The Skokie Valley corridor was once a bay of glacial Lake Chicago whose waters were held in place by increasing elevation to the north and two parallel, hilly moraines of gravel and rock on the east and west. Early settlers preferred to build at higher elevations, leaving the Skokie Valley under-developed and less populated, which the railroad and utility companies took advantage of by building within the valley.
The Skokie Valley Trail runs 10 miles north and south between Lake Forest and Highland Park (from Illinois 176 to Lake-Cook Road) following the ComEd right-of-way and railroad tracks. The trail is paved, is in very good condition, and has mile markers every half-mile.
The sole dedicated parking lot is on Laurel Avenue west of Green Bay Road in Lake Bluff (about 1.5 miles south of Route 176.) You park at the dead end of Laurel seen in the photo below. The access is between the nature walk and a golf course. You could also park in one of several shopping centers around Lake-Cook Road and Skokie Highway at the southern terminus.
For most of its length, the trail is shrouded on both sides by tall bushes and trees that eliminate views of but not noise from the double-main line Union Pacific tracks on the west and Skokie Highway vehicle traffic to your east. The hum of the overhead electric lines (3 sets of lines, 2 of which are high-voltage) can also be discerned. As you reach the Highland Park segment, you'll begin seeing industrial/commercial concerns along the trail.
The trail was well-used the day I biked, which was a holiday. With the limited parking, I assume most users were local who could bike to the trail.
The recent 1.5 mile extension from Laurel north to Route 176 connects to the North Shore Trail which parallels Route 176, including a tunnel under the existing Union Pacific tracks.
The North Shore Trail along 176 in can be taken west to the Des Plaines River Trail, or east to the McClory Trail.
An 8 mile southern extension into Cook County is in the planning stages (budgeted at 1.2 million dollars) which will include a bridge over busy Lake-Cook Road and travel through Northbrook, Northfield, Glenview and Wilmette, and have a connection with the North Branch Trail which goes to the northwest area of Chicago.
The corridor has stunning natural biodiversity and is inhabited by a large variety of plants, birds, and other animals. Natural grasses, flowering plants, berry bushes, and shrubs flourish because the area is generally undisturbed by vehicles, landscaping or lawn mowers.
For more Chicagoland bike trails, go here.
For more bike trails from across the country, go here.