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Watch for cafes and critters on local bike trails

Here's a brief look at some of the area’s bike trails, their history and what they have to offer. Many have cafes and other restaurants along the way to stop for a bite. And you'll get a peek at McHenry County's wildlife scene. This guide will tell you what to be looking for.

Morraine Hills State Park Trail
Where:
Moraine Hills State Park, 1510 S. River Road, McHenry. Pick up the trail from the Northern Woods parking lot and picnic area of the park. In McHenry, connect through the River Road trail, which starts at Miller and River roads and takes you to the main entrance of the park.Length: 10 miles with three separate loopsHistory: Trails, as well as picnic areas, were already put in place when the park opened in 1977. Construction of the park took place two years earlier after the State of Illinois acquired the Lake Defiance area. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources oversees the roughly 2,200 acres of park, half of which is composed of wetlands and lakes.What you’ll see: Rolling woodland, wetlands, ponds, prairies, the Fox RiverRest stops: A concession stand at the McHenry Dam offers drinks and snacks. Tidbits: A few years ago, the trail became one-way only to help bicyclists avoid collisions.

Prairie TrailWhere: Stretches from the Kane County line in Algonquin to the Wisconsin state border. Main access points located north of Algonquin near Meyer Drive, along Main Street in Crystal Lake, at Petersen Park in McHenry and in Glacial Park north of Ringwood.Length: 26 miles with access to more than 100 miles of trail network. Algonquin to Ringwood is 19 miles; Ringwood to the Wisconsin line is 7 miles; Prairie Trail to Hebron Trail is 7 miles.History: Follows the former Chicago and Northwestern rail line that ran from Kane County to Wisconsin. The McHenry County Conservation District built the trail along portions of the corridor that were abandoned by the railroad.What you’ll see: Sterne’s Woods, Glacial Park, Nippersink North Branch Conservation Area, Crystal Lake, Algonquin, McHenry, Ringwood and Richmond.Rest stops: Numerous cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops as you travel through the cities. Tidbits: “Glacial Park is just beautiful,” said George Mann, member of the McHenry County Bicycle Club. Encountered at 19.2 miles, the park is full of marshes, savanna and prairie. Nippersink Creek is a must-see, bikers say.

Hebron Trail
Where:
Runs from Church Street in Hebron eastward through North Branch Conservation Area and links with the Prairie Trail in Richmond. Length: 7 milesHistory: It was constructed on the former K.D. railroad line.What you’ll see: The first mile is dominated by cropland with patches of woodland. You might hear the honking of sandhill cranes as the trail winds through wetlands. A trailside viewing platform at Streets Lake offers a view of cattails, waterbirds and muskrat lodgers. Rest stops: Trail ends in Hebron, a village known for its 1952 basketball championship team, and by cyclists, for its Dari ice cream shop.Tidbits: A camp-by-bike area is located in North Branch for bikers on longer trips.

Huntley-Union-Marengo (HUM) Trail
Where:
Join the trail on Prospect Street behind Marengo Middle School. Trail runs from East Street in Marengo to Vine Street in Union.Length: 3.5 milesHistory: Grew out of the conservation district’s purchase of 104 acres from the Chicago Northwest Railroad, now Union Pacific. This portion is the first phase of a proposed 17-mile trail that one day could take bicyclists from Boone County to Huntley along the tracks.What you’ll see: Mostly prairie, wildflowers, and of course, the railroad tracks. Rest stops: In Marengo, Mr. Freeze is nearby, while Union has a Checkers II restaurant.Tidbits: As for the expansion, “It’s a concept that would be great if it could ever get funded,” district spokeswoman Wendy Kummerer said, adding that right now, “It’s so far in the future.”

Ridgefield Trace
Where:
From Oak Street in Crystal Lake to McHenry County College along Route 14.Length: 2 milesHistory: Runs within a Com-Ed right-of way. Work is underway for a second phase of the trail that would extend it eastward to Veteran Acres Park. That project should be completed next year.What you’ll see: Trail follows Route 14.Rest stops: McHenry County College, along with various businesses along the highwayTidbits: There are plans to extend it to Route 47 in Woodstock once Route 14 is widened.

Stone Mill TrailWhere: Located between Lawrence Road in Harvard and Maxon Road in Chemung.Length: 1.5 milesHistory: A saw mill, grist mill and then a flour mill all existed on the Chemung end of the trail dating back to 1845. What you’ll see: A view of the rural towns and area along a flat route that, as Mann says, “is just smooth as silk.”Rest stops: Found mostly on the Harvard end, where numerous restaurants and cafes are within riding distance.Tidbits: Future phases would connect Milky Way Park in Harvard to Boone County Conservation District’s Long Prairie Trail.

Looking to start riding?

Members of the McHenry County Bicycle Club hope to draw new members. To do so, Anne Lunk is heading up a weekly ride on the Prairie Trail. Starting Aug. 5, riders will meet at 6 p.m. Fridays to ride from Algonquin to East Dundee, which will take them to various points along the Fox River.

Riders will go anywhere from 10 to 12 miles an hour during the roughly 13- to 15-mile round trip, Lunk said.

“We’re trying to target new people, people that might be afraid of riding on the road, but want to get out there,” she said.

For information on the ride or the club, go to www.mchenrybicycleclub.org.

More information on the area’s bike trails can be found at www.mccdistrict.org.

– Jami Kunzer

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