Mountain Biking the Windy City
Moraine Hills State Park is a good place to ride if you're looking for a non-technical trail but still want a workout. The first time I visited here, I saw a couple on a mountain bike tandem pulling a trailer."Easy ride?" I asked. "I'm sweating," the man replied. The crushed limestone surface is wide and well maintained, but the area is fairly hilly. Three connecting loops comprise the ten miles of trails. The Fox River Trail is the flattest, and the Lake Defiance Trail and Leather Leaf Bog Trail are hillier.
You'll pass through a variety of terrainslakes, woods, marshes, and prairies. By the marshes, get off your bike and spend a few minutes at one of the two viewing platforms observing the variety of waterfowl, including blue and green herons, mallards, teals, and wood ducks. The trails are also home to fox, deer, mink, and beaver. In the vegetation department, look for marsh marigold, Saint-John's-wort, hoary willow, and other rare species. If you like to see battles between the plant and animal worlds, Pike Marsh, southeast of the Lake Defiance Trail, is home to one of the state's largest known colonies of pitcher plants, a rare species which traps and eats insects. If that makes you hungry, there are two concession stands in the park. Also, fishing and boat rentals are available. In short, Moraine Hills State Park is a great getaway not far from the Chicago area.
General location: Three miles south of McHenry, on River Road.
Elevation change: Elevation change is minimal; look for gently rolling hills.
Season: You can ride all year long, but the spring and fall are busier. I happen to like the smell of the lilacs and other wildflowers in the spring. The fall colors are pleasant, too.
Services: Water is available at the trailhead. All services are available in McHenry and Crystal Lake.
Hazards: Your main concern will be other trail users on pleasant days.
Rescue index: You're never too far from a parking lot. You'll find a phone at the park office and at McHenry Dam.
Land status: State park.
Maps: You can pick up a map at the park office or you can write Moraine Hills State Park for one at the address below. The USGS 7.5 minute quad is Wauconda, with a small portion of the park falling into the McHenry quad.
Finding the trail: From IL 53 and US 12 (Rand Road), go west on US 12 for 12.5 miles to IL 176 (Liberty Street). Turn left on IL 176 and take that for 3.5 miles to River Road. Turn right on River Road and the entrance will be 2 miles on your right. Once in the park, drive up the main road to the Kettle Woods Day Use Area.
Sources of additional information:
Moraine Hills State Park
914 South River Road
McHenry, IL 60050
Notes on the trail: You can begin your ride from the Kettle Woods Day Use Area. You'll see the trailhead from the lot. The one-way trails are color coded and have distance markers along the way.
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