Near the junction of I-55 and I-294 is the mountain biking Mecca for the Chicago area—Palos Forest Preserve. Well, technically it’s several forest preserves that are part of the Cook County Forest Preserve system, but to anyone who enjoys riding off-road, you only need to know one word: Palos. So what’s an off-roader expected to do when the snow falls? Take to the same trails, only this time with a pair of snowshoes.
What Makes It Great
The trail system in the preserve features nine trails of varying degree of difficulty, with plenty of singletrack mixed in with some multi-track roads. When the snow comes, they can be just has hard on your quads as when you’re pushing a big gear. And it’s just a 30-minute ride from downtown—at least when there’s no traffic early mornings on the weekends.
In the winter, Palos takes on a completely different fell. It’s much less crowded and much more quite. You’ll get a different view of the preserve than you've ever seen before.
Singletrack in Chicago is just as much a treat for snowshoers as mountain bikers. You just might not to put in as many miles. Organizations like the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers (http://cambr.org) have helped with trail maintenance and education to make sure cyclists are riding responsibly. The result is a trail system unlike any other in the area—a natural retreat that offers a something unique in the area.
The yellow trail is the longest at 8.3 miles, which offers a big loop in the middle of the preserve and is about a 50/50 mix of singletrack and multiuse road. You can start at the mountain bike staging area at Grove 2 in Pulaski Woods. (Use the map produced by CAMBR here, it’s much better than the one produced by the forest preserve). The more fun singletrack section includes the Bullwhip switchback and view of Maple Lake and Long John Slough. The 6.3-mile Orange West Trail is nearly all single track, with some excellent sections through Three Ravines and the Psycho Path, which gives you an idea of what to expect.
But that’s not to say that all of the trails are for experts. The Blue North (1.2 miles) and Blue South (2.9 miles) offer some great stretches that are more moderate. And there’s plenty of trails with no singletrack if you’re interested in an easier trip on snowshoes.
Who is Going to Love It
Anyone who loves snowshoeing, but particularly those who are looking for a challenge.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Take Archer Avenue to Pulaski Woods and look for signs to Grove 2. Parking at the Palos Forest Preserve is easy.
Cook County Forest Preserve Hours are from sunrise to sunset.
You can find trails all over the park, but the mountain bike staging area is in the center of the park, which offers great access to several trails.