The Virgil Gilman Trail travels through forest and prairie, from a quiet, rural community college campus all the way into suburban Chicago. The trail's namesake, Virgil Gilman,was director of the Fox Valley Park District for 30 years and successfully championed public access to the riverindeed access grew from 66 feet in 1946 to more than 30 miles today!
Beginning at Waubonsee Community College, the trail heads into open native prairie for the first mile. (Don't be alarmed if you hear gunshots for the first few miles, as the Aurora Sportsman's Club shooting range is nearby.) After traveling through the grasslands, you enter the Bliss Woods Forest Preserve, marked by beautiful, large, white and black oaks. The preserve is also composed of many other tree species, including sycamore, white poplar and cottonwood. Keep your eyes out for birds among the foliage, including downy woodpeckers, cardinals and blue jays, which you'll also find along the trail.
From Bliss Woods, the trail travels alongside a rolling brook until it crosses State Route 56 on an overpass. Now the landscape becomes large farm fields as you slowly begin to enter a more developed area with subdivisions of single-family homes.
After crossing another bridge over Orchard Road, the Virgil Gilman Trail becomes a 1.75-mile rail-with-trail stretch, and you may hear the active tracks through the thick vegetation that creates a natural buffer between the two corridors. Emerging onto Terry Avenue the trail briefly continues on quiet side streets that are very easy to navigate. Take a left on Terry Avenue followed quickly by a right on Rathbone Avenue. Follow Rathbone a short distance until you cross the active rail line. The trail begins immediately after this crossing, at Copley Park, a nice rest stop.
Shortly after leaving the park, the trail crosses the Fox River via an original old trestle bridge. Off to one side of the bridge, you can see the old pedestrian walkwaya testament to days gone by. Once across the river, follow the smooth path for 2.75 miles, through the suburban developments of Montgomery, to the trailhead on US 30 (Hill Avenue), the eastern terminus of the Virgil Gilman Trail.
Parking and Trail Access
There are several access points and places to park along the route. To access the start at Waubonsee Community College, take Interstate 88 to State Route 56 south and continue 3.8 miles. Turn right on SR 47, and after a little more than 2 miles, turn right on Waubonsee Drive. Continue to the community college and look for the trailhead at the far end of the parking lot.
To reach the Montgomery trailhead from Interstate 88, take N. Farnsworth Avenue south for 4.5 miles. Turn right on Montgomery Road and travel 0.25 mile to US 30/Hill Avenue and turn left. The trailhead is 0.5 mile ahead on the right.