ILLINOIS PRAIRIE PATH
The Illinois Prairie Path is a 61 mile long
multi-use trail in Cook, DuPage, and Kane Counties, following the old right-of-way
of the former electric railway, the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin Interurban,
which suspended all operations in 1959 and abandoned the line in 1961. In
1963, a retired teacher and naturalist proposed the trail in a letter to
the Chicago Tribune, and in 1965 The
Illinois Prairie Path Corporation was established. A year later, the
first 21 miles were acquired and developed over the next 20 years, primarily
through volunteer labor. The trail is now managed by various county government
agencies due to liability issues, but IPP Corporation and its volunteers
are still active in making improvements.
Quote from the IPP website: "The real story of the Illinois Prairie Path,
however, is the determination and hard work of its volunteers, who for twenty
years managed, developed and maintained the trail on a shoestring budget
of membership dues and donations. Volunteers have built three steel bridges,
surfaced miles of trail, installed benches, signs and steps, preserved prairie
remnants, picked up tons of trash, and made the Illinois Prairie Path one
of the greatest and most famous urban trails in the United States. In 1988
the volunteers received the Take Pride in America Award in ceremonies at
the White House."
The main stem of the Path has its eastern
terminus at First Avenue in Maywood and runs 15 miles west to Wheaton, where
it sends one spur 14 miles northwest to connect with the Fox River Trail
to Elgin, and a second spur southwest 13 miles to Aurora where you can pick
up the Fox River and Virgil
Gilman Trails. A spur off the Elgin Spur goes 11 miles west to Geneva,
and a spur off the Aurora Spur goes six miles west to Batavia. In addition,
the Path's main stem connects with the Great
Western Trail in Villa Park (near Villa Street) and runs about 12 miles
west to the Prairie Path's Elgin Spur, ending at Prince Crossing Road in
Finally, since the Illinois Prairie Path
connects to the Fox River Trail, which connects
to the McHenry County Prairie Trail, you
could bike 100+ miles from Maywood to the Wisconsin border on bike trails!
As you ride west, the Main Stem passes through
Hillside, Elmhurst, Villa Park, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, and Wheaton. Pictured
above is the lovely section through Villa Park which bisects a 100 foot
wide expanse of park. The Lombard section as well as part of Glen Ellyn
and Wheaton sections are framed with trees on each side of the trail, and
the Metra RR tracks parallel the trail on its north side in Glen Ellyn and
Although brief segments are asphalt, the
trail is predominantly crushed limestone, is maintained in excellent condition,
and gets heavy use, especially on weekends. I saw numerous road bikes easily
handle the surface. In Wheaton's downtown area, the trail is on a sidewalk.
Since it passes through the heart of numerous suburbs, there are numerous
road crossings, mostly small residential streets. A few overpasses have
been built to carry you over busy roads and I-355.
The Elgin Spur runs 14 miles southeast from
Elgin to Wheaton, much of it through lovely forest with occasional glimpses
of wetlands, residences, a country club, and even an equestrian center where
we briefly watched a jumping competition. This area gave two optional routes
-- to the left the main trail through a wetlands, or to the right up a hill.
The green sign points to the left and reads, "To avoid a steep hill",
and it means it for the right trail takes you either down an eroded steep
gully or you can carry your bike down some stairs. The few road crossings
were easy and a bridge takes you over the busy Route 59.
The Geneva Spur runs 11 miles from Wheaton
to Geneva, some through woods, some through an industrial area, past DuPage
County Airport and a country club, and through West Chicago on sidewalks
and alleys. This huge overpass takes the trail over railroad tracks and
sidings. There are numerous road crossings, including some busy roads. Several
eateries are available from the trail in West Chicago and Geneva.