Road Biking Illinois  by Ted Villaire

Road Biking Illinois Guide Book

by Ted Villaire (Falcon Guides)
Road Biking Illinois  by Ted Villaire
Readers will find detailed descriptions and maps of forty of the best bicycle rides in Illinois, from easy afternoon jaunts to multi-day tours. Elevation profiles, recommendations for accommodations and restaurants, information on local events and attractions, and special attention to traffic conditions and road hazards make this an indispensable guide for Illinois cyclists.

© 2010 Ted Villaire/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Road Biking Illinois" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 43.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 43.

After exploring the sprawling mansion and stunning sculpture gardens in Robert Allerton Park, the gentle bluffs of the Sangamon River provide many miles of unsurpassed local riding. Cyclists from Decatur and Champaign love these roads because they’re scenic, quiet, and winding. Along the way, you’ll pass through the vibrant little town of Monticello, home to a few art galleries and a historic district featuring a surprising collection of nineteenth-century mansions.
Mahomet, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 45.7
This ride consists of two parts, each very different from the other. The west half tours the straight, wide-open roads that run through a vast Mississippi River floodplain (and super-fertile farming territory) called the American Bottoms. The east half follows a series of twisting, hilly roads through the wooded bluffs about 400 feet above the floodplain. If the village of Valmeyer seems especially quiet, there’s good reason for it: The towns-people, by and large, have left the village. In 1993, after getting hit with two severe floods in quick succession, 90 percent of the town’s buildings were damaged beyond repair. As a result, the Valmeyer residents decided to pull up stakes and move their town out of the floodplain to a spot 2 miles up the river bluff.
Columbia, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 41.4
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Taking a spin through the largest Amish community in Illinois and the fourth-largest in the nation, you may come to realize that Amish country is best explored on a bike. On a bike you’re seeing the landscape at about the same speed as someone riding in an Amish horse and buggy, and you’re less likely to feel as though you’re intruding upon the Amish low-tech way of life. You’re also more likely to stop and chew the fat with someone at the Amish schools, Amish businesses, and dozens of small Amish farms that you’ll pass. Reinforcing the kinship between cyclists and the Amish is the realization that many Amish people ride bikes, too.
Arcola, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 31.6
Given the bustle of the surrounding suburban landscape, the rural character of this ride seems unlikely. As you encounter the oak-covered hills, sprawling marshlands, and farms mixed in with a scattering of often-palatial houses, you’ll find yourself congratulating the local residents who fought to preserve the area’s rural charm. Signs along the road indicate efforts to rid the area of invasive plants and restore the native landscape. Interrupting the savannas and wetlands are oak-and hickory-laden hills—some of which may prompt you to drop into the granny gear while climbing.
Barrington, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 28.9
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This ride opens with a short stint on a heavily wooded section of the Major Taylor Trail, one of the newest trails in Chicago. The route in Beverly takes you by a collection of historic mansions, including one that was modeled after an Irish castle. From Beverly, you’ll head west through the quiet streets of Mount Greenwood and pass some of the local cemeteries for which the area is known. After tours of the suburban towns of Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park, you’ll return to Beverly to gawk at more of the sprawling mansions.
Blue Island, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 17.9
This ride offers a delicious mix of small rural towns and scenic countryside northwest of Bloomington—much of it in the hilly landscape surrounding the Mackinaw River. The route also follows miles of long, straight, quiet farm roads that run by old farmhouses and barns. The first section of this ride takes you along Old Peoria Road, a local favorite among cyclists because of its rolling terrain and winding progression. One of the highlights of this ride is the wooded hills and bluffs surrounding the Mackinaw River. At about 15 miles into the ride, north of Congerville, the hills begin to swell and multiply as you enter an area known as the Eureka Moraine. A moraine takes shape when an ice sheet advances at the same pace that it melts. As a result, the glacier acts as a conveyor belt, dropping off its load of rock, dirt, and debris—the stuff Rolling hills, some of them sizable, appear near the Mackinaw River on the Bloomington Challenge.
Bloomington, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 64.2
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This ride takes you through a scenic setting that straddles the Illinois-Indiana state line just 40 miles south of downtown Chicago. The landscape features gently undulating farmland broken up regularly by swaths of woodland, occasional small hills and ravines, and streams that braid the landscape. At the ride’s halfway point, you’ll explore the Indiana community of Cedar Lake, a former resort town on the shore of a gleaming natural lake.
Dyer, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 44.7
While following paved trails along this stretch of the Mississippi River, you’ll encounter a handful of local landmarks, including the Gateway Arch in downtown Saint Louis. On the second half of the ride, the trails take you upstream on a system of levees and through a series of parks. End the ride at one of the great unsung treasures of Illinois and Missouri—the mile-long Chain of Rocks pedestrian bridge.
Columbia, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 24.7
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This ride takes you south of Charleston along quiet roads winding through the beautiful hilly woodlands that accompany the scenic Embarras River. After a bit of Lincolnia on the first leg of the ride, you’ll zigzag through gently rolling farmland, cross a handful of creeks, and encounter prairie, bottomland, and plenty of hills. The final part of this tour explores Charleston, a pleasant historic town that hosts the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Charleston has a rich history for a town of only 20,000 or so souls. On the north side of Charleston, the fairgrounds have hosted the Coles County Fair continuously since 1854—making it the oldest county fair in the state. In its early years, the fairgrounds hosted speakers such as William Jennings Bryan, the evangelist preacher Billy Sunday, and one of the historic debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in their campaign for the U.S. Senate. Adding to Charleston’s charm is an impressive old courthouse located in the downtown historic district.
Charleston, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 38.1
Enjoy a classic Chicago bike ride along the Lakefront Path as it winds past harbors, beaches, the dazzling skyline, and the big blue lake. After passing the museum campus and Soldier Field, you’ll leave the well-beaten biking path and head into the vibrant neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village and then meet up with the Chicago boulevard system. The boulevards guide you through three large Chicago parks sprinkled with gardens, lagoons, and elegant park buildings. The final section of the route tours several of Chicago’s north-side neighborhoods.
Chicago, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 29.6
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This ride reveals a south side of Chicago that is vast and persistently interesting. Visit four great Chicago south-side parks, follow the Lake Michigan coastline, and explore Pullman, a nineteenth-century planned neighborhood of Victorian row houses. The route also takes you through areas of heavy industry for which the south side is known. While exploring the wetlands of the Lake Calumet area, it’s hard to believe that you’re still in the city of Chicago. This ride starts within Jackson Park, home to one of the most important events in Chicago history: the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Some of the features of this world-renowned event still exist within the park. South of the parking area where this ride begins is a lagoon surrounding an island containing a serene Japanese garden.
Chicago, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 27.7
Looking for a short, scenic ride in central Illinois? Want minimal hills? How about a ride where you’re likely to see more people sitting on their porches than driving in their cars? Well, the roads through the gentle hills and bluffs in the Illinois River Valley northeast of Peoria should fit the bill. A great ride for beginners, it follows peaceful winding roads through farm country and large swaths of scenic woodland.
Chillicothe, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 16
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While exploring the shoreline of two lakes north of Bloomington, plan for a picnic at any one of a handful of attractive parks along the way. The quiet rural roads between the lakes are decorated with small farms, old barns, and big spreads of cropland. Just north of the twin cities of Bloomington-Normal are a pair of scenic lakes called Evergreen Lake and Lake Bloomington. As with nearly every other lake in central and southern Illinois, these two were created by damming streams and rivers. Now the lakes serve the dual purpose of recreation spot and municipal water source. Lake Bloomington was constructed in 1929 and has a water treatment plant on its shore.
Gridley, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 35.3
If you live in Illinois, you’ve likely heard of Galena—a small historic town situated on a bluff not far from the Mississippi River. It’s one of the state’s biggest tourist destinations, but what the throngs of visitors often fail to fully experience is the beautiful countryside surrounding the town. The outlying landscape hosts some of the hilliest, most scenic terrain in Illinois. If you’ve cycled in this far northwest corner of the state, the thought of pedaling this area again will likely bring a smile to your face. It’s a pleasant mix of hills—some quite big by Illinois standards—small dairy farms, lush woodland, winding streams, and mostly quiet roadways.
Elizabeth, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 57.5
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A magnificent series of ridges and hollows (or “hollers,” as Southerners call them) will give your legs a first-rate workout. This ride takes you through dense woodland, along wild and winding roads, and over some of the biggest hills in Illinois. The huge hills let up on the northeastern section of the route. Toward the end of the ride, consider flopping your tired body into a scenic little lake nestled in the bottom of a beautiful holler. It’s for good reason that Garden of the Gods serves as one of the main tourist draws in southern Illinois. At the edge of the parking area, visitors can stand atop strangely shaped rock formations and take in 30-mile views of distant rolling hills. Some of the rock formations look like enormous dollops of wet sand dropped from above; others resemble forests of giant mushrooms. Garden of the Gods also claims a top-notch system of hiking trails that allows you to explore rocky canyons, sandstone cliffs, and remote wooded bluffs.
Karbers Ridge, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 37.3
Much of this ride follows the route of the Hillsboro–Roubaix Spring Classic, a favorite bike race in central Illinois. Cyclists love riding in this area because of the quiet roads and the constantly shifting terrain. As the roads change from flat to rolling to hilly, you’ll mount a few hilltops with open views of the surrounding countryside. Many Midwestern bike racers have the Hillsboro–Roubaix Spring Classic in mind when they start riding their indoor trainers in December. The early-April race features a 22-mile loop that rumbles through brick streets in Hillsboro and then dips and bobs through the rolling terrain between Litchfield and Hillsboro. There are short but challenging climbs and twisting descents.
Butler, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 33.9
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While exploring the Illinois and Michigan Canal on the path once used by mules to pull boats up and down the canal, there’s no shortage of scenic areas containing woods, marshes, prairies, and agricultural land. You’ll also encounter a couple of interesting small towns that grew up alongside this waterway dug in the mid-1800s. The second half of the ride follows country roads that lead through gently rolling terrain parallel to the Illinois River. After leaving Channahon State Park, crossing the Du Page River, and passing another lock, the trail follows a 15-foot-wide strip of land between two bodies of water: the 20- to 30-foot-wide canal on the right and the broad and mighty Des A lock-tender’s house sits beside the I&M Canal in Channahon State Park. Plaines River on the left. The surrounding landscape is wooded and hilly, with bluffs and patches of farmland.
Channahon, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 48.3
One of the highlights of this ride is a generous stretch of roadway that offers outstanding views along a wide swath of the Illinois River. Another attraction—just after the ride’s halfway point—is the choice of baked goods, sandwiches, fruits, and other tasty items available at Tanners Orchard, a local institution that combines an orchard with a bakery, a restaurant, and a sort of kiddie theme park. Sprinkled between these landmarks are wooded bluffs, prairies, twisting streams, and pleasantly rolling farmland.
Rome, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 42.7
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This classic central Illinois ride provides a thorough introduction to the pastoral landscape of western Peoria County. Memorable hills and vales greet you in the first and final miles of the ride. In between, the gently undulating farmland is broken up by creeks, small towns, and abandoned strip mines now covered in grassland and filled with occasional small lakes and ponds. It’s for good reason that Peoria-area cycling groups have been happily turning their pedals along these roads for more than thirty years. The route offers a taste of the rural bliss that keeps many central Illinoisans firmly rooted in the area: In between pleasant little towns, you’ll encounter generous helpings of wooded hills and grasslands mixed with peaceful rolling farmland. Topping it off is an interesting starting point at the historic grounds of Jubilee College State Park.
Oak Hill, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 44.8
Without a doubt, these quiet, winding roads through the river bluffs above the Illinois River offer some of the most scenic riding in the state. Much of the mileage consists of long climbs and long descents through wooded hollows that are at times gradual, at times steep. The bottoms of the hollows typically open up into a yawning floodplain bordered by bluffs. Numerous creeks appear along the way, as do big dramatic bluffs soaring up from the edge of the road.
Pearl, IL - Road Biking - Trail Length: 34.5
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