The Prairie Trail—not to be confused with the Illinois Prairie Path—is a 28-mile route starting just 0.8 mile from the Wisconsin–Illinois border in Genoa City, Wisconsin, and ending in Algonquin, Illinois. The trail is a beautiful piece of nature tucked away in rural Illinois but still in the backyard of the greater Chicagoland area.
Before you head off, however, keep in mind that preparation is key for an excursion on this trail. Open spaces provide little shade, and there are long stretches between water sources. Be sure to fill your water bottles and pack sunscreen if you're traveling in the warmer months. Throw in your camera, too, and capture this picturesque trail while enjoying a real outdoor adventure.
As the trail heads south from Genoa City, you'll enjoy serene travel on the crushed-stone path. Several bridges and interpretive signs mark your journey. Nearly 8 miles in, the surface switches to smooth asphalt, and the next 9 miles are enjoyably straightforward and relaxing.
Near mile 17, the trail becomes hilly, very much so compared with the surrounding area. For the next 1.5 miles through Sterne's Woods, the trail leaves the rail corridor, undulating and twisting back and forth—a stretch that is likely to get your heart pumping if you're on a bike. The payoff is rich, however, because after the curvy, hilly challenge you'll come to shining Crystal Lake, where there's a beach and picnic areas to spend a fun family day.
At this point, the trail becomes busier and you can count on seeing lots of users enjoying the trail. Brace yourself for a few navigational changes, too; the farther south you get, the easier it is to get turned around if you're not familiar with the area.
Parking and access is available all along the route. At the northern end point, the Genoa City trailhead in Wisconsin is located on a cul-de-sac (Southeastern Court) and does not provide parking. To access the trail on this end, from US 12, take State Route H for 0.5 mile to Grove Avenue and head south for 0.25 mile. When you come to Southeastern Court, where the road curves left, follow it to a crushed stone path that leads through two yards and takes you to the trail. While it is an unconventional access point, there is a playground off the path and it is a short walk to the trail.
To reach the Algonquin trailhead from State Route 31, travel toward Algonquin and turn east on State Route 62. Head north on N. Harrison Street and continue about 0.25 mile to the parking lot at Riverfront Park.