Monday was Day Two of 30 Days of Biking and my desire was to log at least ten miles. I needed a place I could get to quickly that offered an easy loop for a late afternoon ride.
The perfect place for a nice, easy ride is the Deer Grove Forest Preserve on Dundee Road in Palatine.
Deer Grove is divided into two sections - East and West - and each offers a different type of riding. The East section is located just west of the intersection of Dundee Road and Hicks Road (almost exactly two miles west of the Route 53 interchange). It features a 2.8 mile, multi-use, paved path that loops a good portion of the preserve.
There is also a paved, half-mile path that connects to the West section via a busy street crossing at Quentin Road. While the West section does feature a portion of paved path that essentially connects the path crossing at Quentin with the crosswalk at the intersection of Dundee and Quentin (and to the Palatine Trail System), the vast majority of the trail surface is packed dirt. This is ideal for horses and hikers, and of course, mountain biking.
Aside from its convenient location and easy accessibility, Deer Grove East offers a variety of scenery to take in. Heading counter-clockwise from the parking lot off Dundee, a rider passes manicured lawns, mature trees, natural prairie, wetlands, and woods. There is also a creek running through the preserve, as well as several small lakes easily seen from the trail. The terrain is flat to slightly rolling with no challenging hills. Being a loop, there is an equal amount of headwind and tailwind to contend with.
One of the best features of Deer Grove East is the solid yellow line painted down the center of the path. With bicyclists, runners, roller bladers, dog walkers, stroller pushers, skateboarders, and young families (oftentimes engaged in all of the above simultaneously), it's important that everyone moves in the same direction and remains to the right of the line. Surprisingly, every person I encountered yesterday kept themselves and their little ones out of harm's way.
A major benefit of the 2.8-mile loop at Deer Grove East is that you can ride it as many times as you desire to reach your mileage goal and never tire of the scenery. I like to switch directions after each loop, alternating the challenge of the wind and the slightly rolling terrain. I can zip effortlessly with the wind at my back while pushing myself a little harder up small hills into the strong wind out of the northeast, then reverse it all on the next pass. It is an ideal place for interval training.
After a couple of loops and a few stops to snap some pics (below), I decided to follow the equestrian path for an added challenge. My Iseo is what's known as a sport hybrid. It has smooth tires about half the width of knobby mountain bike tires and no front suspension. It was quite adequate on the wide, crushed gravel trail that nearly paralleled the paved path.
I was delighted to find that the double-width, crushed gravel horse path turned into a twisty, hard-packed, dirt single-track trail through the woods on the west end of Deer Grove East. I had no problem negotiating the handful of tight turns or the bark-covered terrain on my Iseo, so it should be quite enjoyable for anyone on a cyclocross, hardtail, or full-suspension mountain bike. It's vitally important to stick exactly to the marked trail as this is a managed growth area for the Forest Preserve. Good off-road riders operate like doctors - first, do no harm.
My brief single-track adventure reminded me of how much fun mountain biking can be. I will tune-up my old hardtail and make it a point to explore the trails of Deer Grove West the next time I need a quick ride close to home.
The beauty of Deer Grove is both its variety of scenic terrain and its convenient location. If you are rediscovering bicycling, it's an easy distance to circumnavigate and it's not too far to walk back to the car should you encounter a challenge you can't overcome. If you have kids, it's an open, easy path for all of you to ride together safely. If you're looking to improve your fitness level, its variety of training challenges are only limited by your imagination.
Here’s my overall review of the Deer Grove East Trail:
Easy on the Eyes: Extremely
Easy on the Bike: Extremely
Easy on the Nerves: Extremely
Easy on the Legs and Lungs: Very
Easy to Find: Extremely
Easy to Park: Extremely
Overall Easiness: Extremely
The "Easy" Scale for Bike Trails:
Easy on the Eyes: Overall enjoyment of the scenery and natural surroundings.
Easy on the Bike: Suitability for comfort and hybrid bikes. Road bikes will be noted separately, as they are not recommended for crushed limestone surfaces.
Easy on the Nerves: Presence of street crossings, curves, obstructions, other trail users, trail markings, and continuity of path.
Easy on the Legs and Lungs: Overall challenge presented by trail surface and steepness and frequency of hills.
Degree of "Easiness":
Extremely – Beginner and kid-friendly, no challenges, ideal for comfort and hybrid bikes.
Very – Beginner and kid-friendly, a challenge or two, ideal for comfort and hybrid bikes.
Fairly – May have portions that pose challenges to beginners, children, comfort and hybrid bikes, but still recommended.
Not Very – Acceptable for accomplished and experienced riders, mountain or cyclocross bikes recommended, strongly caution against attempt by beginners and children.
Not At All – Expert riders and mountain bikes only.
Enjoy the images below (shot by my iPhone 3G).
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Keep riding and be safe!