Joe Stengel Trail


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Joe Stengel Trail Facts

States: Illinois
Counties: Lee, Ogle
Length: 7.9 miles
Trail end points: Woosung Rd./Co. Hwy. 8 (Woosung) and Fairmont Rd. nr. the cemetery (Polo)
Trail surfaces: Ballast, Grass, Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6015741
Trail activities: Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Joe Stengel Trail Description

The Joe Stengel Trail follows an old railroad corridor for 7 miles between the town of Polo and the much smaller community of Woosung. The trail corridor traces farm country along a route scattered with trees. The natural surface can be rough going in places. In Polo the trail follows city streets, ending at a small cemetery north of town.

Another shorter piece of the trail is found farther south by Dixon. The segment is connected to the Lowell Parkway Trail at Lowell Park and passes through Penrose Prairie. There are plans to link the two segments one day.

Parking and Trail Access

There's a small parking area south of Polo off Wilson Street west of US 52/CR 26/Division Ave. On-street parking is available in town. In Woosung, park off Central Street.

Joe Stengel Trail Reviews

My maiden voyage on this trail happened on October 11, 2012. It was a gorgeous fall day and I was the only one out on the trail.

Riding my Trek 3700 mountain bike, I found this trail to be nearly perfect for my riding style at the time. Yes, it is grass-covered in spots, it has some muddy spots following a wet spell, and some critter damage here and there - something that seems to be a constant on the few hard-packed trails I've ridden over the years. With that being said, I found this rail trail to be quite pleasant. After all, I got a mountain bike so I could get off the pavement. If I wanted a paved riding experience, I would have chosen the Lowell Parkway Path a bit to the south.

Bordered by farm fields, it still provided a nice ride due to the trees along the right-of-way for most of the distance. In summer, it is quite shady for the most part.

The parking area off Judson Road is plenty adequate in my opinion, with the exception of the lack of at least a Port-a-Potty. The third-tree-on-the-left seems to have acquired an odor.

Fast forward to November 16, 2016...

Having ridden this trail at least once annually since 2012, this day allowed a bit different experience for me. This day, I rode my FatBike. The larger tires certainly did smooth out the ride considerably, even though a FatBike is not really necessary.

Earlier in 2016, I found a Port-a-Potty at one of the crossroads and that was a welcome sight, but by this time of year it had been removed - Major Bummer. I would think that a Port-a-Potty at each end of the trail would not be too much to ask for. After all, Polo and Woosung are pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, and if one drives any distance, a bit of pre-ride relief is a welcome thing.

Four years later, the trail condition is pretty much the same. I did notice that the Joe Stengel Trail signs have disappeared for the most part though (I've been in contact with the Park District about that and even volunteered my services to assist in reworking the signs and getting them planted, with no results).

I did notice earlier in the year 2016 also that they had a dedicated parking area in Woosung, which is nice. I feel better parking in a grassy field than alongside the road.

One thing you may wish to pay attention to, is that they now allow All-terrain vehicles on the trail. I don't know if that's a good thing, or a bad thing, I haven't encountered any yet and I haven't seen any signs of damage to the trail due to ATV's.

All in all, this is still one of my favorite rail trails to date. It's the closest trail to my home and it provides a pleasant riding experience. I really enjoy seeing the songbirds and playing tag with grasshoppers along the way.

I've only ridden bikes on this trail, so this review is limited to that viewpoint.

This trail is protected by a tree canopy with beautiful views across the landscape. The trail itself is rough and bumpy and a chore to ride. This trail needs just a little more to make it great: packed limestone. Compare this to the Jane Addams Trail which is a delight to ride. So far it is a gem in the rough. I live in Polo and so wish this trail could live up to its promise. So I look for other, better trails for my road bike.

Old railroad bed repurposed into trail. From Woosung to Polo this trail is wide clear and flat . Quaint wooden bridge over creek. Travels through Polo with good trail markings. Highly recommend not traveling trail North outside Polo. Trail is more like a game trail and almost impassable and covered with tree, brish and brbles.


Rode from Polo to Woosung on a Sunday afternoon. Found the trail slow going due to being basically all grass, except for some occasional gravel areas about 12 inches wide. It would be really nice to see this covered with crushed limestone and have the trail connected all the way to the trail leading out of Dixon. I read that there are plans to connect to the Jane Adams trail in Freeport, which then would connect all the way to Madison Wisconsin.

Rode this trail on a bright Sunday afternoon, the first day of fall. I found the small cemetery north of Polo, IL that was described as the trail head. Didn't see it so I traveled to town and found a very good start on the south side, plenty of parking and the city park across the street. The description notes that the Stengel trail follows city streets north to the cemetery, but I didn't see any directions and the rail bed has been removed within the town.

Biking south out of Polo the trail is grass, gravel and very occasionally limestone. The first mile or so out of town was mowed grass with dirt and gravel paths where presumably maintenance pick up trucks travel. As the trail runs south the wheel tracks became less obvious and the grass more so. While the trail was mowed and cleared throughout the route some of the areas had not been mowed in a few weeks.

The elevations were slight as with most rail trails, there was one bridge over a drainage creek, there were several intersections with farm roads; always something to stop for even though traffic is scarce.

This trail moved off into deep farm land just after starting in Polo and I was very quickly pedaling in grass, with a full tree canopy and on the back side of deep farm fields on both sides. One of the more isolated journeys I have made to date.

Woosung, IL is the south end of the 6+ mile trail and as advertised, it was a very small town. However as the trail approaches Woosung, a county highway merges into the picture which created a sense that the trail was indeed returning to civilization.

I'm used to limestone paths or better so the grass and dirt experience was different and slower. But I also stopped several times to enjoy the setting and nature at it's midwest best.

The trail is also used for snowmobiles in the winter and my guess is it gets good use especially since Polo markets itself as the connection to White Pines State Park a few miles east and a big day trip and weekend destination.

I'm glad I tried the Stengel trail at Polo (there are apparently other segments of it south of Woosung) and I am glad I brought my wider tire bike for the grass and dirt/gravel experience. More rustic than most rail trails I've traveled, but also more isolated (in a positive way). I recommend it at least once to any rail trail enthusiast.

Easy incline, but grass covered rather than packed limestone or other surface. My 11 year old tired after 5 miles...gave him a greater appreciation for unpaved but packed surfaces on other trails. Great views, however.

Gene Debs, DeKalb, IL

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