- The Grand Illinois Trail is 535-mile loop in northern Illinois that runs from Chicago on the east side to the Mississippi River on the west; it is about 65 miles wide from north to south.
- The trail is paved much of the way but also has limestone or dirt pathways; it has 10 segments, is well-marked, and has accommodations for every need along the way.
- You might see deer, bison, bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, rabbits, bats, chipmunks, squirrels, and lots of birds on the trail, or you can stop at a nearby stream to fish.
When you think about Illinois, many things may come to mind. You might think of Chicago, also known as the Windy City and one of the biggest cities in the United States in terms of population. However, Illinois is also a very bike-friendly state, and it comes in at #15 in the nation on the list of rankings put together by The League of American Bicyclists.
There are many bike trails from which you can choose in Illinois. After all, there’s so much to explore, whether you want to see Lake Michigan or go further into nature. On a bike, you can experience the temperate forests and wildlife of Illinois.
So which one is the longest biking trail in Illinois? Keep reading to find out all about it!
The Longest Biking Trail in Illinois
The longest biking trail in Illinois is the Grand Illinois Trail. This trail is a loop that goes on for 535 miles. It stretches from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, traveling along the northern border of the state of Illinois. It then goes along the Illinois River and the Hennepin Canal.
About 200 miles of this trail is on paved county and township roads. The remainder is on limestone paths or trails.
The trail is divided into 10 segments. There are many accommodations located all along the trail. You can find something, whether you are in need of food, camping, lodging, or bike repair.
The Grand Illinois Trail Route
There are many points at which you could start your journey along this trail. However, for simplicity, we are going to follow the guide and start around Chicago in a clockwise direction:
- Maywood to Lansing: In this segment, you will get to experience so many of Chicago’s great landmarks. These include the Chicago History Museum, Navy Pier, and the lakefront path of Chicago. You will start by traveling south.
- Lansing to Joliet: In this segment, you can experience quiet streets, forest preserves, and the Old Plank Road Trail, among other trails. You will continue to go south and then veer west.
- Joliet to Bureau: You will be close to six state parks in this segment, along with waterways and historical landmarks. There are also many opportunities for camping as you go west along this 81-mile stretch.
- Bureau to East Moline: In this segment, you will get to experience flat Illinois prairie land. Mostly, you will see a sea of crops growing on extremely rich land as you continue west in this stretch.
- East Moline to Mississippi Palisades State Park: Now, you are going north. You can enjoy the sight of amazing Mississippi River vistas as you go.
- Mississippi Palisades State Park to Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park: This might be an area you want to avoid if you are a novice cyclist, as there are many ups and downs. The terrain is quite challenging as you make a sharp turn from the northwest to the east.
- Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park to Rock Cut State Park: During this segment, as you go east, you will see many areas full of small-town charm, as well as rolling landscapes and lots of greenery.
- Rock Cut State Park to McHenry: As you continue to go east here, you will see rural topography, and you will get to enjoy roads that have almost no traffic.
- McHenry to Maywood: As you continue to go in an eastern direction, you will see major trails, as well as greenways. Then, you will be heading right back into the Chicago suburbs.
Planning for a Tour of the Grand Illinois Trail
Since the Grand Illinois Trail is so long, it makes sense that your journey would take some planning. This way, you can feel comfortable riding on it. Whether you only feel like riding a short segment or you want to make an entire journey out of it that will last a few days, that is up to you.
Of course, it depends on the time of year as well. Winters in Illinois can be extremely cold. You might not feel like this is an ideal time for you to bike along an extensive trail. You should be aware of what the weather is going to be before you set out on your path.
However, there are many accommodations available at multiple points along the trail. There are also several major attractions. You might want to do a lot of planning just to make sure that you hit all of the attractions that interest you.
If you feel that a comprehensive guide of everything this trail has to offer would help you, you can download one here.
Navigating the Route of the Grand Illinois Trail
The route is very long, but it is marked clearly along the path. Additionally, you can use the guide to make sure that you are where you think you are at any given point along your journey. It is always helpful to have a map of the route while you are on it to make sure you have your bearings at all times.
The Grand Illinois Trail Difficulty
This trail is considered by many to be somewhat difficult simply because it is so long. However, you do have the option of traveling on a shorter segment of it.
Additionally, while much of the road is paved, you do need to remember that quite a bit of it is not. You will need to be okay with biking on limestone in these areas. Alternatively, make sure you plan to ride on only the paved parts.
Wildlife on the Grand Illinois Trail
While you are riding on the Grand Illinois Trail, you are very likely to encounter several animals. Even though Illinois is well known for the big city of Chicago, it is also home to an abundance of wildlife. The state animal is the white-tailed deer, which is a very common mammal throughout most of the United States.
You’re also likely to see the bison, which is native to the state of Illinois. While you are riding, you may even see a bobcat, coyote, or American black bear. There are red and gray foxes in Illinois as well. You may see a variety of rabbits, bats, chipmunks, and squirrels, in addition to hundreds of species of birds.
If you go close to the bodies of water, you will also likely see many fish, including both the largemouth and smallmouth bass, the bluegill, the crappie, and many more. There are many reptiles, such as glass lizards and racerunners. Additionally, there are amphibians, such as multiple salamander species and the bullfrog.
Where Is the Grand Illinois Trail Located on a Map?
The Grand Illinois Trail is located in northern Illinois. It has two main routes running east/west: one at the very top of the state through Rockford, and the other running from Chicago across to the Mississippi River. There are four main north/south routes connecting the two east/west routes and a few tangent routes along the way. The distance from the northern route to the southern route is roughly 65 miles.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/photoschmidt
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