The Chicagoland area is known for great bike trails and you’ve just found a summary of the best bike trails in the Chicagoland area (north and northwest).
With so many great bike trails to choose from, there will, of course, be different opinions, depending on your personal riding style and preferences and what is most important to you. The top 5 bike trails selected have quite a bit to offer to a wide variety of riders.
Our top 5 bike trails choices include nicely paved trails as well as crushed stone trails and trails with access to more rugged mountain biking areas. Most of our top 5 trails connect other trails which will allow you to vary or extend your rides as you choose. You can select the best sections of the trails for short or medium distance rides or extend your rides to 100 miles or more on a some of these trails!
The Top 5 Bike Trails – Chicago North and Northwest
Fox River Bike Trail – The Fox River Trail (FRT) is the nicest paved bike trail in the Chicagoland area. The FRT has beautiful wooded areas along the river, cool winding paths through the woods and scenic views from the trail and from the many bridges that the FRT crosses.
The FRT starts in Aurora, Illinois on its southern end and runs north to Algonquin where it connects to the McHenry County Prairie Trail. Although the Prairie Trail can be taken all the way to the Wisconsin border, it becomes crushed stone and more rugged as you go north. You can also connect to the Illinois Prairie Path (IPP) (also crushed stone in many sections) at three different locations, for some very nice rides that branch out east on the beautiful IPP.
You can easily ride over 100 miles on the FRT and it’s connecting trails or you can select your favorite areas along the Fox River and enjoy a relaxing ride in the wooded areas along the riverside. This bike trail does get a little crowded on hot summer weekends and on holidays so if you prefer less people, I would suggest a weekday or off time.
Des Plaines River Trail – The Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT) is a nice crushed stone trail with some wooded and shaded areas mixed with sunny prairie sections. Traffic on the trail is a little lighter than many of the other bike trails in this area (probably due to the crushed stone surface). Most of the highway intersections are bridge underpasses so you can do quite a distance, non stop without having to deal with highway crossings.
The northern section of the DPRT is the nicest crushed stone bike trail in the area. The northern part of the DPRT starts in Lincolnshire (Half Day) and can be taken all the way to the Wisconsin border. One of the nicest features of this trail is that most of it is well shaded on hot summer days. You may want to avoid this trail in extremely wet weather. The underpasses can be closed when the river is high and when there has been flooding.
Green Bay Bike Trail – The Green Bay Trail (GBT) is a crushed stone path that winds it’s way through the wooded north shore suburbs not far from the shores of Lake Michigan. The main 18 mile stretch of the GBT avoids most of the north shore business areas but there are many nice places that are easily accessible for an interesting break from the trail. Some parts of the GBT actually lead you through some residential streets of the affluent north shore suburbs and you can also visit Ravina Music Festival and some of the beautiful beaches on Lake Michigan.
The GBT starts in Wilmette, Illinois at the southern end and goes north to Lake Bluff when it turns into the Robert McClory Bike Path. There is some disputes regarding the exact path names but for this article I am referring to the GBT between Wilmette and Lake Bluff. The GBT does get a little crowded at peak times so if you prefer more solitude, I would suggest planning your ride around the potential busy times.
Great Western Bike Trail -The Great Western Trail (GWT) is one of the many Rails to Trails bike trails and rolls through the Illinois prairies and countryside from St. Charles, Illinois to Sycamore. The trail is crushed stone, has a few easy rolling hills and very light bike traffic. What I really like is the rural atmosphere, prairies and open farmland.
The eastern end of the GWT is mostly shaded while the tree cover on the western part of the trail opens up and it can be quite sunny. The trail ends in a quite community park in Sycamore. I’d suggest this trail if you would like to get away from the rush of the city and enjoy a quiet rural bike ride where you can hear your own thoughts.
Busse Woods Bike Trail – The Busse Woods Trail (BWT) is a paved bike trail that loops through the Busse Woods Forest Preserve in Elk Grove, Illinois. There’s quite a variety of scenery in this 12 mile bike trail. At the northeastern part of the trail there is an actual Elk heard (in a large fenced off area). Once you head south from the elk herd you’ll ride past a number of forest preserve entrances with lots of activity on busy summer days and weekends. You will pass over the Salt Creek and some small lakes and will ride through some scenic wooded areas.
There are also plenty of other side attractions such as lots of boaters, fishers, major kite flyers and a Remote Controlled airplane field in one of the groves. It can be a lot of fun to watch the flyers do their aerobatics… The one drawback to this trail is that it can get quite crowded on busy weekends and at peak times. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds you will want to visit this trail at an off time.
Please keep in mind that there have been quite a few “runner ups” for this top 5 bike trail category, and there are many more great bike trails out there in the Chicagoland area. There may also be some changes in this top 5 listing as time goes on, but for now, this should give you some real good opportunities to get out and enjoy the ride!