Line in Forest Park and goes 16 miles out to Wheaton. In Wheaton, it splits, with one branch connecting to Aurora and the other to Elgin, crossing various other bike paths along the way. Check out the full trail map here.

Salt Creek Trail

West Jackson and North Brainard avenues, La Grange Park, Illinois

How to get there: Metra (BNSF) to Riverside
Length: 19.5 miles

This patchwork of trails follows along Salt Creek, winding through Lyons, Brookfield, LaGrange Park, LaGrange, and Western Springs. A paved bike path begins at the Brookfield Zoo and takes riders through 7.1 miles of forest preserve. The riverfront path links riders to several amenities, including the Cermak Woods and Family Aquatic Center, the sprawling Salt Creek Woods Nature Preserve, and of course the Brookfield Zoo. Check out the full trail map here.

Major Taylor Trail

735 W. 134th Street, Riverdale, Illinois

How to get there: Metra (RI) to Beverly Hills; Metra (ME) to West Pullman
Length: 7.5 miles

This asphalt trail was named for turn-of-the-century African American track cyclist Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor. It’s an excellent trail for South Side bikers, stretching from Beverly’s Dan Ryan Woods to the Whistler Woods in Riverdale. Some comfort with urban biking is necessary here. While most of the trail is an off-street paved surface, cyclist ride on city streets for the 10-block stretch from 95th Street to 105th Street. See a map of the trail right here.

Cal-Sag Trail

8600 Calumet Sag Road, Palos Hills, Illinois

How to get there: Metra (SWS) to Palos Heights
Length: 13.8 miles

This southern suburb trail is fairly new—it opened in 2016 and it’s not yet complete. The entire trail is projected to be about 26 miles long. Currently, it’s about 13 miles long, stretching from the Sag Quarries through Palos Park, Palos Heights, Crestwood and into Alsip. The asphalt trail hugs the Cal-Sag Channel and winds through numerous forest preserves. When complete, it will terminate in Calumet City, and connect with the Major Taylor Trail along the way. See what you’re getting into with the trail map here.