Fall Pedals

Appears in the September 2022 issue.

What better way to enjoy the fall foliage than on two wheels?

Luckily our area has a bounty of beautiful bike trails. Not only do these byways traverse scenic woods, prairies, and bridges, they are also within easy reach of some of the best eateries, cafés, markets, and restaurants around. 

Fox River Trail 

Scenic any time of year, this 44-mile trail hugging the Fox River from Oswego to Algonquin includes must-see attractions like Aurora’s striking pedestrian bridge, Batavia’s Fabyan windmill, and Elgin’s trolley museum.

Illinois Prairie Path 

With 61 miles through parts of Cook, DuPage, and Kane Counties, the three main arteries and spurs of this path offer plenty of urban ambiance. Wide-paved lanes access village attractions such as Wheaton’s French market, traverse trestle bridges, and offer bucolic views like Lincoln Marsh and forests along
the Elgin branch.

Great Western Trail 

While the 12-mile DuPage County portion through residential and commercial areas still includes shady-lane lake views between Villa Park and West Chicago, the 17-mile Kane County counterpart from St. Charles to Sycamore feels more remote, stretching westward through wooded groves, vast farmland, and pretty wetlands.

East Branch DuPage River Trail 

When complete, this visionary 28-mile, north-south trail will seamlessly connect cyclers to shops and recreation along the Illinois Prairie Path and the Great Western Trail, ultimately linking to the Morton Arboretum. Its longest completed segment, winding almost 14 miles through the oak savannah of the Green Valley Forest Preserve, is a tantalizing taste of what’s yet to come.

West Branch DuPage River Trail 

Linking communities along the West Branch of the DuPage River—including the downtowns of Winfield, Warrenville, and Naperville—this 26-mile trail also wends through natural areas like Timber Ridge and Blackwell Forest Preserves, ultimately connecting at its southern-most point with the DuPage River Trail in Will County.

Looking for a more distant trek? Cycling vacations, like the 237-mile Katy Trail in Missouri, are drawing thousands of people each year for getaways. Naperville will have a front-row seat to the granddaddy of them all: the Great American Rail Trail, a coast-to-coast trail that will pass within just 10 miles of the city when it is completed in the next decade or so.

Check out these four regional trails for your next trip.

The Jane Addams Trail 

ILLINOIS—For those looking for an adventure a little closer to home, this top-rated trail with 22 bridges is as historic as its Nobel Prize-winning namesake. Although it’s only 17 miles long, you’ll enjoy a wide variety of terrain and vistas, from colorful prairies to cool, forested ravines, wetlands and historic sites.

The Katy Trail 

MISSOURI—With scenic bluffs and countryside punctuated with tasty breweries, cafés, and appealing towns along the way, it’s not hard to see why America’s longest rails-to-trails byway is consistently recognized as one of the best recreation trails in the nation.  

The Elroy-Sparta Trail 

WISCONSIN—Winding through Wisconsin’s scenic Driftless Area, this was the first of America’s rails-to-trails, built in 1967. With beautiful countryside and forests, this 33-mile trail also boasts three cavernous train tunnels—one nearly a mile long—flanked by massive, 20-foot wooden doors. 

The Root River Trail                         

MINNESOTA—Winding along the Root River for 42 miles of limestone bluffs and dense maple and birch forests, this trail also features appealing towns at every trailhead, museums, historic inns, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts. 

Taking Charge

Does your cycling need a boost? An electric bike can help with that.  

Nope, it’s not a moped, which requires gas (and often a motorcycle license). Instead, e-bikes need pedaling but offer an assist from a battery-powered motor to help conquer hills or maintain a jaunty clip of 12 to 15 miles per hour (many top out at 20 mph). As a result, e-bikes enable cyclists to go farther and longer or on terrain that they might have previously avoided. 

“It makes biking so much more fun,” says Batavia resident Deborah Abbs, who bought her e-bike last summer after she injured her knee. “I use the car much less now for errands or just getting around, like biking with my husband to play tennis or pickleball. I still have to pedal, and I still get a workout, but when you go up a hill like at Fabyan Parkway and Rte. 31, you can look like a superhero and still get exercise.”

Photos courtesy of Ken McClurg (Illinois prairie path) and the Forest Preserve Sistrict of DuPage County (West Branch DuPage River Trail), Bike Rack (Fox River Trail)