IL Des Plaines River Trail
Des Plaines River Trail
Lake County and Cook County Illinois
The Des Plaines River Trail is a scenic multi-use trail that meanders its way along the Des Plaines River, with 28+ miles of continuous trail in Lake County, Illinois and additional sections of trail (not continuous) in Cook County. The Lake County Forest Preserve system and Cook County Forest Preserve System own a significant portion of the land along the trail, which combined, with frequent naturally occurring flooding of the Des Plaines River, keeps development along the trail to a minimum despite the growing communities in this area. Use includes bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling on some sections in winter.
- Terrain / Scenery: Flat to gently rolling trail meandering through woodlands, prairies, and wetlands.
- Fees / Permits: Parking fees at some Forest Preserves.
- Trail Conditions: Crushed stone flat to gently rolling wide trail in Lake County, various surfaces in Cook County.
- Trail Markings: Directional marked posts and mile markers
- Facilities: Various.
- Official Web Page: http://www.lcfpd.org/preserves/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&object_id=160&type=P Lake County - Map available for download.
- Getting There: Various access points.
The Des Plaines River Trail offers many miles of trail for biking (the primary use of this multi-use trail). Unlike some of the area rails-to-trails conversions used for bike trails, the Des Plaines River trail is neither flat nor straight, but rather winds its way through Northeast Illinois following the meandering Des Plaines River. A significant portion of the land along the trail is protected public lands in the form of numerous Forest Preserves, city parks, and other protected lands, but it's actually the natural wide flood plain along the Des Plaines River that has helped to prevent development of this corridor that runs through the quickly growing suburban area northwest of Chicago.
Another benefit of a trail that follows a river is the lack of crossroads. Since it requires a significant investment in a bridge everytime a road crosses a river, you simply don't have all that many roads crossing the river and therefore don't have all that many roads crossing the trail. In addition, almost all of the busy road crossings utilize underpasses (see notes on flooding)so in many sections you can generally expect to be able to ride for miles without having to stop at a road crossing.
Maps, Notes on Flooding, Multi-use, and Misc.
The map at the top right of this page is an overview map of the entire 28 mile length of continuous trail in Lake County, Illinois. You can click here click here to download my Higher Resolution PDF version of Lake County Des Plaines River Trail Map.
You can also download the official Lake County map from Lake County Forest Preserve - Des Plaines River Trail site.
In addition, I have broken the map into two main sections and one minor section and included them below to provide a little higher resolution viewing and printing from directly from this page screen. I split the main map at the Independence Grove Forest Preserve because it is a large, highly developed park area that is located pretty close to the mid point along the trail.
The official map provides more information on facilities at various locations along the trail, while my map provides a little more detail on some things such as including the locations of mile markers (located along the trail).
There are many additional trails (not shown on map) that intersect with the Des Plaines River Trail. These include forest preserve trails and local community trails. Mapping all these additional trails is more than I'm willing to do for this map, however many of them can be viewed on trail maps for the individual forest preserves located along the trail. The Des Plaines River Trail does have posts with arrows (Marked DPR) designating the appropriate trail to follow. Pay attention to these because the most obvious trail is not always the correct one.
Since the trail is located along the Des Plaines River floodplain, it is at risk for flooding. More importantly, most crossings of busy roads are accomplished by routing the trail under the overpasses (bridges). These sections that run under the roads are often just a little higher than the normal river levels and are highly prone to flooding. Though there are alternate means to cross some (not all) of the roads, they can be inconvenient to say the least and dangerous in some instances. There are signs on the trails that tell you if the underpass is closed, but unfortunately these signs are generally located just before the crossing so they don't do you a hell of a lot of good. Since I regularly Paddle the Des Plaines River I have gotten used to using the USGS online gauging station data to check water levels. It occurred to me that this could also be useful in trying to determine if the underpasses are flooded so I started to take some notes on this. I base my notes on the gauging station on the Des Plaines River near Gurnee. The Link is listed below:
From what I observed, the lowest crossing is at Route 60, with the Route 120 crossing and Grand Ave crossing coming in as close seconds. My estimation is that at about 3.5 ft on the gauge, you would start seeing water on these lower crossings and above 4.0 ft, you should expect that some of these crossings will start to become impassible. The underpass that crosses I94 is higher than most and will not start to flood until water is around the 5.50 ft level. At this 5.50 ft level, you should also expect that isolated sections of the trail itself may start flooding. Again, these are estimations so you should allow for some variance, but these notes have worked pretty well for me in predicting flooding of these critical road crossings. The photo above right (that shows water on the underpass) is the Grand Ave crossings, and was taken with water levels around 4.50 ft, this resulted in about a foot of water on the crossing.
Speaking of paddling, Please don't park in the Canoe Launch parking areas on weekends. There is no rule against this, but these lots are generally small and paddlers have only a handful of points to launch onto the river, while trail users have many more choices in places to park and access the trail.
Every few years we get some heavy flooding in the area and long sections of the trail can become flooded. I remember riding a portion of the trail north of Gurnee once several days after heavy rains had ended and found miles of flooded trail with long sections greater than a foot deep and some short sections up to about 4 feet deep. Although it wasn't very good for my bike (I had to take it apart afterwards) the fact that there was a crushed stone trail under the water (rather than the mud you usually have on wet mountain bike trails) meant that it was actually very easy to continue riding right through the long flooded sections. The water had started to clear up and I was able to see fish swimming on the trail along side my bike as well as crawfish crawling under the water. Surprisingly I didn't lose traction until the water got up to my seat and handlebars (I was riding a road bike). A rather unique experience. After the water subsided, I came back and rode more of the trail and found several places further down the trail where large logs had floated in from the surrounding wooded areas and blocked the trail. I guess my point here before I started rambling on is that the trail is located in a floodplain and therefore will flood, so plan ahead.
The Des Plaines River Trail is a multi-use trail. Though bicycling is the most popular way to use the trail, it is also used by hikers and horseback riders. If you're not familiar with sharing a trail with horses, you need to understand that a bicycle coming up behind a horse can scare the hell out of them so slow down and make sure they know you are approaching.
Lake County Portion of DPRT
Van Patten Woods to Independence Grove Forest Preserve - 15 Miles
The Northernmost point of the trail is located at the north end of Van Patten Woods/Sterling Lake Forest Preserve There is a small parking lot on Russel Road at this point, but you're usually better off parking in one of the larger lots located off of Route 173 in the main portion of the park. There are additional places to park and access the trail further south (see map). The first two road crossings at Route 173 and Wadsworth Road are surface road crossings and can be a bit annoying when traffic is heavy. Most crossings beyond these use underpasses or overpasses. The first six or so miles are mostly flat to gently rolling prairie and wetland areas including part of a wetlands restoration and research area. They basically took farmland and turned it back into wetlands. What's unusual here is that they actually installed plumbing below the wetlands that I'm assuming allows them to manage water levels in specific areas. From the trail you'll occasionally see stuff sticking up out of the wetlands that ain't exactly natural. If you're interested you can get more info at http://www.lcfpd.org/preserves/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&object_id=217&type=P
Miles 7 through 9 go through Gurnee Woods, a heavily wooded wetland area. There is a large pedestrian bridge used to cross Highway 41. The next six miles are a frequently changing mix of woodlands and prairie areas. Route 132 (Grand Ave.) is the first of four underpasses (see Flooding notes) you'll encounter before getting to Independence Grove Forest Preserve.
Independence Grove Forest Preserve to trails end at Riverside Road - 12 Miles
Independence Grove Forest Preserve is large forest preserve with a very large developed park area with plenty of parking and restroom facilities. Since it's located very near the midpoint of the Des Plaines River Trail, it great place to stop for a break if riding the whole trail or riding from one end or the other to the park and back. It also serves as a good starting point for going either North or South on the trail. If you intend on starting from Independence Grove, there may be a fee required to enter ( I believe it is a parking fee, but it may be a per person fee). I think the fee depends upon weekdays or weekends and whether or not you are a Lake County Resident.
The Trail comes in from the North at the northwest portion of the large park area and then leaves at the west side of the park where a bridge takes the trail to the other side of the river. Heading south out of Independence Grove, you'll start with some open prairie areas then encounter alternating sections of prairie and woodlands. You'll pass through four forest preserves over the next ten miles. Old School Forest Preserve and Wright Woods Forest Preserve have additional trails connecting with the DPR trail that you can try (there are maps posted at the intersection with DPR). MacArthur Woods Forest Preserve does not have additional trails but the DPR trail goes right through a very dense wooded area (possibly the most scenic section of the trail) of MacArthur Woods.
After these heavily wooded areas, the trail goes through Half Day forest Preserve where you'll get some more prairie riding.
Half Day Road to Lake Cook Road
The Route 22 crossing (Half Day Road) is a surface crossing and actually requires crossing two busy roads. There are lights at this busy intersection with push buttons to get a "walk" light, but it can be a long wait and the drivers here don't seem to respect your walk signal. For most, you're probably better off just turning around here and heading back unless there is something driving you to go further. The area south of Route 22 is a heavily developed area of condos a convention center/resort and golf course, and there is only a little over a mile of trail here before the trail ends at West Riverside Road (see below).
This portion of the trail currently officially ends at W. Riverside Road. There are couple more miles of the Lake County portion of the Des Plaines River trail further south. The "official" connector route says to take Riverside Road and Milwaukee Ave, but you really don't want to be riding your bike on this section of Milwaukee Ave. On my map (below), you can see there is a crushed stone trail (there is not sign) that starts just a little west of the current trail end. The trail will take you to an asphalt path that leads to Milwaukee Ave. From there, just stay on the grass along the east side of Milwaukee Ave and go South past the Par King mini golf and turn left (east) into the parking lot of the Cubby Bear restaurant. Go straight to the back (northeast corner) of the parking lot and you will find the new trail.
South of the Cubby Bear, you get a couple miles more of scenic DPRT. There is an underpass (as I recall, but I could be wrong) at Deerfield Road and a big overpass over Lake Cook Road, where the trail connects with the Cook County portion of the DPRT (see next section).
Cook County portion of DPRT
The Des Plaines River Trail in Cook County is not as developed as it is in Lake County. The trail surface varies from natural surfaced (dirt) to gravel/crushed stone to some paved sections. Because of the natural surfaced sections of trail, this trail is better ridden with a mountain bike though it is possible to ride it with a road bike provided conditions are dry and firm. The natural surfaced portions of the trail can be very muddy when wet (especially in late winter/early spring) and should not be ridden under these conditions. Even during dry periods, you are still likely to find occasional mudholes on the trail.
Access to the trail in Cook County is available at the numerous Forest Preserves that line trail. The trail is marked with posts that say "Trail" and may have a color marker on them (you can see a trail marker in the photo on the right). The color coded markers are based on the trail colors on the main trail maps available from the Cook County Forest Preserve District through the following link:
Update: It looks like Cook County removed the maps from their website. The original map page I linked to is gone, and I couldn't find a new page for them on the site. It used to be two separate maps (one for north cook county and one for south). Feel free to search on the Cook County Forest Preserve Website. and let me know if you find them.
Lake Cook Road to Rand Road
The Lake County portion of the DPRT connects with the Cook County portion at Lake Cook Road where there is a dedicated overpass for trail users. After crossing into Cook County, you'll immediately notice the trail changes from the wide crushed stone surface that runs the length of Lake County into a narrower natural surfaced trail. The trail width varies and at times is actually narrow enough to be considered singletrack (though it's not exactly the kind of prime singletrack that draws the interest of mountainbikers). You can expect occasional mudholes on this section even when conditions are moderately dry.
Potawatomi Woods Forest Preserve located off of Dundee Road is the northernmost trail access point in Cook County. There are numerous additional access points with parking along the trail at other forest preserves including Dam No. 1 Woods, Allison Woods , River Trail Nature Center, Lake Avenue Woods East, Camp Pine Woods, Beck Woods, and Big Bend Lake.
The road crossing at Dundee Road can be a very difficult one due to heavy traffic. The timing of traffic here can get really frustrating as it sometimes takes a long time to get a break in the traffic. I think some trail users opt to head west along Dundee Road to Milwaukee Ave and cross at the lights. South of Dundee Road, the natural surfaced trail condinues through Dam No. 1 Woods Forest Preserve where there is additional trail access.
At Willow Road, the trail heads east along the road to an old overpass and then continues south to Winkelman Road where the trail appears to end. Head West on Winkelman road to Milwaukee Ave and go straight across Milwaukee Ave onto the park road the leads into Allison Woods Forest Preserve. About half way down the park road (about even with the canoe launch) the trail continues off of the south side of the road (pay close attention as the trail is easy to miss). If you are heading North on the trail, the directions will basically be reversed. You'll come off the trail onto the park road and head east, crossing Milwaukee Ave and continuing on Winkelman Road looking for the trail on the north (left) side of the road.
Alison Woods and the River Trail Nature Center hava a series of nature trails that intersect with the DPRT. Bikes are not allowed on these trails so make sure you stay on the DPRT. Continuing south, there is an underpass taking you under Euclid Ave (Lake Ave) and into Camp Pine Woods Forest Preserve. The trail changes to a wide gravel-surfaced trail. You'll have to cross Central Ave (no overpass or underpass), but it's not near as bad as Dundee Road. Further south, the trail leads to a set of railroad tracks. You'll have to carry your bike across the tracks where the trail continues (there is a fork in the trail here, take the trail on your right). There is actually a "No Trespassing" sign on the railroad tracks here which I can only assume is a CYA attempt by the railroad in case someone gets hit by a train, but it is obvious that this is a regularly used crossing for trail users.
The gravel trail continues south to Golf Road where the trail heads east along Golf Road to the intersection where you can cross using the lights. Once across Golf Road you're back onto natural surfaced trail heading through the Big Bend Lake Forest Preserve. There is a fork in the trail here, take the right trail to continue on across Ballard Road and on to Rand Road where the trail ends (see next section for connector to southern section of trail in Cook County).
Connector from Rand Road/ Ballard Road to Trail in Algonquin Woods Forest Preserve.
As of 2009, the road construction is complete and there is a new section of paved trail that makes the connection from Rand Road to the southern Cook County portion of the Des Plaines River Trail in Algonquin Woods Forest Preserve much easier (though there is still one tricky section).
As you can see on my map (below), there is a new paved pathway starting at the intersection of Ballard Road and Rand Road. And while this pathway is only about a block from the trail, they kind of leave you hanging as to how to get from one to the other. You can take either Ballard Road or Rand Road, but neither of these is very bicycle friendly. There are lights at the Ballard/Rand intersection, but no cross walk or walk lights and this intersection can get very busy at certain times of the day. I don't get down this far all that often so I can't really say which is best. Because I'm still used to the old connector, I continue to take the trail to Rand Road, then ride through the ditch, cross the road, then take the sidewalk back up to the paved pathway. I pretty much do the same going back the other way, however, if you don't know where the trail starts on Rand Road, you may have a hard time finding it (just ride through the ditch then ride along the tree line until you see the trail).
Once on the paved pathway, things get a whole lot easier (route is shown with Yellow dashed line). The pathway takes down you along the river, under Northwest Highway (Hwy 14), under the railroad tracks, and right onto Campground Road. This is sooooo much better than the old way. Then follow Campground road all the way down to Algonquin Road. Cross Algonquin Road and you will see the trail just to the East of the Park Road.
If heading Northbound, just do the reverse, however you need to make sure you catch the new paved pathway on the left (west) side of Campground Road just before you go under the Railroad Tracks (otherwise you will end up on Highway 14).
For information on additional sections of the DPRT in Cook County, use the links below:
Biking Cook County's Des Plaines River Trail A page on an independent website that has some good info on the Cook County portion of the Des Plaines River Trail.
Biking Cook County's Des Plaines River Trail A page on an independent website that has some good info on the Cook County portion of the Des Plaines River Trail.
This page is authored and maintained by Dave Piasecki