5 Family-Friendly Bike Trail Adventures

Why drive around the Fox River Valley when you can bike it instead? Several long-distance trails connect our communities and provide a great source of exercise for the whole family.

Fox River Bike Trail

Route: 40 miles from McHenry County border in Algonquin to Aurora

Travel the length of Kane County and pass through nine downtown business districts, all while taking in amazing views of the Fox River. The trail is built mostly along former rail lines, where the path is paved and the riding is easy.

The trail also provides glimpses of the Fox River and several forest preserves, including Fox River Shores in Carpentersville.

Around Elgin, riders enjoy taking photos at landmarks like Pratt’s Castle and the Fox River Trolley Museum.

Picnic spots dot the trail, although many bikers choose to dine and rest within downtown business districts.

Near St. Charles and Geneva, the trail passes public parks, bike stores and fishing spots.

Prairie Trail

Route: 26 miles from downtown Algonquin to Wisconsin state line

This trail meets the Fox River Trail in Algonquin and passes through quiet prairies, farmland and four downtown business districts on its way to Wisconsin.

Because it’s built mostly along an old rail line, this trail is relatively easygoing for riders of all skills – except a particularly hilly stretch at the north end of Crystal Lake, in the Sterne’s Woods preserve. About 18 miles of the Prairie Trail, from McHenry to Algonquin, are paved asphalt. Between McHenry and the state line, the trail is crushed limestone.

Along this stretch, riders pass through two quiet forest preserves. The largest, Glacial Park, encompasses 3,400 acres of wild prairie, savanna and marsh.

At the state line, the North Branch preserve meets a shorter trail that leads toward Hebron.
Restrooms, parking and water pumps are located at several points along the Prairie Path, particularly within the nature preserves.

Illinois Prairie Path

Route: 15 miles from Maywood to Wheaton, with additional spurs to Elgin, Geneva, Batavia and Aurora

The nation’s first rail-to-trail conversion spans some 61 miles, but it also intersects with many other trails around the region, including the Fox River Trail. It does so through spurs connected to Elgin, Geneva, Batavia and Aurora.

Much of the trail is a former rail line covered in crushed limestone, so it’s easygoing for all skill levels.

East of Geneva and Batavia, the trail meanders through tree canopies and open meadows. Restrooms and water fountains are scattered along the trail, and businesses like Mill Race Cyclery, in Geneva, welcome bikers. Parking spots are located within every community along the trail, mostly in public parks and lots.

Great Western Trail

Route: 17 miles from Sycamore to St. Charles

Although this converted rail trail passes through Sycamore, Campton Hills and St. Charles, much of it goes through farms and meadows off Illinois Route 64.

Start your journey at Sycamore Community Park and ride to the trailhead near Rt. 64 and Old State Road. The trail ends just west of Randall Road at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, where it connects to routes that lead toward downtown and the Fox River Trail.

From start to finish, the gradation of this crushed limestone trail isn’t more than 2 percent, making for an easy ride.

The trail has no restrooms or water stops, but many nearby businesses are biker-friendly.

Sugar River Trail

Route: 24 miles from New Glarus, Wis., to Brodhead, Wis.

Heading outside Chicagoland, this converted rail trail in southwest Wisconsin is popular with travelers. Though it’s situated among rolling hills, the crushed limestone trail is almost completely flat and in some areas quite isolated.

The trail passes through several small communities, each with parking spots and trailheads, but perhaps the favorite starting point is the trail headquarters in New Glarus.

A state trail pass is required for riders 16 and older. Passes cost $5 per day or $25 for a full season and can be purchased at the trail headquarters in New Glarus (look for the red depot), trail entrances and several local shops. ❚