You’ve finally broken out of winter hibernation. The roads are cleared of ice and snow and your beloved bike has been cleaned and lubed and is ready to go. Now all that’s left to do is decide where to ride, hop on your bike and roll. While bikes are legal to be ridden on all streets in Chicago unless marked otherwise, we have a few options for routes on off road paths without cars. You still need to stay alert for other trail users and when crossing at intersections, but these paths offer a casual stress-free way to kick off your best ever riding season.
Following are three popular paths accessible to any city dweller in Chicago. All are free to use.
1) The 606 Trail
Since it opened in 2015, the 606 Trail has become a popular destination for outdoor recreation and activity among residents of the northwest side and visitors. It is an elevated park and recreational trail located on the northwest side of Chicago built on a former elevated rail line and spanning 2.7 miles through four Chicago neighborhoods: Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park.
It provides a safe and accessible route for pedestrians, cyclists, and runners, and offers a unique perspective on the city, with elevated views of historic architecture, public art installations, and neighborhoods. The trail features amenities such as seating areas, fitness stations, and public art displays. It also connects to several parks and community spaces, including the Walsh Park, Churchill Field Park, and Humboldt Park. Allowed uses of the trail include walking, running, skateboarding, and cycling. Dogs are allowed on leashes. Electric bikes are allowed at speeds up to 20 mph, but electric scooters are prohibited.
As a shared use trail, be sure to bike at a moderate pace, be aware of other trail users, and use caution when passing on the left and at trail entrance and exit points. In spite of having to deal with often unpredictable kids and dogs, the 606 trail is a good option for biking since once you get on the path, there are no cars or intersections to cross, no potholes or glass and there is a variety of plants, flowers, and trees to enjoy. The trail is opened year around, from 6am to 11pm and a great way to have a quiet respite in the middle of the city.
Tip: Regardless of where you access the trail, the entrance ramp is steep so remember to shift to the lowest gear on your bike as you approach the ramp or just get off and walk your bike up.
2. Lakefront Trail
The Lakefront Trail is a 18.5-mile paved path that runs along the shoreline of Lake Michigan in the center of Chicago with many access point on the north and south side of the city. The trail is one of the most popular outdoor recreational spaces in the city and offers breathtaking views of the lake and the city skyline.
The Lakefront Trail is used by joggers, cyclists, and walkers year-round, and is a popular spot for inline skating and rollerblading. Electric bikes are allowed at speeds up to 20 mph but not electric scooters. The path provides access to several beaches, parks, and landmarks, including Lincoln Park, Navy Pier, and the Museum of Science and Industry. The trail is divided into two paths, one for pedestrians and one for cyclists for safety. It also features rest areas, water fountains, and public art displays along the way. In addition to recreational use, the Lakefront Trail serves as a major transportation corridor for commuters, with several access points to the city's public transportation system, including bus stops and train stations.
In spite of the length and vistas the trail can be crowded in good weather, especially on the population dense north side so be sure to watch your speed and look out for other trail users. Although you will have to dodge slower cyclists, pedestrians, kids, dogs on leashes and cross several intersections the path is still a good option for biking due to the lack of cars, potholes, and glass and the outstanding views of the city skyline. The Lakefront Trail is open year-round, 24 hours a day and a not to be missed experience on a bike.
Tip: To avoid crowds in good weather, head to the southern portion of the trail south of the museum campus which still has the fabulous views but with fewer trail users.
3. North Branch Trail
The North Branch Trail is a 20-mile multi-use trail that runs through Cook County, Illinois on the northwest side of the city and near suburbs. It’s proximity only 10 miles from the Chicago city center makes it a popular option for city dwellers looking to get out in nature. The trail is located along the North Branch of the Chicago River and offers a scenic route through forests, parks, and suburban neighborhoods. The south most access point is on the northwest side of Chicago and goes north to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.
The trail is popular among cyclists, joggers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts. Electric bikes are allowed at speeds up to 15 mph but electric scooters are prohibited. It features paved and unpaved sections, and provides access to rest rooms and several forest preserves, including the Caldwell Woods, Bunker Hill, and Harms Woods. In addition to recreational use, the North Branch Trail serves as a major transportation corridor for commuters, with several access points to the city's public transportation system, including bus stops and train stations.
The trail is a great place to observe wildlife, with opportunities to see birds, mammals, and aquatic creatures in their natural habitats. It's a unique and enjoyable way to experience the natural beauty of Cook County, and is a popular destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts.
As a multiuse trail, you will need to yield to slower moving cyclists, people on foot, kids and dogs on leashes, keep your speed moderate and be careful at trail crossings at intersections with cars. Although most of the trail allows you to feel as if you are in the middle of a forest, or biking trough wide open fields, in some sections you will see and hear auto traffic. Advantages of the path are lack of autos (except when crossing intersections), pot holes, and glass and being immersed in nature. The North Branch Trail is open year-round, from sunrise to sunset and a great nearby resource for city dwellers to commune with nature.
Tip: Plan to make a return trip in the fall to view fall color and experience those wonderful autumn scents.
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