Weekend Wheeling in Chicago
The Chicago area has several forest preserves that allow locals to escape the pavement for a few hours and navigate the narrow riverfront by bicycle.
The Des Plaines River is paralleled by unofficial single- and double-track (not maintained) through dense forest and sharp ravines. You can pick up the trail's northern edge at the forest preserve entrance at East River Road north of Foster Avenue. There are also many entrances to this wooded 10-mile stretch along the east side of the river. (The west side does have a few trails, but most aren't worth the effort.)
In the Forest Preserve
Once you are in the forest preserve, there are neither signs nor markers to guide you. From the parking lot, just find the first single-track going west and persevere. Before long, you will meet the wide trail that runs north and south. Basically, you are at the northern end of the trail, but it also continues north for about a half a mile until it is halted at a cemetery fence. You can't go around it, climb it, or go under it, so turn back.
The double-track is easygoing at first, but it will surprise you with drop-offs and cruel climbs in areas where the river has chiseled away at the topography. At times, single-track will veer off toward the river and follow it a while until it meets back up with the wider path.
The trail makes some street crossings and the traffic around here moves very fast. At some streets, there are underpasses provided for the trail. This is better than dealing with the traffic, but they can be dank and mucky after a rain. A short distance past the crossings, you are back in the dark, quiet wilderness.
Around North Avenue
The trail "disappears" on either side of North Avenue, forcing you to navigate your way through single-track until emerging in the paved world. At North Avenue, carefully make your way east along the road and cross to the south at Thatcher Avenue. Around the bend, reenter the single-track and find the river.
The trail's most challenging terrain can be found between North Avenue and the trail's end. Here, sharp climbs and steep drops lie along rocky and root-covered track.
The Des Plaines River Trail is often flooded after heavy storms and is impassable in the spring and early summer. The forest is also a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, which thrive in the moist, dark environment.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication