Let’s start with some basics about the Great Western Trail. There are actually two segments of the Great Western Trail, one in Kane County and one in DuPage County. They aren't exactly connected, and they’re not that close to each other, but they share the same name because they’re both built on the former rail bed of the Chicago Great Western Railway. Formerly known as the corn-belt route, the railroad linked Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha and Kansas City.
What Makes It Great
You can actually get to one from the other, with the help of some surface streets in St. Charles, Ill., via the Illinois Prairie Path. But the point is, when people talk about the Great Western Trail, make sure you know which segment they’re talking about, lest you wind up in the wrong county.
In Kane County, the western segment starts at the Leroy Oaks Forest Preserve. It’s the older of the two segments, dating back to when the railroad was abandoned in 1977. From there, it’s pretty much a straight shot for nearly 17 miles to Sycamore, Ill., on the crushed-rock covered trail. As you’d expect from an abandoned railroad bed, you don’t get many big hills or sharp turns. It’s flat and direct.
The first third of the trail offers quite a bit of tree cover, making for very pleasant running conditions. After that the trail opens up as it goes through prairie and farmland—meaning more exposure to the elements. You’ll pass through the small towns of Virgil and Lilly Lake as you make your way west, going basically parallel to Route 64. Click here for a trail map.
It may not be the most exciting trail in the world, although certain sections are certainly scenic, but it’s a flat and easy way to put in a lot of miles. You can find water and bathroom facilities at Leroy Oaks Forest Preserve, but you’re on your own most of the way after that. (There is now a parking lot with a restroom facility at about the 6.7-mile mark. The trail typically isn’t very crowded, so you’ll have no trouble going at your own pace.
Who is Going to Love It
Runners who are interested in putting in the miles in the easiest way possible (Of course, if the wind is blowing in your face, you may not find it so easy).
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There’s a small parking lot at the trailhead on Dean Street, which is just north of the intersection of Route 64 and Randall Road. The trail is open every day from sunrise to sunset.