About this Itinerary
In recent years, Chicago has taken the lead in creating innovative public parks and greenspaces, and its recent addition, The 606, is no exception. The centerpiece of this newly built park is the 2.7-mile-long Bloomingdale Trail (BT) that utilizes a former rail corridor to add much needed greenspace to some of the least greenneighborhoods in the city, as well as providing a non-motorized transit and recreational corridor. Traveling along an almost 20-foot-high elevated track through the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square, and featuring five ground-level parks, The 606 and Bloomingdale Trail have added a new level of energy to surrounding communities.
The BT follows the elevated corridor which was once a small section of the famed Milwaukee Road. Dating back to the 1870s, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad operated this route that wound through the city serving local industries by delivering raw materials to factories along the corridor and transporting out the finished goods. Originally the route was located at ground level along Bloomingdale Road, but was elevated in 1915 due to the numerous accidents that occurred at street crossings. The Milwaukee Road declared bankruptcy in 1977 and was sold to a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific, which continued operations until 2001. Over the course of several years community activists and city planners worked to see the space repurposed for a park, finally seeing their dream become a reality in June 2015.
For locals and visitors alike, the BT is a fabulous addition to the city, allowing for a unique opportunity to preserve history while revitalizing what had previously been an eyesore into something beautiful. The 606, named for the zip code prefix of Chicago, reflects the concept of the park as connecting communities (as well as a play on the tradition of using numbers to name rail lines and highways.) In addition to providing park space, The 606 also hosts a variety of public arts events, and the BT is open to runners, walkers, and bikers. On peak times, the trail is thronged with people, and is already proving to be a well-used and well-loved space.
The BT is not located in downtown Chicago near the city’s famous museums and lakefront, but instead is in some of the more colorful neighborhoods with plenty of local flavor. For repeat visitors to the city, consider accommodations close to the BT to immerse yourself in the experience and gain a different perspective on the Windy City. The neighborhood of Wicker Park, located at the eastern end of the BT, is an ideal base given the ease with which it can be accessed from downtown via public transportation, as well as offering a variety of unique shops and restaurants. Located in Wicker Park, about a half mile walking distance to the trail, find the Wicker Park Inn. This charming B&B offers four guest rooms with breakfast included each morning, as well as three apartments that can accommodate larger groups and offer private kitchens. The B&B offers stylish decor, Wi-Fi, comfortable common spaces, and is located close to numerous shops, restaurants, and the ‘L.’To reach the inn on public transportation from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, take the Blue Line to the Damen stop (from Midway take the Orange L and transfer to the Blue Line). If walking from the station to the inn, head northeast on N. Wood Street and take a right on N. Milwaukee Avenue. Take the fourth right on to N. Wolcott Avenue and a left on N. Wicker Park Avenue. The inn is located less than a half mile from the station.
Before you head to The 606, download a map to find all 12 access points to the BT, four of which are located via ground-level parks. To walk to the BT from the Wicker Park Inn, turn left on Wicker Park Avenue and take a right at the corner on to N. Wolcott Avenue. At. N. Milwaukee Avenue cross over to N. Wood Street and follow this street until it passes under the Bloomingdale Trail several streets up. You will find an access ramp here. If you wish to bike the BT, the most convenient and efficient way to do this is to rent a bike through Chicago’s bikeshare program, Divvy. There are several Divvy stations located within a few blocks of The 606, making drop-off and pick-up quick and easy. There is also a station near the inn at the corner of N. Wood and N. Milwaukee, enroute to the BT.
When entering the BT from the N. Woods Street ramp, you are almost, but not quite, at the easternmost end. To explore the trail fully, head east to reach the endpoint at N. Ashland Avenue. before heading back west. Here you will see an impressive barrier with cascading plants that was built to buffer sound from the nearby Kennedy Expressway. The BT is popular and can be crowded. Keep in mind that the width is limited by the constraints of the rail corridor and along most of the route is only 10-feetwide with a center lane for bikers and a 2-foot wide soft shoulder for runners and walkers. While this route can be an enjoyable bike ride, giving a different perspective from its elevated platform on the neighborhoods it passes through, at peak times biking along the BT can be challenging. All cyclists should approach the experience as simply that, an experience, and should plan on a leisurely ride. Visitors may question the wisdom of allowing bicyclists in such a narrow corridor. The reason has to do with finances as the project received $50 million from a federal fund established to reduce congestion and improve air quality. At peak times, the BT may be congested and bicycling difficult, but the route does provide a safe, efficient, and linear path between neighborhoods and, at off-peak hours, it offers an ideal transportation corridor for many nearby residents.
As you head east, you’ll pass numerous points of interest related to this area’s manufacturing past, including the former site of H.C. Niemann & Co. (1801 N. Rockewell St. just north of the BT), which manufactured tables from 1890 to 1929; the former site of H.N. Lund Coal Co. (1770 N. Fairfield Ave.), which transported coal along the Bloomingdale Rail Line from 1900 to the 1970s; and the former site of Playskool Manufacturing Co. (1750 N. Lawndale Ave.), which produced the iconic Lincoln Logs toys. While the only indication that these businesses existed are the buildings themselves, which now serve other purposes, traveling along the former railroad corridor that serviced these industries helps gives a sense of the industrial past of the neighborhood.
Although the BT is a linear path, thoughtful design has the pathway curving, dipping, and rising with the careful placement of plantings, resulting in a visually appealing environment while slowing down cyclists. Other design elements give a nod to the corridor’s past including galvanized steel railings and renovated bridges that retain their original character, as well as the cityscape itself which includes factory smokestacks, water towers, and warehouses. All along the route, stop to see artwork integrated in to the design, both of the manmade and natural variety. Landscaping is a big part of the design of The 606 and, while the newly planted grounds might seem a little underwhelming right now, the BT has over 200 varieties of plants including paperbark maples, evergreens, sumacs, and more than 700 popular trees in the aptly named Poplar Grove. Once the fledgling plants have had an opportunity to grow, the space will become a lush oasis, providing much needed shade (which is currently lacking) and adding to the overall aesthetics of the trail, which in its newly opened state may appear slightly bare. You will notice distance markers along the BT. While these are useful for runners, they also serve the purpose of allowing for scientists to be able to track the different bloom periods along the short route, an interesting result of truly ‘micro’microclimates that are produced in Chicago by Lake Michigan.
Slightly more than halfway along the BT, enjoy views down Humboldt Boulevard and south toward Humboldt Park. Built in the mid-1800s, the park once had animals grazing in its fields and large swaths of Prairie-style gardens. Today, the 219-acre site is popular for recreational activities, including running, walking, and swimming, and boasts three major historical public buildings. Completed in 1907, visit the Boat House, which now houses a coffee shop; the Field House, which was built in 1928 and is the site for indoor sports activities; and Historic Park Stables and Receptory, which was built in 1895 and is now home to the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. Descend to street level to wander the park, stroll through the museum, sip a coffee at the Boat House, or swim in the lake on a hot day.
The BT ends atN. Ridgeway Avenue at the Exelon Observatory. Modeled after a Peruvian structure, the site resembles a punctuation mark, making for an interesting finale and a popular spot for community events. Check The 606 website before arriving to see if any event programming is taking place during your visit. Recent activities have included telescope viewing of the night sky at the observatory led by astronomers from the Adler Planetarium and concerts
The neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park that the BT passes through all have their own unique style and fascinating histories. While this area does not feature big name museums, galleries, or other well-known attractions, they do offer visitors a more local experience. Spend time exploring the numerous small shops throughout the area and be sure to visit some of the fantastic food trucks and small restaurants that dot the streets. A couple of local favorites include El Nuevo Borinquen (1720 N. California Ave.), which is easily reached from the BT from the California Street access ramp. Considered to be one of Chicago’s top Puerto Rican restaurants, the spot is well known for its steak jibarito with fried plantains, morcilla fritters (blood sausage), and Puerto Rican tamales. After wandering through Humboldt Park, be sure to stop by Roeser’s Bakery (3126 W. North Ave.) along the northwest corner of the park. In operation since 1911, this family-owned bakery is known for their creative custom cakes and decadent donuts including the popular coconut cake donut and PB&J donut.
In Wicker Park, find numerous casual and innovative neighborhood restaurants. Just around the corner from the Wicker Park Inn, try Cumin for modern Nepalese and Indian cuisine. Enjoy a casual ambiance, a full-bar menu, and classic Indian dishes, as well as more exotic dishes from the wide menu. Also find Carriage House, featuring modern Low Country fare. Enjoy southern favorites such as shrimp and grits and fried chicken in a homey yet stylish environment. For more casual dining, stop by the popular Piece Brewery and Pizzeria. Serving a wide variety of New Haven-style pizzas, this brewery offers a wide selection of hand-crafted beers in a relaxed environment close to the Damien L stop and The 606.
There are many tourist attractions available nearby to round out a weekend excursion. Built on former rail yards and parking lots, Millennium Park caught the country’s attention with its creative reuse of an area that was once an eyesore along Chicago’s waterfront. Now one of the city’s top tourist attractions, the park features 25 acres of innovative design including a collection of public art. Visit the iconic “Bean,”a stainless steel, mirror-like surfaced structure that reflects the downtown skyline and has become the city’s signature landmark. Immerse yourself in Lurie Garden, a 5-acre native plant garden designed by famed landscape designer Piet Oudolf (of NYC’s famed High Line). Stand beneath the two 50-foot towers of Crown Fountain, and see the architecturally significant Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The park, which is a public-private partnership, has set an example for similar type projects throughout the country.
Not far from the BT lie three of the region’s exceptional rail-trails. The Illinois Prairie Path runs for 61 miles from the Forest Park CTA Station and heads out into the western suburbs before branching off into four spurs, all of which meet up with different sections of the Fox River Trail. This route travels for 43 miles along the scenic Fox River. Another option is the 56-mile Des Plaines River Trail which runs from Jerome Huppert Woods in Oak Park north towards the Wisconsin border following the route of its namesake river and connecting to numerous forest preserves and parks. These rail-trails provide ideal routes to experience a more rural landscape and bike for uninterrupted miles.