The Erie Lackawanna (EL) Trail represents the longest contiguous trail in Northwest Indiana, running 17-miles from Crown Point north to Hammond. This trail passes through wetlands and open space on an unusually wide, paved corridor. The EL is a popular thoroughfare that lends green space to an urban landscape on this rail-trail with connections to five neighboring communities.
At the southern end in Crown Point, the EL starts at Summit Street, just west of Main Street, or State Road 55. The trailhead is brand new as of the summer of 2014 and features a 20-car parking lot, bathrooms, a drinking fountain and a seating plaza, complete with a large shelter replicating an old train depot. From here, head north, where you will ride nearly two miles without a road crossing, past the Lake County Government Complex to 91st Avenue in Merrillville. As you approach US Route 30, a trail connecting to the adjacent Pine Island subdivision has been built with nearby dining facilities.
Just past the Pine Island connector will be the box-culvert tunnel under US 30, and, just after, the town of Schererville. The route from here is lined with subdivisions and some open spaces. At Burr Street, the trail crosses into unincorporated Lake County, whose parks department have opted to naturalize the corridor by only mowing 10 feet on either side of the trail surface. This provides excellent wildlife habitat, and provides a rustic, natural character to the trail experience.
Continuing north, the trail runs into the town of Griffith at Colfax Street. This is a very busy corridor with blind curves, so extra caution needs to be afforded here. Once across, the trail meanders for a half-mile, with two in-laid pavement plazas highlighting the EL Trail logo. At South Broad Street, the route briefly departs from the old railroad corridor. For about 0.8 mile, you follow a well-marked independent bike lane on Griffith streets across seven active rail lines. Just before this detour, take a break at the convenient trailside shelter, which features picnic tables. From here, the trail enters the denser residential and commercial areas of the near-Chicago suburbs, so expect increased street crossings. One in particular is 45th Avenue, where you will need to cross four lanes without any signals.
The route eventually winds through downtown Highland with a number of stores and restaurants in close proximity to the trail. Just north of downtown Highland, the trail winds to Grand Boulevard adjacent to a playground, where users will need to head west across raised tracks to continue to Hammond. However, if you wish to access restrooms, you can continue on the paved path north of Grand, over the Little Calumet River, to the Levee Trail, and just a few hundred feet to the Indiana Welcome Center off of I-80/94. Please note that the Levee Trail has a crushed-limestone surface and is pretty soft in a couple of areas.
After crossing the tracks, the trail continues under US 41 into Wicker Park via a tunnel, where users will wind north to access a bridge over the Little Calumet River. Here, the trail on the levee has been paved as part of the EL network. Users will ride the levee, and then head north around Cabela’s and under I-80/94 via a large underpass.
On the other side of this tunnel, you enter the City of Hammond, which will take users roughly five miles into the downtown vicinity. This trail is the oldest section of the EL built in the mid-1990s. There have been some recent (2013) repairs done, including the addition of a new bike-only bridge at Columbia and 167th Avenues in 2014. The EL creates a ribbon of green through a dense residential district, and thus there are a number of street crossings you will experience; some are more difficult than others. Near the north end, at Douglas Street, the EL meets the northern termini of the Monon Trail, which extends five contiguous miles south into Munster.
The EL terminates at the northern end at Sibley Street. Plans are in the works to connect this trail east to the Marquette Greenway route, which will traverse along the toll road north into the Wolf Lake vicinity.
Plenty of parking is available on the Erie Lackawanna Trail. Starting on the southern end in Crown Point, a trailhead is located at the three-way intersection of Summit, West and Court Streets. It is accessed from State Road 55 and is next to a Walgreen’s. This site has permanent bathrooms and a water fountain.
Mid-point access locations are on Burr Street in Schererville, just south of 73rd Avenue, which is accessed from US 30 about a mile south. Another location is in Griffith, just east of Broad Street on Avenue B. Both of these locations offer a shelter.
The Indiana Welcome Center offers parking, plus bathrooms and a drinking fountain available to the public. The facility is located at 7770 Corinne Drive in Hammond, which is adjacent to the trail.
In downtown Hammond, the trail terminates at Sibley Street just east of Homan Avenue. There is no dedicated parking present, but only street parking. The nearest public parking lot is approximately a mile south at the Hammond Civic Center, located at 5825 Sohl Avenue.