ROBERT MCCLORY BIKE PATH -
GREEN BAY TRAIL - NORTH SHORE CHANNEL TRAIL - CHICAGO LAKEFRONT TRAIL
25.4 - 8.9 - 6.7 - 19 miles Wisconsin to Chicago
60 MILES 4 TRAILS 1 LAKE 1/2 DAY
Robert McClory Bike Path Description
The Robert McClory Bike Path runs the length of Lake County, knitting together a string of communities on the north shore of Chicago all the way to the Wisconsin border. In 1997, the trail was named after a Republican congressman who served the area for 20 years.
The 25-mile bike path primarily follows the route of the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, which expanded all the way to Milwaukee in 1919 as an electric interurban freight and passenger railroad. It ceased operations in 1963 after ridership declined. The trail also uses low-traffic city streets. A Metra commuter railway connects Chicago to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Union Pacific Railroad tracks that parallel much of the trail.
The trail surface consists of asphalt in the south; concrete where the path leaves the rail corridor and follows city streets; and a finely screened limestone that offers a good, hard base for most trail uses in the north. It’s hemmed in by residential and commercial districts, though it does pass some parks and forest preserves. In the south, the trail connects with the Green Bay Trail at the county line, while in the north it meets the Kenosha County Bike Trail at the state line. US Bicycle Route 37 and the Grand Illinois Trail both occupy parts of the trail.
Beginning in the south at the Braeside Metra Station, you’ll ride 2.5 miles through a wooded linear park alongside the tracks until you reach a commuter parking lot in central Highland Park. You’ll then have to take St. Johns Avenue (there are sidewalks) 0.7 mile to Vine Avenue, turn left, and go one block to a ramp to return to the trail.
You’ll return to a parklike corridor for another 0.6 mile, then take a slight detour by turning right onto Bloom Street. Go 0.2 mile, turn left onto St. Johns Avenue, and go another 0.2 mile to return to the Robert McClory Bike Path adjacent to Walker Avenue.
For the next 1.5 miles, the trail skirts old Fort Sheridan, a historical garrison decommissioned by the U.S. Army and transformed into a fashionable neighborhood. You’ll find hiking and biking trails within the 230-acre historic district; another 250 acres is in forest preserve.
Crossing Sheridan Road, you’ll return to the old railroad right-of-way that runs through a wooded corridor next to Metra through Lake Forest and Lake Bluff (the junction for the east-west North Shore Bike Path is here) for the next 7.2 miles to North Chicago. Here the trail takes a ramp over a highway, loses Metra, and enters a warehouse and light-industrial district for a few blocks.
For the next 12 miles to the Wisconsin border, the bike path corridor is pleasantly wide. Mile markers are visible north of Waukegan. Another unique feature is the number of community gardens that appear mile after mile, adding a charming country touch to the urban atmosphere.
Parks and open spaces become more prevalent farther north. The trail meets the Kenosha County Bike Trail on a pedestrian bridge spanning Russell Road at the state line. That trail continues another 4.5 miles into Kenosha.
Green Bay Trail Description
The 9-mile Green Bay Trail runs parallel to Chicago's Metra commuter rail line north of the Chicago city limits. Stretching through North Shore towns such as Kenilworth, Winnetka, Highland Park and Lake Bluff, the corridor is flanked by restaurants, shops, community parks and beautiful homes. Because the trail stays generally within a mile of Lake Michigan, you can take any number of on-road side trips for beachfront views of the lake.
The Green Bay Trail runs along the east side of Chicago's Metra Union Pacific North line (UP-N commuter rail) almost entirely along the route of the former Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee (CNS&M) interurban electric railroad, from Greenleaf Avenue in downtown Wilmette to the junction of Saint Johns Avenue & Sheridan Road at the southern edge of downtown Highland Park. Here it turns into the Robert McClory Bike Path.
The trail is suitable for even the youngest of riders, although the route does use some sidewalks and even a very small portion of residential road in Kenilworth. In addition, the surface alternates between asphalt and crushed limestone. Inexperienced cyclists and those with young children should use particular caution at road crossings and with any road riding.
This is a true multi-purpose trail. Commuters take the trail to train stations along the way, bikes are allowed on the Metra in limited numbers; children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult when bringing a bicycle, and residents and tourists alike use the trail for exercise and car-free travel between communities.
From the southern trailhead in Wilmette you will immediately experience the fresh air and beach-front atmosphere that is comfortably juxtaposed with the business and commuter traffic. The trail itself is paved and well maintained, accentuating the upscale neighborhoods through which it travels.
Nearing Highland Park you may find people flocking to Ravinia, one of Chicagoland's best music venues. An open-air, covered pavilion is used for symphony concerts, dance and pop concerts, while smaller indoor theaters showcase chamber music performances and dance recitals.
By the time you reach the St. John's Avenue trailhead, and northern end of the trail, you will appreciate the many restrooms, public telephones, playgrounds and parks afforded by the proximity of the commuter line. Another bonus of the adjacent rail line: if you are tired after your one-way trip, just hop a Metra train for the return trip.
North Shore Channel Trail Description
The North Shore Channel Trail extends from the junction of Green Bay Road and McCormick Boulevard in northern Evanston to the junction of Lawrence Avenue and Francisco Avenue in Chicago. All but the last 0.25 mile runs alongside the North Shore Channel, a drainage and aeration canal built in 1909; the last 0.25 mile follows the North Branch of the Chicago River.
For most of the way, a trail occupies both sides of the North Shore Channel.
The trail on the west side is crushed limestone from Green Bay Road to Golf Road/Emerson Street and asphalt to Lincoln Avenue then again to halfway between Bryn Mawr and Foster avenues. Users will find a narrow dirt path to Foster Avenue before having to use Albany Avenue to Carmen Avenue. The trail becomes asphalt again to Lawrence. All street crossings are at grade and all crossings north of Lincoln Av have traffic lights.
The east side trail is asphalt from Green Bay Road to Lyons Street (halfway between Emerson St and Church St). Then use McDaniels Avenue to Dempster Street, cutting through the playground on the west side of the grade school at McDaniels or using the alley on the east side. Dempster to Main is asphalt, Main to halfway between Main and Oakton is gravel (not crushed limestone), then asphalt the rest of the way to Oakton. One block north of Oakton you'll find a dog park; also nearby is a dock from which you can launch canoes.
The segment from Oakton to Howard is industrial and a fence prevents you from crossing under the Skokie Swift El tracks. From Howard to Lincoln you can ride down Kedzie Avenue, and from Touhy to Thillens Little League stadium one block north of Devon you'll find some fun dirt paths through the trees, if you're into mountain biking.
From Lincoln to Lawrence the North Shore Channel Trail is asphalt, with the last one block on Francisco Avenue. All street crossings north of Howard are at grade level without traffic lights. From Howard to Devon there are traffic lights at the major cross streets. South of Devon, the trail goes underneath all cross streets except Argyle.
If you want an all-asphalt route with a minimum of street crossings and a maximum of traffic lighted street crossings, use the east side trail from Green Bay to Emerson, the west side trail from Emerson/Golf to Lincoln, and then the east side trail from Lincoln to Lawrence.
Chicago Lakefront Trail Description
The Chicago Lakefront Trail is aptly named; it spans 19 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan, going right through downtown Chicago and passing many cultural and tourist attractions throughout the city.
The trail starts at the south end of the South Shore Cultural Center, about 9.5 miles south of downtown Chicago. You begin your ride through Jackson Park and soon pass the Museum of Science and Industry and Promontory Point, a lovely peninsula that provides your first views of the skyline.
You’ll pedal through Burnham Park, which maintains a few nature sanctuaries and harbors. A bit farther north, you’ll catch a few more interesting sights, such as Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium, just be-fore you enter Grant Park in downtown Chicago. You have reached the center of the city—and you can certainly tell! Tourists and locals flock to this portion of the trail, which provides direct access to Navy Pier, a former navy center that now maintains restaurants, shops, and carnival rides.
As you continue, you’ll find yourself surrounded by Lincoln Park, which is home to a zoo, conservatory, and nature museum. To your right, you’ll see one of Chicago’s most popular beaches, North Avenue Beach, which lines the lake. A few miles farther north, you’ll pass a couple more beaches—Montrose Beach and Foster Beach—and your ride will end as you hit Kathy Osterman Beach.
Throughout the trail, you’ll find ample amenities, such as restrooms, water fountains, and concessions. Do be wary of traffic as you near the center of downtown; there are a number of intersections to cross, as well as increased foot and bike traffic. And don’t forget your bike lock if you plan to stop at any of the numerous attractions along the way, and, of course, bring your camera.