Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Biking the Fox River Trail

The Fox River Trail runs about 35 miles from Aurora to Algonquin where it enters McHenry County and changes its name to McHenry Prairie Trail, and then continues another 25.9 miles to the Wisconsin border. Its southern section also connects with several branches of the Illinois Prairie Path which will take you another 29 miles east to Maywood.

The Fox River Trail is asphalt for most of its entirety and sees a good deal of use by bikers, walkers, and in-line skaters. The trail is a microcosm of suburbia, passing through downtown areas, residential back yards, along industrial areas, over and under railroad tracks, through city parks and forest preserves, past dams with fishermen, beside floating gambling casinos, past several bike shops and numerous eateries, and alongside South Elgin's Fox River Trolley Museum and tracks and the
Auroraland Archery Club range and a lake/water park.

This long double bridge over the Fox River is just south of the Blackhawk Forest Preserve of South Elgin. At the far end of the bridge, the steepest uphill of the trail takes you to Valley View's Tekakwitha Woods.

Illinois is often thought of as flat, but the glaciers did make it this far south, and the Fox River has carved out its course through some large hills in northern Illinois. This is the uphill just beyond the double bridges in the last photo, and by Illinois standards, it is a tall hill and gets your heart pumping.

 From here, the trail continues south through the river towns of St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia (where the main trail crosses to the west side of the river, although an auxiliary trail continues on the east side), North Aurora, and Aurora. In the past, this right-of-way was a rail line that connected all these river towns. Much of the trail is shrouded on both sides by greenery, so even though there is often a road paralleling you, you have a feeling of being away from civilization.

There are frequent residential streets to cross, but since the river is just to your west, the streets provide access to few people's homes and are not heavily traveled.

Just south of Elgin, the trail passes beneath a bridge, but as you see from this photo taken around 2010, the trail is eroding away, and the forest preserve district, instead of repairing the damage, has simply closed the trail for at least five years, and now has even removed the metal bridgeworks to guarantee no one tries to use the tunnel. The detour (even though they haven't had the decency to post a detour sign telling you how to get back to the trail) is to continue south past the closed section, turn right on the first street, and take it back to the trail.

Just beyond this closed section of trail my favorite section, which I the "roller coasters" around South Elgin. A few homes and the Fox River are to your left, active railroad tracks are to your right, and you get a mile or so of these easy and fun ups and downs to enjoy.

Various connectors (or branches) of the 55 mile long Illinois Prairie Path meet the Fox River Trail just south of Elgin, in Geneva, in Batavia, and again in Aurora. In Aurora, you can also connect with the 11.5 mile Virgil Gilman Trail out to Waubonsee Community College near Sugar Grove. In St. Charles you can connect with the western 17 mile section of the Great Western Trail out to Sycamore or the Elgin Spur of the Prairie Path connects with the eastern section of the Great Western Trail.

As you near the south end, you pass the five story tall Fabyan Windmill. Click this link to read about its history.

The Fox River Trail passes through eight forest preserves from Aurora to Crystal Lake. Most major road crossings have either an overpass or traffic signal controls. The route occasionally reverts to street travel through some sections of towns (as in Elgin, St. Charles, and Batavia). Follow the signage. If you get lost, head back to the river and you'll find the trail again.

Often the river is nearby if not in view, and several dams can be visited on the journey. You can cross the river under the bridge which carries I-90 (Northwest Tollway) traffic over the river and follow an auxiliary trail for a couple miles past Judson College to Tyler Creek Forest Preserve.

Dave and Patti cross the bridge which returns the trail to the west side of the Fox River in Algonquin using the original railroad bridge stanchions, and from near here north it is called the McHenry Prairie Trail and leaves the river, still following the old railroad corridor, and later runs adjacent to an active railroad line where the Prairie Trail later becomes crushed limestone for the remainder of the ride to the Wisconsin line.

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