There’s no better way to see fall colors up close and personal than on a mountain bike. However, with cooler temperatures, wet weather and fewer daylight hours, trails can get and stay muddy for days longer than in warm summer months. But that shouldn’t keep you off your mountain bike. The Chicago Area Mountain Bikers offer trail updates to help you know if conditions are good before packing up the bike. And fall in the Chicago area has been relatively dry so far, which has meant plenty of good riding in recent weeks. Fingers crossed that the dry spell continues to allow you the chance to explore some of the Chicago area's best trails during the peak of fall color—here are four to check out.
1. Palos Forest Preserves
Located southwest of Chicago near the junction of I-55 and I-294 in Willow Springs, the forest preserves in the Palos Trail System (there are several) make for the best mountain biking in the Chicago area. The preserve features nine trails with more than 25 miles of various kinds of mountain biking, including some top-notch singletrack. With crushed limestone making up the vast majority of trails in the Chicago area, this is the one place to really take your bike off-road. You’ll find plenty of hills, switchbacks and technical trails to challenge experienced riders—as well as easier multi-track roads and wider paths for beginners. Stick to designated trails, which are well marked, and visit the CAMBR website for a good trail map to help you navigate the area.
2. ** Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve**
If the Palos trails are wet, head just a bit farther down I-55 to Cass Avenue and take advantage of Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Lemont, IL. The 2,492-acre, doughnut-shaped preserve—basically one big 9.5-mile loop—completely surrounds Argonne National Laboratory, the federal research facility that got its start working on nuclear reactors as part of the Manhattan Project in 1946. Except for a few spurs here and there, for the most part you’ve got a nearly uninterrupted crushed-limestone trail that makes a big circle. Despite that limestone composition, the trail boasts tons of tree-covered sections, twists, turns and lots and lots of hills. Another bonus? There are several water sources along the way. Bottom line: The trail is worth a trip any time of year, but make a trip in the fall, when it's at its best.
3. Deer Grove Forest Preserve
Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine is the go-to place for singletrack riding in the northern suburbs. While not as big as Palos, Deer Grove offers some excellent trails, with nearly 10 miles of off-road riding. Located just north of Dundee Road, the Deer Grove Forest Preserve is bisected by Quentin Road, creating east and west sections of the park. The west side is slightly bigger, and has the longest trail, the yellow, which offers a 5.4-mile, uninterrupted loop. You can connect to black and orange trails on the west side and get in a good 10-mile ride without too much repetition. On the east side, which is connected to the west via a paved trail, there’s a 2.6-mile brown loop as well as the 2.6-mile paved trail.
4. ** Kettle Moraine State Forest**
If you’re up for a road trip, the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is one of the best mountain bike options in the Midwest. The state forest contains more than 22,000 acres in southern Wisconsin, about 37 miles southeast of Milwaukee. For mountain bikers, that means more than 130 miles of trails to explore, with lots of variety, thanks to the hardwood forests, pine plantations and prairie. Some trails are closed during hunting season, so check the website beforehand to make sure they’re open. You can also call the park’s hotline 262-594-6202 for up-to-date trail conditions.