About this Itinerary
In northern Illinois, the Fox River Trail runs 43 miles through the Fox River Valley between Oswego and Algonquin. This rail-trail, built on stretches of three former railroads, follows its namesake river to pass through many small towns and villages and features six bridges, nature preserves and the beautiful flora and fauna of the river valley ecosystem. Only about an hour northwest of downtown Chicago, the Fox River Valley is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you choose to walk or bike the trail, kayak the river, or fish along its banks.
We offer a two-day itinerary beginning and ending in Oswego with an overnight in Algonquin. The Fox River Trail is ideally suited for meandering and it is also possible to link to the Prairie Trail in Algonquin, the Great Western Trail in St. Charles, and the Virgil Gilman Trail and Illinois Prairie Path in Aurora for a longer trip. The paved Fox River Trail (FRT) switches back and forth over the river on bridges that vary in form, from trestle to pedestrian. Be aware that the trail does occasionally split to simultaneously run parallel along both sides of the river. Additionally, while the FRT is predominately a dedicated-use trail, users will need to travel on several short off-trail segments.
If fishing for bass, catfish, and walleye is appealing, there are tackle shops along the FRT and you can visit the Illinois Department of Natural Resource’s website for information on regulations and obtaining a fishing license. Birders, grab your binoculars as the river valley is rich with bird life, including heron, egrets, cormorants, and bald eagles. Come prepared with the makings for a picnic as there are plenty of inviting spots to relax on the way, or plan on a meal at one of the numerous cafes and restaurants eager to cater to FRT trail users. There is a lot to do and see on the Fox River Trail. What you don’t have time for on your journey north, you can slip in on your return ride south.
The Fox River Trail’s southern terminus is in Oswego, a city that straddles the Fox River 45 miles west of Chicago. There are several parking lots along the FRT’s southern route, though to park overnight you will need to inform the Oswego City Police Department. The closest parking area to the trail terminus is at Hudson Crossing Park at Harrison Street in downtown Oswego; farther north there is parking along the trail at Violet Patch Park (mile 1.5) and the Oswegoland Park District’s Boulder Point building (mile 2.5).
Leaving Oswego, the trail is sandwiched between the river and Illinois Route 25 for 4.8 miles to the first river crossing in Aurora. The trail initially passes through a mix of commercial districts and neighborhoods, a suburban-urban interface which the FRT weaves in and out of for the entire route. At mile 4, is the Montgomery Dam, a popular fishing spot and one of 13 dams along the Fox River. Here, the trail briefly jogs up a small island, jumps back to the east bank to cross to the river’s west side shortly thereafter on a truss bridge (part of the Virgil Gilman Nature Trail). Immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right to head north (if you stay straight you remain on the Virgil Gilman Nature Trail) to ride the length of Hurds Island, a park with soccer fields, a playground, and public toilets.
At the northern tip of Hurds Island, a half-mile on-road segment begins. Cross the river (heading west) on North Avenue and turn right on S. River Street until the trail resumes at W. Downer and Hoyt Place. Aurora (mile 6.5) is a large city, extending into four counties and with three nationally registered historical districts. The FRT hugs the river’s edge as it carries on toward North Aurora and avoids the hustle and bustle of the city for the most part. Beginning at East New York Street, a mile-long segment of the FRT runs up both the west and east side of the river. The western leg of the trail ends at E. Illinois Avenue and merges with the 13-mile-long Aurora Branch of the Illinois Prairie Path Trail. Remaining on the east side of the Fox River, you cycle through North River Street and McCullough Parks.
At the North Aurora Dam(mile 10), the trail once again splits to run up both sides of the river. The trails reconnect in Batavia after a 3-mile shaded stretch through primarily wooded corridors on either side of the river.
The North Aurora-Batavia East leg takes you through Red Oak Park and the popular fishing spot and beautiful White and Chinkapin Oak-filled landscape of Glenwood Park Forest Preserve. The path remains on-trail for the entire length. You will want come this way if your bike needs servicing as Batavia’s bike shop, All Spoked Up, is located right off the trail. It is also easy to get to N. River Street in downtown Batavia, a block east of the trail, where you can enjoy the summertime Saturday morning farmers market or a meal at any number of eateries.
The North Aurora-Batavia West leg cuts through Les Arends Forest Preserve, similar to Glenwood Park on the opposite side of the river. This leg does require riding a half mile on public roads. In Batavia, the trail ends at Shumway Avenue; bike north on Shumway Avenue to Houston Street. On the way, you will pass by the very tempting Batavia Creamery, where many a FRT user has stopped for an ice cream, and Limestone Coffee & Tea, which offers a breakfast and lunch menu as well as coffee and tea bar. There are also numerous other eateries and services on this stretch as well.
A bridge connects the west segment (off of N. Island Avenue) to the east FRT segment (at N. River Street). Whichever side of the river you cycled up, make sure to stop in at the Batavia Depot Museum off of Houston Street on the west side of the river if you happen to be in town between 2-4 p.m. The museum houses exhibits about the three railroads that now make up the Fox River Trail: the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (est. 1850), the Chicago & North Western Railroad (est. 1872), and the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Electric Line (est. 1902). The interurban line, known as the “Roarin’ Elgin,” radiated westward away from Chicago to surrounding suburbs, roughly resembling a sideways “Y.” It became an important commuter line for the Windy City and served Batavia and the other communities along the route with freight and passenger service until the mid-1900s. If the Batavia Depot Museum isn’t open when you are here, not to worry; you’ll have another chance to learn more about this rail history at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin.
Here again you need to choose whether to cycle along the west or eastern side of the river.
Batavia-Geneva West: The trail begins again at the depot museum and follows the former Chicago & North Western RR right-of-way. The pathway cuts along the edge of the Fabyan West Forest Preserve and after 1.5 miles you will see the Fabyan Villa Museum. This former estate home was redesigned in 1907 by Frank Lloyd Wright for Colonel George Fabyan and his family and is now open to the public, featuring natural and oriental artifacts from Fabyan’s private collection as well as gardens, greenhouses, and pools. Make sure to allow time to meander through the beautiful Japanese Garden that is also part of this preserve. At this juncture, the FRT crosses the river on a small island to connect with the eastern segment of the trail once again.
Batavia-Geneva East: Where the FRT ends at the bridge in Batavia, turn left and head north on N. River Street for less than a block until the trail resumes again to your left. The east and west segments connect again in 1.5 miles where there is a trail parking area and public toilets. Just northeast of the lot is a 68-foot windmill which Col. Fabyan purchased in 1914 and used to mill flour for bread for his estate during World War I. Volunteer millers serve as docents on weekends.
Downtown Geneva (mile 16.5) lies to the west of the Fox River while the trail remains along its eastern banks. You cycle through the beautiful Island Park to Old Mill Park where you can rent kayaks or canoes for self-guided river trips from Fox River Canoe & Kayak (across the street is Mill Race Cyclery). On the way to the next community of St. Charles, the rail-trail passes by five city parks. You’ll have time on this peaceful stretch to muse about the region’s early history prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1850. The Potawatomi people were one of several Native American tribes that lived in this area. The FRT leads to the Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles where a tribe of 300 Pottawatomie were still encamped when Anglo-American settlers began arriving in the early 1830s.
St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats, rent pedal boats, or even play miniature golf should you have a mind to. To get to the park, stay on S. Riverside Avenue, turn left for one block on Main Street and cut right just before crossing the bridge. You’ll see a riverfront promenade that continues north to the park and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge connecting to the Great Western Trail and St. Charles South Lake.
Alternatively, if you opt for a downtown excursion, there are restaurants, boutique shops, and historical buildings awaiting you. Right off the bat, you won’t miss The House Pub, which has more than 200 locally-brewed and international beers on offer. You can wander down Main Street two blocks east to the St. Charles History Museum or head north one block on N. 2nd Avenue to Town House Books & Café, an independent book store and café. When you are ready to leave town, you’ll need to get to N. 3rd Avenue and bike north until the FRT resumes once again (a mile north of Main Street and a half mile north of Pottawatomie Park).
After rejoining the trail, you enter a lush red oak forest of the Norris Woods Nature Preserve. Expect to weave in and out of neighborhoods, encounter road intersections and two more on-road segments between here and Elgin: a 4-block stretch on Grove Avenue and a half mile on Weber Avenue. You then pass through Tekakwitha Woods, a 65-acre forest preserve named after the first Native American woman to become a saint. It is a mixture of several habitats including hardwood and floodplain forests and restored prairie and is particularly alive in the spring when wildflowers and migratory birds abound. Visitors once traveled to the preserve via the Elgin Aurora Trolley Line, now the Fox River Trail.
It is still possible to experience the electric trolley car at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin, which operates a passenger car for a 4-mile round trip ride along the banks of the river. The FRT runs along the side the rail tracks to the museum. It then crosses the river on a bridge built on the original 1896 interurban piers to stay on the eastern side of the river for the remainder of the ride. From the bridge crossing, it is 3.5 miles to downtown Elgin. Anticipate road crossings and traffic as you make your way through this populated urban/suburban area. Continue north for 3 more miles to Trout Park Nature Preserve,where there are nature trails, public restrooms, a fishing pier, and picnic shelters.
East Dundee, less than 2 miles from the Trout Park Nature Preserve, is a small village established in 1871. As the FRT goes through town, you pass the Dundee Township Visitors Center—which hosts the Depot Farmers Market on Saturday and Sundays, May through October—and several eateries including Benedict’s Eggs & More and Blue’s Barbeque and Grill. In 1 mile, you have another chance for bicycle services in Carpentersville at Main Street Bicycles before entering a nearly 2.5-mile stretch along the edge of the Fox River Shores Forest Preserve. The hills in this preserve are covered with flowering crabapples and plums in the spring and are home to rare plants that grow in this swampy marshland environment. At the north end of the preserve, the FRT joins the Prairie Trail to take you into Algonquin and the end of your Fox River Trail expedition for the day.
Once in Algonquin, leave the trail at S. Main Street for a 0.2-mile jaunt to your overnight lodging, the Victorian Rose Garden B&B located in the historical downtown district. From here, it is easy to walk to restaurants, shops and entertainment. You are minutes away from the brick-walled Italian trattoria, Cucina Bella and the extensive martini selection and steak and seafood menu at Martini’s on Main. A half mile from the B&B is Riverfront Park and the Fox River, where the free Summer Concert Series is held each Thursday night from June through August. Many festivals are held here throughout the year as well, including the Art on the Fox Fine Art Show, which features the work of regional artists each June or July. Enjoy your time in Algonquin and rest well for your return journey.
Today is your return journey from Algonquin south to Oswego (43 miles).