Five2Ride: 5 of the Best MTB Trails in Illinois

photo: Nicholas Mann
photo: Nicholas Mann

While Illinois might not be the first US state that comes to mind when thinking of mountain biking, the riders who live there are passionate about their trails. We learned this firsthand last year when we selected Naperville as the capitol of mountain biking in Illinois and got absolutely creamed in the comments, more so than for any other selection on our list.

Illinois is located within a region of the USA known as the interior plains, but that doesn’t mean the state is pancake flat. Nearly 1,000 feet of elevation separate the state’s low point from its high point, Charles Mound.

After tabulating hundreds of Singletracks trail reviews and consulting both the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers (CAMBr), the largest mountain bike club in Illinois, and Singletracks forum participants, we came up with this list of 5 of the best, must-ride trails in Illinois that are not to be missed. In addition to the top five trails, we’ve also included three runner-up trails for those looking for more.

Farmdale Reservoir Recreation Area

photo: campstreet
photo: campstreet

The Farmdale Reservoir Recreation Area is located just east of Peoria, IL in the north-central part of the state. With 18 miles of singletrack for riders of all skill levels, honest-to-God switchbacks, and excellent flow, Farmdale is a favorite among Singletracks members and our experts at CAMBr alike. Popular trails within Farmdale include Whistler, Schrolls, TNT, Mike & Don’s, and Creek Side.

“This is an excellent place to ride in Illinois. It has miles of single track that ranges from flowing, fast, smooth, easy, to intermediate skill with some small jumps and log rolls along the way. Also some decent climbs and descents and lots of switchbacks in some areas. There are also some difficult sections to the trail […]

All in all if you’re in Illinois it’s worth stopping. I’ve been going as much as twice a week since I first went and I live an hour and a half away.” -bman7785

Independence (Indy)

photo: RoadWarrior
photo: RoadWarrior

Independence, also known as Indy and Marquette Heights, is the second of two Peoria-area trails to make our list. The Indy trail system features 12 miles of singletrack set among beautiful woodlands cut by deep ravines, with 250 feet of elevation difference between the high and low points within the network. Riders report the trails here are mostly XC-style with few technical obstacles, save for the occasional log and root crossings.

“Indy really takes advantage of the Illinois River Valley terrain. I had my worst spill(s) here so it gained my respect quickly. I enjoyed the difficulty, both technically and physically. Early morning risers will enjoy the deer sightings as well.” -brettzero

Kickapoo

photo: Nicholas Mann
photo: Nicholas Mann

Based on Singletracks member reviews, Kickapoo is the most popular trail in Illinois, and it even ranks among the top 10% of all trails worldwide. Kickapoo features at least 14 miles of singletrack with named and numbered trails offering challenges for all skill levels. Visitors should be sure to experience Heaven & Hell, “a complex section of the system beginning with narrow, bench cut downhills and tight switchbacks. This leads to a quick rise and drop in the middle before the trail begins an arduous climb back to the top of the ridge.” (Source)

“Great trail system and well-worth the hour drive! Best trail I have ridden in Illinois and did a DINO race here a few years ago that was really tough! Love this place and can’t wait to go back! They put a lot of effort into this place!” -bboehman

Palos Hills

photo: Barbas
photo: Barbas

Palos Hills boasts a whopping 30 miles of trails within 20 miles of downtown Chicago, making it a popular spot for both after-work and weekend warriors. Recent reports suggest navigation may be difficult due to a lack of signage, and the conditions on some of the trails get mixed reviews as well. However, proximity to the city and the fact that Palos hosts popular events and races for mountain bikers during the year make Palos a must ride in Illinois.

“You can really ride many different styles of trail in one system. There’s elevation, flow, technical, and rocky gnar. With the ability to ride the trails in multiple directions, riders can reinvent their routes to keep it fresh. The recent updates are really focused on adding fun to the ride, and [they] deliver excitement for a vast range of rider [abilities]. Add all that together and then think about the proximity to the country’s 3rd largest city. It really is an amazing set of trails that services thousands and thousands of riders.” -Joe LoPresti, CAMBr Plainfield Bike Park Coordinator.

Saw Wee Kee

photo: Barbas
photo: Barbas

Saw Wee Kee Park is located near Oswego, IL at the far western edge of the Chicago metro area. While the 10 miles of trails at Saw Wee Kee don’t offer a lot of elevation change, riders report a good variety of trails and some technical challenges, along with roller-coaster descents.

“SWK took me by surprise to say the least. [After] riding Palos mostly and occasionally Western states, finding Saw Wee Kee was a dream come true. It took me a while from the first time I heard about it, and haven’t been back to Palos since.” -MitchMoe

Honorable Mentions

Raceway Woods, located northwest of Chicago, received multiple mentions from Singletracks forum participants, and is ranked 7th overall according to member reviews.

Big Marsh is an ongoing bike park project located on the southeast side of Chicago that already has mountain bikers raving.

photo: DH001
photo: DH001

Illiniwek Forest Preserve features some stunning wooden trail features set along the Illinois/Iowa border.

Your turn: What are your favorite trails in Illinois?

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