Two-Wheel Territory: The Tops in Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking Illinois's Palos/Sag Valley Forest Preserve
By Elisa Kronish

You could probably guess that Illinois would be a great place for long-distance road biking because it's so darn flat. But you might be surprised to discover that it's also a great place-well, at least a pretty good place-for mountain biking. Despite sacrificing more than 20 miles of trails to conservation efforts, the Palos/Sag Valley Forest Preserve still offers some of the best mountain biking in Chicago's Cook County. A mere half-hour west of downtown Chicago, Palos sprawls across about 15,000 acres of hills, valleys, forests, prairies, and lakes. Nearly 30 miles of singletrack trails provide a range of riding levels, from fairly flat paved trails to dirt trails with tight turns and daredevil descents.

Among the scenic beauty of the Palos preserves, you'll forget how close you are to one of the largest cities in the country. During the spring, wild roses, hawthorn, and crabapple trees bloom, while fall brings its dazzling array of woodland colors. Throughout the year, you're bound to catch sight of deer, rabbits, egrets, and other typical Midwestern wildlife. For a break from biking, check out one of the preserve's historical pit-stops, like St. James Church and Cemetery, founded in 1837, or set your bikes aside and hire a rowboat at Maple or Tampier lakes. When you're back on your wheels, try the trail across from Maple Lake for technical challenges, including short, steep climbs, tricky descents, and plenty of log obstacles.

Practically Speaking
To obtain a map of the area, call the Palos Division Headquarters at 708-839-5617 or the Forest Preserve General Headquarters at 800-870-3666. Keep on the lookout for special restriction notices and orange trail markers that indicate closures; disobeying the signs could get you a ticket. If you're in Chicago without a mountain bike, you can rent one for $34 per day at several Bike Chicago locations by calling 800-915-BIKE (spring and summer only). Renting from area bike shops can also get you a good deal. Try Out Spoken for Specialized bikes at $25 per day (773-404-2919), Bike Stop for Mongoose bicycles at $30 per day (773-868-6800), or On the Route for Trek cycles at $25 per day (773-477-5066).

Elisa Kronish is an editor at and a freelance writer who specializes in Windy City recreational activities.

Published: 18 Jan 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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