Mountain Biking the Windy City
Chicago is the third largest metropolitan area in the United States, and, as you may imagine, is not perceived as a mountain biking mecca. While there are a few nice paved bicycle paths in the city of Chicago, there isn't much in the way of unpaved trails. However, you don't have to get too far out of the city to find areas where you can do some serious riding, even though several of the rides listed here are surrounded by fairly well-populated areas.
Urban sprawl has created an interesting situation in the Chicago area. Cook County, where Chicago is located, along with the surrounding collar counties, all have county forest preserve districts. Scattered throughout this urban and suburban area, you'll find little pockets of wilderness where people in the city flock on weekends. Unlike expansive national forests, it's difficult to get seriously lost in a forest preserve. However, that doesn't mean you can't find dense woodlands. In fact, many of the forest preserves and parks here offer a variety of terrain, including woods, fields, prairies, and marshes.
As far as mountain biking goes, some of these preserves offer easy riding while others make up in technical demands what they lack in elevation. But don't be fooled. Areas like Swallow Cliffs and Deer Grove can have elevation changes ranging around 100 feet. It's not Colorado, but in an area where people think the tallest thing around is the Sears Tower, they're often surprised at what they find here. Some of these trails, like the Regional Trail and the trails in Waterfall Glen and Moraine Hills State Park have neither technical challenges nor serious elevation changes, but they do provide a nice option if you are interested in the course prerequisite for Mountain Biking 101.
The trail descriptions that follow were written with the help of several people. Thanks to Bart Dahlstrom for providing information about Deer Grove, Duane Anderson and Mike Palazzetti for the Regional Trail.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication