Friday, June 19, 2015

Biking the Des Plaines River Trail (Lake County segment)

The Des Plaines River Trail runs 31.4 miles through Lake County, from near the Wisconsin border (at Russell Road in Van Patten Preserve near Wadsworth) south to Lake Cook Road, the border with Cook County.  The trail then continues another 20+ miles south through Cook County to Maywood.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District began the trail in 1981 and the final one-third of a mile of property was acquired and built in 2015, completing the dream of those who began the preserve district in 1958.  The trail/greenway includes 7600 acres of woodlands and traverses 12 forest preserves. The trail is possible because the Lake County Forest Preserve District owns and preserves  86% of the land along the namesake Des Plaines River, which has been accomplished through 142 land acquisitions over 53 years. Maps of the trail are available at the bottom of this post. The final trail section (1500 feet) was purchased and built in 2015 and is seen here.

Twelve underpasses provide safe travel under busy roads along the 31 miles, though spring floods occasionally close some underpasses as seen below.  The Lake County Forest preserve District website has a map where you can check if any underpasses are closed.

There are seven bridges that take trail users from one side of the river to the other along its length, as well as an overpass across busy Lake-Cook Road to provide safe travel to the connecting Cook County portion of the trail.  These bridges also give nice views of the river as you cross them.

There are a couple places where the trail is built over the water on a metal superstructure because there is no room alongside the river. In this case, Route 120 is to the left and there wasn't room for the trail to fit between the road and the water.

The northern section takes you through both Van Patten Preserve and Wadsworth Savanna Preserve, and this 8 mile segment is all preserve with two easy road crossings.  A brief section takes you along railroad tracks, and if you are there around 11am, you may see the Amtrak train to or from Milwaukee, as well as freight trains like this...

The trail takes you through all four types of habitats that the preserve district maintains -- wetlands, prairie/meadows, woodlands, and forests, though the majority of the trail traverses forests and woodlands.  Whether spring, summer, or fall, the scenery is outstanding, and wildlife sightings abound.  Here's an early Spring photo...

...and a lush-foliage summer photo...

You can also find side trails that loop from and back to the Des Plaines River Trail for some extra mileage and additional gorgeous scenery.  Independence Grove in Libertyville is the crown jewel of the preserve system, and it offers the paved 3.7 mile Overlook Trail seen below, or the crushed stone Lakeshore Trail loop at 3.2 miles.  Old School Preserve has about a 2 mile loop, and Van Patten Preserve has a 2 mile loop around the picnic areas and also a loop around Sterling Lake.

Dan Wright Preserve (adjoining Half Day Preserve) has a loop trail that adds about 3 miles, and this side trail leads to some great scenery as seen below off St. Mary's Road...

Here are detailed maps of the North and South sections of the trail, showing parking lots, preserves, major roads, etc.  (Click to enlarge.)

Des Plaines River Trail (Cook County segment)  (My webpage)

Independence Grove  (LCFPD page)

Lake County Forest Preserve District website

Forest Preserve District of Cook County website

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