Where to ride your bike for fall colors (in coronavirus times)

  • Most of the Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County is within forest, so there are plenty of trees to show colors in the fall.

    Most of the Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County is within forest, so there are plenty of trees to show colors in the fall. Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves

  • Signs remind of social distancing on the Busse Woods trail between Schaumburg and Elk Grove Village.

      Signs remind of social distancing on the Busse Woods trail between Schaumburg and Elk Grove Village. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, April 2020

 
 
Updated 9/17/2020 11:11 AM

A great way to see the fall colors is to ride your bike, which allows you to be outside and travel a good distance to catch a lot of scenery. So where should you go? Options abound in the suburbs.

But we're also living in coronavirus times. That brings some extra considerations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Minding the virus

The good news is that being outside greatly reduces the risk of COVID-19 spreading, because the breeze disperses dangerous droplets. But what about riding on crowded trails or with people you don't live with? The advice has been mixed, leaning toward caution.

In its April newsletter, the Active Transportation Alliance advised making sure you stay 6 feet apart from others, wherever you are, and that you don't ride with people you don't live with. The guidance came on the heels of an unpublished study that suggested the virus could spread within a group of runners and cyclists because they easily could breathe each other's air, especially if they're in each other's slipstream.

But quickly scientists began questioning the true danger of running or riding together. They suggested that someone would pretty much have to sneeze or cough directly in your face at just the right split second to pass on the virus -- and that's if the virus was strong enough in those droplets to actually infect you.

Yet, as late as June 30, a Bicycling magazine article, citing three academic researchers, leaned toward playing it safe -- by sticking to solo rides and riding where it's less crowded.

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The Active Transportation Alliance, responding to Daily Herald and other inquiries, now cites that article as well as the Cook County Department of Public Health for its latest advice.

"Public health guidelines still recommend keeping 6 feet of physical distance between you and others, staying home when you are sick, and wearing a mask in public -- especially when physical distancing becomes difficult," it said in a statement.

But, "while we are still learning more about the virus every day, walking and biking in small groups outside and quickly passing others on trails, bike lanes, or sidewalks are viewed as lower-risk activities."

Signs remind exercisers about social distancing rules on the trails at Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, which the Des Plaines River Trail goes through.
  Signs remind exercisers about social distancing rules on the trails at Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, which the Des Plaines River Trail goes through. - John Starks | Staff Photographer, April 2020
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Trails in the suburbs, especially in forest preserves, often now have signs urging people to keep 6 feet apart.

New or improved rides

In Gurnee: A new trail link is connecting Gurnee residents to the Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve and beyond. At 0.4 mile, the crushed gravel trail extends from the northeast part of the Rollins Savanna to Route 45 and Dada Drive, and east to a village trail on Knowles Road. Rollins Savanna itself has 5.5 miles of trails with boardwalks and bridges that wind through a variety of landscapes and a connection to the regional Millennium Trail & Greenway (below).

The Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is one of only a few places in Lake County that offer free public access to Lake Michigan, and the community off the lake is full of colorful trees in the fall.
The Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is one of only a few places in Lake County that offer free public access to Lake Michigan, and the community off the lake is full of colorful trees in the fall. - Courtesy of DroNation, 2018

• Fort Sheridan via North Shore Path: This independent community, a former Army installation near Lake Forest, Highland Park and Highwood along Lake Michigan, also features new lakefront amenities. The community's roads themselves are a joy to ride, and they will be lined with colorful trees. Then, on the lakefront, enjoy two scenic overlooks, hiking trails and a beach along a restored shoreline. It's accessible from the Robert McClory Bike Path, about a 25-mile trail along North Shore suburbs from Highland Park to the Wisconsin border that connects to the Millennium Trail via the North Shore Path along Route 176 starting in Mundelein. fortsheridan.com and lakecountyil.gov.

• Poplar Creek Trail link to Elgin: The Poplar Creek Trail between Hoffman Estates and Streamwood, and between Barrington Road and the west side of Route 59, will show some fall colors in spots, and now the trail links to Elgin via a new connection down forested Shoe Factory Road. That extends from Route 59 to the CN railroad tracks, at which point you could ride west through Elgin to the Fox River Trail (below).

• Moraine Hills State Park: In this forested state park along River Road just east of the Fox River in McHenry and west of Island Lake, you'll find a collection of trails, and the paved bike trail seen just off River Road is being extended to connect to Lily Lake Road. Ride this trail or the roads within the park surrounded by trees and their fall colors.

• Raceway Woods: The Chicago Area Mountain Bikers organization has developed mountain biking trails in Kane County's portion of this forest preserve by the old Meadowsdale Speedway in Carpentersville. In 2019, the group reached an agreement with Dundee Township to expand the trails. Now there are about 5 miles in this pretty preserve between the Fox River and Route 31. More at cambr.org.

Classic suburban trails

Take in fall foliage on routes of up to 11 miles near the shores of the Des Plaines River in Cook County.
Take in fall foliage on routes of up to 11 miles near the shores of the Des Plaines River in Cook County. - Courtesy of Cook County Forest Preserve

• Des Plaines River Trail: The vast majority of this beautiful Lake County trail along the river goes right through forest. The well-maintained, crushed-limestone trail covers more than 30 miles from Lake-Cook Road to Russell Road, just short of the Wisconsin border, with few street crossings. Cook County's more rough-and-tumble Des Plaines Trail goes through forest itself, with Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Wheeling on the west, and Glenview and Northbrook on the east. More on Lake County's trail at www.lcfpd.org/dprt/ and on Cook County's trail at www.fpdcc.com.

The Busse Woods bike trail comes with great orange and yellow colors in the fall, especially on the east side near and along Arlington Heights Road, north of Higgins Road.
  The Busse Woods bike trail comes with great orange and yellow colors in the fall, especially on the east side near and along Arlington Heights Road, north of Higgins Road. - Neil Holdway | Staff Photographer, 2015

• Busse Woods Trail (Northwest suburbs): This Northwest suburban stalwart in between Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village and Schaumburg will surround you with bright, yellow leaves and provide colorful scenes in the distances. All paved. Busse Woods is crowded on nice days after work and worse on weekends, so be careful and leave space around others. More at fpdcc.com.

• North Branch Trail: This trail of about 20 miles along the North Branch of the Chicago River has been there forever, starting most commonly at Caldwell and Devon avenues in Chicago, though accessible from several parking lots from deeper in the city all the way to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. So it's near suburbs like Niles, Glenview and Northbrook. More at fpdcc.com.

The Prairie Trail of McHenry County in Algonquin offers a tunnel of colorful trees in the fall.
  The Prairie Trail of McHenry County in Algonquin offers a tunnel of colorful trees in the fall. - John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2015

• Prairie Trail of McHenry County and Fox River Trail: The famed Fox River Trail will have its foliage moments along its more than 40 miles from Oswego on the south to Algonquin on the north, but it's where it blends seamlessly into the Prairie Trail of McHenry County that the trees shine most. As you ride north through McHenry County, you may see distant colorful scenes when you're not in forest. Mostly paved. Great info at foxriverbiketrails.com and www.mccdistrict.org.

• Millennium and linked trails (west Lake County): For the prettiest western Lake County trail rides, start up north at the Ray Lake preserve, on Erhard Road off Gilmer Road. The Ray Lake preserve has about 2.5 miles of gravel trail leading to the Fort Hill Trail, which runs another 2.5 miles or so to connect to the Millennium Trail at the Lakewood preserve. It's mostly crushed limestone, and the county is working to connect a 41-mile trail system in the end. More at lcfpd.org.

• Illinois Prairie Path (DuPage County): The 61-mile Prairie Path is really DuPage-based and remarkably weaves its way through the heart of the DuPage suburbs -- the country's rails-to-trails effort began here. You'll have the best fall experience riding through Wayne, but there is plenty of colorful forest elsewhere -- the crushed-limestone trail goes through tree-lined Glen Ellyn, Wheaton and Lombard, for instance. New connections, such as to Pratt's Wayne Woods in the Wayne and West Chicago area, are in the works. More at www.ipp.org.

• Linked DuPage preserves: If you're from Bartlett, you have easy access to Hawk Hollow and Mallard Lake forest preserves off Stearns and County Farm roads. They offer pretty rides through the forest and around Mallard Lake, a few miles each on crushed limestone. And now a bridge connects the two preserves.

Colorful trees can be seen around the Mallard Lake Forest Preserve in Bloomingdale.
Colorful trees can be seen around the Mallard Lake Forest Preserve in Bloomingdale. - Daily Herald file photo, 2017

• West Branch DuPage River Trail, in the Blackwell and Warrenville Grove forest preserves, Warrenville/West Chicago/Winfield: Go off the Illinois Prairie Path at Butterfield Road east of Route 59, and you can ride into this forested area, circling a loop a couple of miles in.

• Herrick Lake and Danada: Farther east off Butterfield Road, you'll find these forested and lakeside trails, about 4 miles' worth.

Hit the roads

Ride around the neighborhood or on longer, bucolic roads on the outskirts, where you will find more space but also maybe more traffic.

• Barrington Hills: A tree and biking-road paradise. Check out Spring Creek Road. Getting there is wonderful, too, but residents ask that you stay single file, please.

• Schaumburg: Long noted for bike lanes and paths through the village, and the older, southwest portion of the village will have plenty of trees changing colors. More at villageofschaumburg.com.

• Arlington Heights: It's bike-friendly and trying to get bike-friendlier, and there are plenty of trees. More at vah.com.

• Elk Grove Village: Proximity to the Busse Woods trail and a mayor who's been an avid bicyclist have inspired bike routes on village streets, and they're pretty closer to Busse Woods. More at elkgrove.org.

• Naperville: It's easy to get to and from downtown including via a paved trail along Hobson Road (east-west) and Washington Street (north-south) -- and the closer to downtown, the more trees. Not to mention the Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve off 75th Street. More at www.naperville.il.us.

• Kane County: The western portion of the county is great for more serious road cyclists and will offer plenty of color. Like on Burr Road near the LeRoy Oakes forest preserve, Silver Glen Road, Burlington Road, McDonald Road, Campton Hills Road and La Fox Road.

• Lake County: The best options for trees and scenes while road-riding are out west around Wauconda, Hawthorn Woods, Island Lake, Lakemoor, Long Grove, Volo and the Barringtons. Try Cuba Road, Long Grove Road, Old McHenry Road, Fairfield Road, Gilmer Road, Kelsey Road, River Road, Darrell Road and Bonner Road.

• Rural roads south of Aurora, between Oswego and Plainfield: Want to know what it's like to ride among tall, brown cornstalks before harvesting in the fall? Venture out into the Kendall County country for a cool experience. You can take Eola Road south from Aurora; it turns into Heggs Road. Take a road west like 111th Street and find Stewart Road and take a left; it becomes Ridge Road. Or from Montgomery take Douglas Road south; it hooks up with the diagonal Plainfield Road. Or from Oswego near state Route 71 and the northwest end of Plainfield Road, take Grove Road south; it takes you to the famously scenic Reservation Road west toward Yorkville. And explore all the farm roads around all of these. You may see scarecrows and even pumpkin patches.

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