Discovering the Des Plaines River Trail

Images of Des Plaines River Trail appear at end of text.

When the heat wave finally broke late Saturday, the banks of the mighty Des Plaines River began to overflow - with people.

By mid-Sunday morning, the Des Plaines River Trail north of Lincolnshire was spilling over with walkers, runners, and cyclists.  Nearly everyone I passed had a smile on his or her face, conveying an unspoken sigh of relief that the great outdoors had been reopened for our mutual enjoyment.

The concentration of trail users ebbed and flowed in proximity to each successive trailhead.  From my point of embarkation - the Half Day Forest Preserve in Lincolnshire - to the end of the line at Russell Road near the Wisconsin border, I counted no less than seven distinct forest preserves and at least three city parks where trail users could hop on and begin their adventures.  Countless access points exist at street crossings and adjacent neighborhoods along the way.

This was my first "through" ride on this incredible trail.  My previous attempt to ride from the intersection of Milwaukee and Lake-Cook Roads was thwarted by the gap created by the Par King Mini Golf near Aptakisic and Milwaukee.  While I managed to make it through the unsafe, 1500-foot detour, time constraints had forced a turnaround at Half Day.

On this my second attempt, I had a full morning, clear skies, and a comfortable temperature on my side as I pedaled to the state line and back - 51.6 miles round trip.

I ride a lot of rail trails throughout our area and the Midwest.  Each one has its own character, its unique combination of topography and history.  Some have canopies of trees, open farmland, natural prairies, spooky tunnels, and interesting little towns.  None that I've enjoyed have the same feel as The Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County.

Part of the trail's charm is the way that it winds through woods, prairies, wetlands, and meadows.  One minute you're riding in the shadows of large trees in the natural flood plains of the river.  The next, you're feeling the sun beat down upon you as your eyes adjust to the bright light and varying shades of green as you cross Illinois' version of a savannah.  All the while the trail continues curving from left to right, keeping you fully engaged in the ride experience.

The DPRT suspends disbelief.

While you feel as if you're deep in the woods or alone on the great plains, civilization - suburbia - is never more than one-half mile on either side of you.  Whereas most trails like the Fox River Trail or Illinois Prairie Path offer short stretches of natural wonderment tucked between residential and commercial districts, the DPRT manages to string them all together continuously, keeping our day-to-day reality out of sight and out of mind.

The patience, dedication, and hard work of the Lake County Forest Preserve is evident in every stretch of the trail.  The trail marking signs keep you on track, whether you want to continue your through-ride or explore an adjacent trail that leads to a forest preserve or park.

The money spent on safe street crossings is impressive.  There are many underpasses that take you below major roadways including I-94.  Each tightly parallels the river and were no doubt made possible only through roadway bridge replacement projects undertaken over the years.  The many bridges that span the Des Plaines and its tributaries are also quite impressive.  The entire trail system is very well thought out.

While I chose my normal out-and-back ride, I could just have easily been content focusing exclusively on one of the many forest preserves the trail passes through.  Half Day has a labyrinth of trails worthy of exploring, as does Old School Forest Preserve, Independence Grove, and Van Patten Woods.

I was most struck by the beauty of the lake at Independence Grove.  As the trail skirts the northwest edge of the preserve, you get a panoramic view of the lake and the trails that encircle it.  Hundreds of people were enjoying this refreshing oasis tucked neatly inside sprawling Libertyville.  Local residents are probably cursing me right now for revealing their best kept secret...

I could probably devote a few more posts to describing this incredible, well-hidden gem of the north / northwest suburbs.  Instead, I'll let some iPhone images whet your appetite for your next relaxing ride...


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Keep riding and be safe!


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