Trail of the Month: June 2005
Illinois Prairie Path, Illinois
The 51-mile Illinois Prairie Path (IPP) holds the esteemed title of being one of the most famous rail-trails in the country. Located just west of Chicago, the IPP spans three counties in northeast Illinois and consistently lures an impressive number of walkers, bicyclists and equestrians each year to enjoy a variety of recreational ventures along its limestone path. Whether you are interested in a short jaunt or an epic journey, the IPP makes for a perfect destination trail, providing users with plenty of features such as fascinating scenic views, trailside museums and charming historic regions. So, pack your bags, load up the kiddies and head to the great state of Illinois for an adventure you will never forget.
Looking down on the Illinois Prairie Path from an aerial view you will see that the trail takes on a sideways broom shape. The mainstem, which runs approximately 15 miles from Maywood to Wheaton College, serves as the handle and connects to four branches—the Elgin, Geneva, Batavia and Aurora. Each of the branches range in length from eleven to 14 miles and connect to the Fox River Trail, a 35-mile rail-trail that stretches from Algonquin to Aurora. If you are interested in a long, ambitious excursion, take the IPP from Maywood to Wheaton then jump on the Elgin branch, hang a left onto the Fox River Trail in an approximately 55 mile loop, down and back.
Heading west from Maywood, you will encounter five towns on your way to Wheaton College—Berkley, Elmhurst, Villa Park, Lombard and Glen Ellyn. As you ride along the mainstem you'll find picturesque views of lovely parks and gorgeous foliage like black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, compass plant and several varieties of asters. Make sure to visit the Villa Park Historical Society Museum at Mile Marker 3 where you will find plenty of information about the Roarin' Eagle railroad, plus interactive exhibits for the kids. From Villa Park, the trail takes on a more scenic atmosphere. At the Lombard section located at Mile Marker 4, the trail becomes framed with trees on each side of the trail. At mile markers 5 and 9 the Metra railroad tracks parallels the trail on its north side in Glen Ellyn and Wheaton.
When you arrive at the Wheaton College trailhead take a moment to enjoy the city of Wheaton. It was founded in 1837 and 1838 by Erastus Gary, and Jesse and Warren Wheaton—three pioneers who came from New England and laid the foundation for the Roarin' Eagle, Chicago's Aurora and Elgin railroad. The line passed through Wheaton bringing jobs and money to the area. Warren Wheaton also donated a plot of land to the Illinois Institute which was later renamed Wheaton College in his honor. If you would like to learn more about Erastus Gary, and Jesse and Warren Wheaton head over to the Dupage County Illinois Museum located on 102 E. Wesley Street in Wheaton.
From Wheaton College the IPP forks off in two directions. Going northwest you'll find the Elgin and Geneva branches. The Elgin branch gently guides users for 14 miles through a mass of lovely forests with quick glimpses of wetlands, residences, a country club, and an equestrian center. If you have a chance to stop in the city of Elgin make sure to visit some of the stunning 19th century homes exhibited throughout the historic district, this area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Geneva branch takes you through woods, an industrial area, past DuPage County Airport and a country club, and through West Chicago on sidewalks and alleys. Be alert on this section as there are numerous, busy road crossings.
Going southwest, you will find the Batavia branch which travels about 12 miles into Batavia, described lovingly as, "a town like towns used to be." This is a great area to grab a bite to eat and catch a local event like a street fair. The southernmost part of the IPP, the Aurora branch, takes users 13 miles through beautiful farmland, past forest preserves, over street, railroad and river crossings, and alternates between on- and off-road terrains.
Once you hit Aurora jump off of the trail and get some rest and relaxation after a long hard day out on the trail. This area has plenty of hotels and restaurants, and claims to be one of the Midwest's premier shopping destinations with markets, outlets and malls.