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The western segment of the Great Western Trail in Illinois follows 17 miles of an abandoned railway corridor through DeKalb and Kane counties, between LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve and the town of Sycamore. The Chicago Great Western Railway (later Chicago and North Western) was called the Corn Belt Route because it linked Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha and Kansas City. Today, the crushed limestone trail provides access for cyclists, walkers and joggers, and in winter allows cross-country skiing and snowmobiling (the latter west of Wasco and when snows reach 4 inches). Horseback riding is allowed on another trail adjacent to the Great Western Trail only. The trail also includes shelters and rest areas.
The open space created from the trail corridor offers thousands of acres of landscapes that are pleasing to the eye: wetlands, natural areas, farmland and rural communities. The trail passes through Virgil and Lily Lake, paralleling State Route 64. A newer section of the Great Western Trail is found in DuPage County to the east.
You can link the east and west segments of this trail—in a long, roundabout way—by continuing on the Randall Road Bike Trail at this trail's eastern end in LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve. Take the Randall Road trail north to the River Bend Trail (a.k.a. Silver Glen Trail), which meets up with the Fox River Trail. Where the Fox River Trail meets the Illinois Prairie Path (east of the river in Elgin), take the Illinois Prairie Path east to the eastern segment of the Great Western Trail, where they intersect near Prince Crossing Road.
Parking is available in St. Charles at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve on Dean Street west of Randall Road. There are a few spots along Wasco Road near its intersection with Route 64. There is space for a few cars where the trail intersects Hanson Road in Lily Lake and more spaces near where the trail intersect Wolley Road.
If yo are looking for a trail that is pretty flat and easy to ride, then this one is for you. My best friend and I like to meet on this trail as it is a perfect midway point between us. There is nothing fancy about the trail, and the scenery is standard fair, but it is well maintained and very pleasant. If you have children, I would suggest this trail because there are no difficulties to be found. Great trail for a relaxing day ride!
This is the class of Northern IL, flat and consistently in great shape for long endurance rides.
Not too many road crossings. Many of the industrial buildings are semi-hidden by trees. Good surface. Not really that busy.
Great trail. I walk 10 miles a pop (5 miles out, then back). I've tried all of it. Sure, it would be nice to have some more "facilities" at various points, but that is a huge maintenance cost, I'm sure.
The only downside - and this is not a fault of the trail - is that cyclists in the U.S. have no trail etiquette nor consideration for others. They will come up from behind and pass - usually very close - without so much as a bell ring or a word of their approach. Really inconsiderate.
I parked in the LeRoy Oakes parking lot. Pit toilet there and water. (Hand sanitizer would be nice to have there, though.) There are several Picnic tables and a shelter. The trail changes periodically from asphalt to crushed limestone. Well maintained. There were several people using the trail: walkers & runners, exercise bikers, and like me, casual bikers. I love the amount of shade, bird songs, prairie flowers and even saw a doe cross the trail. The mulberries are ripening. Yum! All in all it was very peaceful. Although I only went 5 miles (& 5 miles back), it was very pleasurable.
We went on a Sunday morning expecting it to be packed. Not so! The first 4-5 miles on the eastern end had some people, but beyond that, very sparse. Good amount of shade for the eastern 2/3 - the trees also cut down the wind (may be an issue on the more open west end). A couple bridges in place of hills, but worth it not to have to cross busier streets. Trail in EXCELLENT condition!!! Just some very minor damage from horses around the middle (8-9 mile mark) of the trail, mainly traveling west. Mile markers for the eastern 2/3 but absent on the west end. Good size parking lot at the east end. If you want to do a pleasant, hassle-free ride, without killing yourself on hill after hill, this is the perfect trail.
I tried this trail on 4/6/14. The limestone portion west of the short paved section is, unfortunately, in bad shape again and needs to be resurfaced. Lots of deep hoof prints make for a rough ride. Wouldn't recommend a road bike here.
I'm pretty new to biking on trails and very new to comparing trails here in Northern Illinois, but I feel the Great Western Trail between Sycamore and St. Charles is really GREAT. I'm lucky, I live near the trail and can start my ride at several "way points" along the route. I can ride east or west, 5 or 30 miles (round trip) it's my choice.
Yes, the rail trail is flat (which rail trail isn't); yes, it can be windy out in the open spaces and it can be noisy along SR 64, but I have ridden a few other rail trails that parallel modern roads; it happens. At least I am not on the road!
Several of the R/Ts in northern Illinois are more rural, but there are not many as long and as well cared for as the GWT. Plus the GWT connects in St Charles with several other trails, parks and paths that give the rider many options.
This year I rode the trail in the spring and watched farmers planting, during this summer airplanes applying insect spray, horse farmers baling hay and straw and now with the first few days of fall I passed a combine harvesting soybeans.
During my morning rides I see numerous rabbits and ground squirrels, birds of many kinds, I passed a praying mantis yesterday and a garter snake this morning. I've scared up a deer and said "good morning" to countless joggers and bikers and a few dog walkers.
I'm not a naturalist, but there are many types of trees, flowers, weeds, insects, birds and mammals along the way. There are lots of colors, shapes and sizes.
And then there is the old rail bed. Sometimes I stop at one of the bridge crossings and wonder how the original crossing was constructed; how was it planned, how were the materials gathered and placed and how much work and toil did it take. While I bike I sometimes marvel at how much ballast needed to be piled up to reach the elevation and then think about how "mild" this prairie railroad construction would have been compared to other geographies.
The GWT is flat and requires a biker to pedal throughout, it also has limited road intersections so a biker just continues to pedal. The trail bed is maintained and the majority is crushed limestone. There are a few holes where critters have burrowed or a motorcycle has "spun out", but mostly the trail is smooth, straight and flat.
I'll continue to try some other R/Ts around Illinois, but I am very lucky to have the Great Western Trail close by and I will continue to enjoy a GREAT experience.
Prior to this year, it had been two years since I used this trail. Although a big advantage of this long path was its sparse use by locals (meaning few large family groups, dog walkers, inattentive strollers, etc. to maneuver around) it did suffer from some inconveniences. At the east end, the trail was badly rutted. Past that, a 3-mile section of asphalt pavement was in rough shape. Once beyond that it got worse; the surface in the western half was very loose and required a great deal of careful attention if you weren't on a mountain bike. At the far western end, the path devolved to packed dirt, with intruding grass and weeds - you didn't want to be there unless it was dry. And you really needed to be sure to empty your bladder at the parking lot because there were absolutely no facilities over the 17.4 mile stretch.
I only spend so much time on describing past conditions for those like me who have tried the path in the past and are reluctant to go again. It has been improved over the past two years, and improvements continue.
Almost the entire path has been resurfaced. Starting from the east parking lot, the first 4.4 miles are crushed limestone. The paved section over the next 3 miles is new asphalt pavement with a narrow band of looser limestone on one side (intended for equestrian use?). A parking area with a permanent restroom has been added at the 6.7 mile mark. The western half has also been resurfaced in crushed limeston and is in good shape.
Now, this path still does have its problems for the casual rider. It is, of course, a relentlessly straight east/west path. So consider the prevailing wind conditions before you go. There seems to be a very slight slope to the trail (lower at the east end), but it is pretty flat overall offering no respite from constantly pedaling. Once past the subdivisions on the eastern end, you are riding through farm country (which can be boring) and over long stretches the path runs parallel to a road which seems to be popular with motorcyclists and owners of vehicles with loud mufflers. At the western end, the path ends unceremoniously just short of Sycamore at a parking lot that still has no facilities. Hopefully this will be corrected soon, as the ride back to the nearest restroom facility is nearly 11 miles.
However, if you are riding for exercise, this is a great path as it is still lightly used (especially the western half), has no busy roads where you have to wait to cross, and offers no tempting distractions.
Hard pack limestone and asphalt.Keep the knobby tires home.Went on a Saturday saw somebody once and awhile.Good scenery and a lot of alone time.Went from St.Charles to Sycamore and back in alittle over 3hrs.Inclines extended over distance and gradual.General easy and straight.
We biked the Great Western from Sycamore to St. Charles (Leroy Oaks FP) and back 7/20/13, a total of just over 36 miles, starting from our parking place at the Sycamore Community Park. The trail is perfectly straight and very level for the entire 18 miles. For most of the distance the surface is crushed gravel; otherwise paved. We found both the surface and the many bridges to be in very good condition. The prairie wildflowers (Queen Anne's lace, bee balm, black-eyed susans) were blooming profusely and very colorful. Near the eastern and more suburban area, we appreciated the bridges that took the trail OVER some of the busier roads so we did not have to contend with traffic. This is a very nice railtrail, and the only minor drawbacks I can think of are (1) would have liked more shade; and (2) traffic noise from the parallel Route 64.
"This is a fine trail for bicycle riding in that it is very scenic and mostly flat. Apparently going west there is a slight incline. You can see many kinds of birds including pheasants along this trail. Once you are west of the St Charles area, there are generally very few people on the trail which makes for pleasant side by side riding.
This can be a very bumpy ride in some parts though. Rain has caused many little gullies (for lack of a better term) and you must be careful not to hit them too hard. There are also many little pot holes and other bumps along the way. This is true more as you get out of the St Charles area where it is paved for the first 4 miles or so. There is enough parking at the Sycamore Trail head for about 4 cars. When I park there, there are generally no other cars parked there. At the trail and Hwy 47, there is a Gas Station/Mini Mart and that is the last of such things until you get to Sycamore (about 11 miles). All and all a great (but slightly bumpy trail). "
"I ride this trail quite often as its close by and an even grade. 2/3 of the trail is shielded by trees so you would not get burned up too bad in the heat of the day. The only downfall is if its a windy day, you'll be pushing against what seems to be a constant side wind out and back. There is ample parking at Leroy Oaks as well as a fountain, sheltered table, and outhouse. There is little in terms of gas stations or other places to eat until you get to Sycamore. There is one bar on the west side in Virgil (about 5 miles from the forest preserve), prices are very good and cash only."
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