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The 9-mile Green Bay Trail runs parallel to Chicago's Metra commuter rail line north of the Chicago city limits. Stretching through North Shore towns such as Kenilworth, Winnetka, Highland Park and Lake Bluff, the corridor is flanked by restaurants, shops, community parks and beautiful homes. Because the trail stays generally within a mile of Lake Michigan, you can take any number of on-road side trips for beachfront views of the lake.
The Green Bay Trail runs along the east side of Chicago's Metra Union Pacific North line (UP-N commuter rail) almost entirely along the route of the former Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee (CNS&M) interurban electric railroad, from Greenleaf Avenue in downtown Wilmette to the junction of Saint Johns Avenue & Sheridan Road at the southern edge of downtown Highland Park. Here it turns into the Robert McClory Bike Path.
The trail is suitable for even the youngest of riders, although the route does use some sidewalks and even a very small portion of residential road in Kenilworth. In addition, the surface alternates between asphalt and crushed limestone. Inexperienced cyclists and those with young children should use particular caution at road crossings and with any road riding.
This is a true multi-purpose trail. Commuters take the trail to train stations along the way, bikes are allowed on the Metra in limited numbers; children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult when bringing a bicycle, and residents and tourists alike use the trail for exercise and car-free travel between communities.
From the southern trailhead in Wilmette you will immediately experience the fresh air and beach-front atmosphere that is comfortably juxtaposed with the business and commuter traffic. The trail itself is paved and well maintained, accentuating the upscale neighborhoods through which it travels.
Nearing Highland Park you may find people flocking to Ravinia, one of Chicagoland's best music venues. An open-air, covered pavilion is used for symphony concerts, dance and pop concerts, while smaller indoor theaters showcase chamber music performances and dance recitals.
By the time you reach the St. John's Avenue trailhead, and northern end of the trail, you will appreciate the many restrooms, public telephones, playgrounds and parks afforded by the proximity of the commuter line. Another bonus of the adjacent rail line: if you are tired after your one-way trip, just hop a Metra train for the return trip.
To get to the Wilmette trailhead, take Interstate 94 to Exit 34 (Lake Avenue) and head east for just over 2 miles to Green Bay Road. Head north on Green Bay and make an immediate right on Forest Avenue. You will see the trail crossing Forest Avenue, where there is limited parking. Additional parking can be found in any one of the many Metra parking lots that run parallel to the trail. These stations also offer restrooms, water fountains, and telephones.
To access the Highland Park trailhead, take US 41 to Highland Park and head east on Deerfield Road. After about a half mile, turn left on Central Avenue and follow it for just over a half mile. Turn south on St. John's Avenue and continue for 0.25 mile to the Metra parking lot on the right, which doubles as trail parking.
My husband, son and myself rode this trail May 24, 2017. We started at the Lake Avenue, Wilmette trailhead. We quickly ran out of both path and trail signs when we got to Cumnor Road at the end of a section traversing Townley Field in Winnetka. We used Google Maps on our phone to find the trail again by turning left on Cumnor, right on Melrose, left on Abbotsford, left on Ivy Lane, and looked for the trail on our right. North of there we had no troubles following the trail.
We passed several playgrounds and parks, some rustic areas and others which had been re-planted with native flora, as well as easy access to several North Shore downtown areas.
When we reached the crossing at Lake-Cook Rd we turned left (west) and rode past the Turnbull Woods and McDonald Woods Forest Preserves to reach the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Entrance is free and the Gardens are extensive. There is a charming cafe at which we refreshed and relaxed before returning to our starting point in Wilmette.
This is a trail to which you can return again and again, and take many fun side trips.
Very pretty scenery, but the path is better suited for runners than riders--lots of bumps! Signage is unclear when trail goes in and out of residential areas.
I did this trail today for the first time. I started in Winnetka at the southernmost point, and did have a bit of trouble with the signage at first before you get to the main section of the trail. Could it use some re-paving? Sure, but it's decent enough as is. Not too crowded for an early fall day in the afternoon, and really pretty!
I took this trail this morning. My biggest complaint would be the poor signage; several times the trail just sort of ends at a road or sidewalk or parking lot without any real indication of where to go next. It's not too difficult to figure out--if you're heading north and the train tracks are not too far to your left, you're in approximately the right place--but it's a shame that it's not more clear. Informational signs would have also been nice--I was biking to the Chicago Botanic Garden, which is enough of an attraction to warrant a sign when you would need to turn off, but there was one. I was basing my navigation on the Metra station at Lake Cook Road, but I didn't realize it was actually called Braeside, so I passed it without thinking it was where I needed to jump off.
The trail itself is in pretty good condition. Partly paved, partly well-packed dirt. Some of the pavement has bumps and cracks, but overall I would say it's in somewhat better shape than the typical biking roads in Chicago. The dirt section was in good shape, although I have no idea what impact rain would have on it.
Traffic was very light on my trip north (Sunday morning at about 7:30) and somewhat heavier (but not even rising to the level of annoyance) on my way home, around 10:30.
this trail is no longer ride-able, it's full of sharp bumps and it can ruin your bike. There arent too many bikers on it.
I rode this trail the other day. It is pretty rough and narrow on the north end of the Wilmette.
Beyond that it was in better condition.
There were a lot of people commuting on the wider area of the trail which is in a valley along the train tracks.
I only rode to the point where it changes into crushed limestone. I will have to ride my wider tires and check out the limestone part of the trail.
This is a great trail, you can actually start by going north along McCormick Blvd (from Devon Avenue and McCormick Blvd in Chicago, IL), and go north through Lincolnwood, through Skokie, all the way to Green Bay Road in Wilmette. You then hang a left and go to the first intersection, hang an immediate right, and then an immediate left. You go for about a mile or so, through the Wilmette Police Station parking lot and more of Wilmette. Eventually, you do get to the Green Bay Road trail, and yes, you can take it all the way up to Highland Park. From there, if you map out your bike ride, you can go north on the McClory Trail, and, at Lake Cook Road, go west to hit the Skokie Trail. A word of caution, however. Parts of the trail in Wilmette and alongside the Metra are crushed limestone, it's not all asphalt. When crushed limestone gets wet, if you don't have a rear fender on your bike, crushed limestome can get thrown back onto your T-shirt, and cover most of your gears. So, yes, a beautiful trail, and well-used, but be careful of crushed limestone after it's rained. Good biking! John V. Karavitis
This is a beautiful trail on all accounts. The scenery ranges from beautiful backyards, track-side gardens, mom-and-pop shops, etc... It is wide enough to accommodate all types of uses, simultaneously. The only thing this trail is missing are mile markers and clear signs of direction. Especially near the Ravinia Park section. It would be nice to know the distance without carrying a ruler, while running, to use on the sparse trail maps. It would also be helpful if the trail was clearly marked when there are obviously different directions to choose from. I ended up adding an extra 1.5 miles to my run without even realizing I went off trail, until I met back up with an end-marker.
But if those things don't concern you, your experience will be that much more enjoyable!
"Great place for a bike ride; one of the oldest rail-trails in the country. Asphalt trail parallels right alongside the Union Pacific tracks from Forest Avenue in northern Wilmette to South Avenue in southern Glencoe with very little interruption for on-street riding. From there, you will have to navigate northward about a mile on-street to Maple Hill Road in northern Glencoe, where the continuous trail next to the railroad tracks (now crushed stone) extends to downtown Highland Park. The beginning of the Robert McClory bike path to Wisconsin (also on traillink) is two or three blocks north of downtown at Vine Avenue. Most of the trail is tree-shaded and pretty."
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