North Branch Trail


42 Reviews

View Trail Map
View Map
Send to App

Register for free!

Register for free with TrailLink today!

We're a non-profit all about helping you enjoy the outdoors
  • View over 40,000 miles of trail maps
  • Share your trail photos
  • Save your own favorite trails
  • Learn about new trails near you
  • Leave reviews for trails
  • Add new and edit existing trails

North Branch Trail Facts

States: Illinois
Counties: Cook
Length: 21.3 miles
Trail end points: Blackhawk Rd & County Line Rd (Highland Park) and Foster Ave, west of Pulaski Rd (Chicago)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt
Trail category: Greenway/Non-RT
ID: 6032266

North Branch Trail Description

The North Branch Trail follows the North Branch of the Chicago River over 20 miles through Cook County. The trail was originally a dirt path often used for horseback riding; though it’s now paved, an unpaved equestrian pathway still parallels the main trail.

Heading north from West Foster Ave, the trail meanders through forests and fields as it parallels the Chicago River's North Branch. You'll travel for more than a dozen miles through many wooded areas and lagoons and along golf courses. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, especially deer. Passing by a mix of residential and commercial areas, it provides connections between communities and an alternative for both commuting and recreation.

Continuing north, the trail features a 4.4-mile loop around Skokie Lagoons and Erickson Woods. Because the loop’s west side runs along I-94, you’ll find heavy traffic noise; take the eastern side of the loop for a more peaceful experience. 

The trail extends north to Lake Cook Road (which becomes County Line Rd) as part of the Chicago Botanical Gardens, which includes more than two dozen gardens on 385 acres and is definitely worth a visit. Winding through the Garden's McDonald's Woods, the multi-use path provides access to the many beautiful features of the garden. Wayfinding and interpretive signs along the route describe the moraine, wetland, and woodland regions that are part of the Garden's landscape. A wooden boardwalk passes through wetland areas to avoid any damage to the natural ecosystem. There are bicycle racks near the Garden's Visitor Center for cyclists who would like to further explore the grounds. Chicago Botanical Gardens does have an admission fee, but they have free admission days and discounted admission options as well. See their website for more details.

In partnership with the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC), the Chicago Botanical Gardens extended the North Branch Trail first through the Gardens and then through Turnbull Woods all the way to the Green Bay Trail by the Braeside Metra station in Highland Park. The Green Bay Trail is a busy community route flanked by restaurants, shops, parks, and residential neighborhoods about a mile from the Lake Michigan shoreline. 

Open for biking, jogging, or walking, the North Branch Trail extension is a 10-foot-wide asphalt path with 2 feet of gravel on either side and is fully ADA-accessible. 

Amenities are plentiful, with parking lots, bathrooms, and picnic areas available throughout the route. Though several road crossings occur along the way, they are clearly marked and have electronic buttons for those crossing. 

Parking and Trail Access

Parking is available at a number of locations along the route. View the map for all options and detailed directions.

Parking near the northern trailhead is available at the free public Braeside Metra Station West Lot (40 Blackhawk Rd in Highland Park). The trailhead is across the street from the parking lot on County Line Rd next to the railroad crossing. 

For those taking the Metra train, get off at the Braeside Station stop in Highland Park. The Braeside Metra Station platform just across the street from the northern trailhead. 

To access the Forest Glen trailhead in Chicago, take Milwaukee Avenue to Devon Avenue. Head 0.2 mile east to the Caldwell Woods Preserve. Take the entrance road labeled Caldwell Woods Groves 1, 2 & 3.

To access the southern trailhead, take SR 50 to W Foster Avenue. The LaBagh Woods entrance is east of Cicero, where there is parking, and the Irene C. Hernandez Family Picnic Grove. The trail entrance is farther east on Foster Avenue, across from N. Kostner Avenue. 

Parking is available at the Chicago Botanical Gardens for a fee. Please see their website for more details.

North Branch Trail Reviews

15 mph bike speed limit is like "No dunking" signs at a basketball court.

15 mph bike speed limit is like "No dunking" signs at a basketball court.

Recently has become hostile to road cyclists

This bike path was once was a great safe car-free detour for road cyclists traveling north from Chicago, bypassing busy Ridge/Sheridan Rd.

With the addition of 15 mph speed limit signs and people yelling "slow down" and shaking their fists constantly to anyone in lycra, it's become clear cyclists are no longer welcome on the "trail".

It's so unfortunate that people behind a bike path would work actively to discourage cyclists from using it.

If you're a seasoned cyclist looking to get training in I suggest avoiding unless it's late fall, winter, or early spring.

North Branch trail from Dempster to Foster.

Pleasant ride through the various forest preserves. Signs request 15mph speed limit and that is definitely advisable as it can be crowded and there are many blind curves. Pavement is in good shape. The various road crossings are usually near traffic signals so not too dangerous. The neighborhoods of Old Edgebrook, Forest Glen and Sauganash are accessible from the trail and are notable for their residential styles.

Great trail, poorly marked

Overall, this is a fantastic trail. It is a great way to view the changing landscape of the city as it goes farther north and is more suburban. However, the NBT goes through some parking lots and across many streets and the directional signage is lacking. I took more than one wrong turn.


North Branch Bike Trail is Superb

I initially did this trail, in the Cook County Forest Preserves maybe 3o years ago. On my recent return, I find that the trail has been extended both to the south and to the north. Totally paved trail in good condition. You will find a few bridges over major roads and the other street crossing were either at traffic signals or were at more minor roads. The nice part is the forest tree shading over the path that is very curvy and rolling. The south extension has a nice bridge over the double track railroad-probably why the extension took so long to fund the construction. At the north end, the trail does go thru the Chicago Botanical Gardens (when it is open) and now the new north extension connects east to the junction of the Green Bay Trail and the Robert McClory Bike Path. 43 miles out and back on a very nice day for riding.

Great ride ¿¿¿¿

Explored this trail, and it’s really good with lot of forest area and greenery. The paved road through the entire ride is a big plus for the trail. And the loop is a plus as well. We don’t feel like going straight and getting back.

great loop trail

It’s always nice to be able to go in a loop rather than a straight line and back. This is a really nice trail with a lot of variety of scenery and good curves. There are places where it’s really noisy because of the proximity to major highways and there are a few busy intersections to cross. The trail is in good shape but is getting close to needing repair. Overall this is a great trail and I would give it a 4 of 5.

paved path trail

I am going to with my ranking is 4.6 stars but I don’t know how to do partial star. Great trail along Skokie lagoon with all paved trail. Nice variation on hills and turns. Did 8 miles and could of gone more south as we started at Dundee only negative is it is pretty crowded. Road on Sunday at 10am

fantastic trail

This trail is the beat I’ve ridden on. I’m new to biking but this trail, so far, is my favorite. Paved the entire way or off roading choice if you’d like as well. I like to mix it up a bit.

Debris on north end of trail

Over the past 2 weeks there has been debris (thumbtacks or glass) on the north end of the trail causing flat tires for cyclists. It happened to me 2 weeks ago but today there were multiple cyclists with flat tires so I turned around at Old Elm. Hopefully someone maintaining the trail will read this.

Awesome Trail!

Best Trail in northern chicagoland by far. you get a taste of the woods, the suburbs, wild life ... and the cherry on top is the Botanic Garden. Ride Safe.

Great ride

Rode on a Friday (7/24/20) late morning. Started from the Tower Road parking lot, did the loop around the Skokie Lagoons and then rode south the full distance of the trail to Gompers Park, returning to Tower Road. It was not too crowded and I clocked the total distance on Strava at 38.5 miles. The path is well maintained and generally well marked. About 75% of the total distance is shaded. South of the intersection of Caldwell and Devon there are more road crossings, but north of that there are many long, uninterrupted stretches. There is some highway noise around the lagoons, but it's not too bad and trees and vegetation provide visual separation from the highway. Bathrooms are available at several of the parks through which the trail passes.

Overall, a great ride, and well worth the drive from the western burbs where I live.

Best trail by a mile

Coming from the uk I was pessimistic about city cycling. After getting bored of the lake front trail and north Sheridan/Green Bay road repeats this trail is a god send. Love it. Perfect for road biking and quiet(midweek) will continue to look for other trails but this one will be hard to beat.

perfect combo of nature and fitness.

This is the perfect trail in so many ways. Quieter, with water and restrooms, all sorts of native birds and animals, places to picnic and just enjoy the great outdoors. I feel lucky to have this trail just a couple blocks from my home on the south end. Summer here we come !

Beautiful Trail with Plenty of Nature

An amazing escape from city life, the North Branch Trail is truly amazing. There are a few major road crossings but in between, it's nothing but shade, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. A lot of deer. A word of warning: if the trail is wet, be careful around corners while biking. I crashed my bike riding through a leaf covered wet corner. No real problems with this Trail, except for your occasional bump but someone has come through and marked them with spray paint to warn riders. The trail has been extended past where this map ends on the south side, and the entirety of the trail is around 20.4 miles, not the 23 miles this map advertises. Just rode the entire trail today. Highly recommend completing this trail at least once.

Extension Opening FYI

Southern 3 mile extension opening Saturday, August 12, at Foster and Kostner aves. Irene C. Hernandez Picnic Grove, LaBaugh Woods, Chicago.

Great Path

Beautiful path. Well paved - did not notice or see one "pothole" or crack; Varying scenery - saw two deer. A couple of times, it was not clear on how to pick path back up after some streets, but other friendly riders helped out. The best we have ridden in the Greater Chicago area. Looking forward to going back again soon.

Best bicycle experience in Chicago

Last fall, the FPD extended this trail to Forest Glen Park, near the Metra stop and across from the Chicago Canine Rescue. It is a wonderful addition and saves me the trouble of taking 1.5 miles of city streets to the trailhead at Devon & Caldwell. Others have covered this trail extensively. I just wanted to add that the total distance from Devon & Caldwell to the southern gate of the Chicago Botanic Gardens is just over 17 miles (not 20 miles as it says on Google maps and the FPD map). The 20 miles includes the entire circuit around Skokie Lagoon. You obviously wouldn't be riding around the entire Skokie Lagoon circuit in order to get to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Once inside the southern gate, it is approximately 1 mile to the main building at the Gardens. All together, it is about 19.5 miles from Forest Glen to the main building at the Gardens.


This is my favorite trail in Chicago. It's all paved and pretty well marked. It's actually grown with the addition along Central ave. Lots of places to park along the way but a good starting point is at Devon and Milwaukee. If you're feeling ambitious, you can take the trail to the Botanical Gardens.

Great for biking, plenty of crossings for the first few miles

The map shown combines two trails, the initial 13 of the north branch trail and a 4.4 mile lagoon loop.

The trail is asphalt and is very well maintained.

The first few miles have a lot of street crossings that are mostly well marked, with a few somewhat confusing ones.

There is a trail marking system, with the North Branch Trail as RED and the Lagoon loop as BLACK.

Very good trail

I ride NBT during the summer work days (being a teacher has its perks). I usually bike north to the Gardens then bike back to Devon for a total of 30 or so miles. The trail is fairly empty. The people I've encountered are courteous and announce themselves before passing. The trail winds through forests and 'burbs. Crossing the busy streets are not a problem, however, be careful at Golf and Harms because cars tend to blow through their green arrow left turn lights. Don't jump the gun when when you get the crossing signal. Also be prepared to wait several minutes at Touhy because the light is very long, otherwise it is an uninterrupted ride, for the most part. Enjoy!

As good as it gets

Been riding this trail since I was kid, almost 25 years, and it's always been a winner! If you live in the city, this is as good as it gets for the distance it covers. Yeah, the crossing of streets can be a little annoying but compared to city streets, crossing suburban streets are a breeze

Decent trail but little to see

I rode this trail from Glenview to the Botanic Gardens. There are only a handful of trails in northern IL that are worth traveling and hour to get to. While I may return to this trail with the purpose of going to the Botanic Gardens again, on its own, this stretch of the North Branch trail is nothing special and not worth an hour drive. Since it is a river trail, I expected some decent scenery but was largely disappointed.

The pluses for this section of the trail are that it is a good length and is asphalt. It also has the Botanic Gardens at the northern end. The Gardens are free if you enter on your bike and are a must see for everyone. This was the main reason I chose this trail and was not disappointed for that reason.

Between Tower Rd and Dundee Rd., the trail splits and travels on both the east and west sides of a forest preserve - the Skokie Lagoons. The west side trail travels along I-94 for a good part of this stretch. The east side is much, much better. Better scenery and no noise. Do yourself a favor and skip the west side.

If you are traveling a distance and are looking for a trail that has nice views, such as the Fox River trail, this trail is not very impressive, at least between Glenview and the Botanic Gardens. But it is asphalt and has decent length which is among a short list of trails in northern IL. That fact is what bumped my rating from what would have been a 3-star rating to a 4-star rating.

It'll do!

Kind of your best option as a city dweller without a car. Minus a star because you'll frequently have to cross busy streets and sometimes the re-entry is unmarked and half a block down the street.

North Branch Trail

Pretty Good

great trail

went yesterday and there was snow still on the trail but melting. going again today to check it out again, cant wait ti ride on that trail this year!

North Branch extension

Here's a good article on the extension - looks like 2016 for the Southern extension to Gompers

evening ride

Trail is nice and well marked. Most drivers at intersections were courteous and stopped to let us cross. Bikers however, not so much. Not infrequently passing without warning. One individual oncoming nearly plowed into us. Scenery is nice, but up north there is a strong smell of process wast water thought the ride. Highway traffic noise also takes away from the pleasant viewa

Just Right

Excellent at the bottom, tranquil at the top

This is a very we'll-maintained trail. It's pretty busy for the southern ten miles, with lots of breaks to cross traffic at it winds through many popular county parks. But the top five miles, including a loop that brings you to the Botanic Gardens, is very nice. Highly recommended, but be prepared for walkers, families, and slow bikers.

A little crowded but a great ride!

Very nice ride up to the glorious Chicago Botanic Garden...could this be can't more gorgeous?!?

Loved it!

What a gorgeous day!..Made it all the way from one end to the other! Glad we made a couple of sandwiches before setting out. Delighted to have finally found a water well more than half way up...would've been nice to see a couple more of those along the way! All in all...a great experience!

Beautiful, well-maintained

I've been using this trail a few times a week for the past month or two as a way to build my fitness, and to sate my refound love of cycling. I tend to ride in the 12-3 range, so I rarely ride during busy times.

The path itself, from Devon to Dundee, is in excellent shape. Cracks are sealed, it is remarkably level, and the only condition problem I have noted is a small stretch on the west half of the loop between Tower and Dundee where there are 4 or 5 cracks (sealed) that have heaved up a bit to create significant bumps (enough that I like to get my weight off my front wheel for them). But still, pretty minor.

There are spots where vegetation grows out over the path, but it is cut back regularly (not daily, but definitely more than once a season). I saw a dead chipmunk in the path one day, and it was gone the next...maybe scavenged, or maybe cleared, regardless, I rarely see any obstructions stay on the path two rides in a row.

North of Willow there are some stretches with swampy odors, but nothing unbearable.

Road crossings almost all have crosswalks and lights or plenty of visibility. Dempster is a bit nasty (you have to cross two ways, and cross RR tracks), Beckwith and Howard also are relatively dicey (Howard is 4-lanes, no light; Beckwith doesn't have the best visibility). But you can usually count on having another rider or two to cross with, and in some areas (especially the north end) drivers can be very courteous and stop to let you cross.

The biggest problem I've had to deal with is dog walkers. Certainly not the majority, but I do frequently encounter people walking dogs who fan out across the whole path, leaving no room for anyone to pass. But in general, the folks on the path all tend to be properly courteous.

And as others noted -- it's not uncommon to see deer crossing the path! Again, mostly north of Willow (in my experience).

Took the family up to Grove 1 last Saturday and we took turns doing small rides. While it was a bit busy, it wasn't hazardous for my kids, and we were able to ride/walk at a kid's pace. I even had a chance to let my daughter practice passing people with proper etiquette. You DO need to teach kids to cross the path like a road because on a busy day there will be a fair number of serious riders who can be going along at a fair clip, and in small groups.

I've visited a couple of other trails, and I feel really really spoiled by North Branch!

Best for a long ride on the NWS of Chicago

I have ridden on this trail since I was basically able to ride as a kid. It has always been my favorite and since I only live a few miles from it I use it as a commuter trail to get to where I work. It has always been well maintained and there are few issues with the surface itself. The only draw back is it can be a busy trail, especially on the south end and anywhere there are forest preserve groves where people can park. WATCH OUT FOR KIDS! Families love the trail and there is always the chance that the little ones are not to far ahead. A friendly heads up that you are passing is always a good thing as you are coming up. Well worth the trip if you live a bit from it and there is plenty of parking at the lot by Milwaukee and Devon in Chicago, or at the Caldwell Woods lots off Caldwell avenue.

Nice ride to the botanic gardens

This is a paved and mostly wooded trail that winds through forest preserves and terminates at the Chicago Botanic Gardens at one end. Since the Botanic Gardens only charges for parking, visiting on your bike is free. The lunch room at the Botanic Garden is surprisingly good and makes a nice place to break your ride. Most of the way, you wouldn't know your riding through densely populated suburban Chicago. You also don't need to worry about high water closing underpasses, unlike some other local forest preserve trails. It's one of our favorite rides. Nice weekend days it's a little crowded but that's the only drawback.


Today was my first time on the trail. I was delighted to find it well maintained and easy to use, only had to cross a few small roads but it didn't slow me down. Saw some wildlife, including a deer. Biked and ran a little bit on it and can't wait to use it more!

Good trail

This is arguably the best trail within 30 miles of Chicago. It is an actual trail for the entire length no switching between streets and trail, it is paved and for the most part in great condition. Also the trail is relatively quiet mostly bikes and runners. Another good thing about this trail is that it is long, it is actually worth the drive to the trail because of this. The trail is mostly in the shade probably 85%. Wish there were more trails like this near Chicago.

North Branch Bike Trail

We have seen several deer very close to the trail which makes this kind of extraordinary! It's a great trail which I enjoy a lot. It is also very well maintained.

North Branch Bike Trail

"This is a very nice paved trail that extends from Chicago to Highland Park. It travels through Cook County Forest Preserves along the path of the North Branch of the Chicago River, including the Skokie Lagoons and the Botanic Gardens. It is mostly wooded and pleasant, but unfortunately, the County does a terrible job of keeping it clean. There are several good entry points at the Forest Preserve parking lots and along Forest Way Drive in Winnetka. It also is within easy connecting distance of the Green Bay Trail - just exit on the north side of the Botanic Gardens and go east along Lake Cook Road to the tracks, and go north or south along the tracks. Enjoy!"

Nice and wooded

"This trail is nice and wooded. The trail winds and twists through many forest preserves. My son loves the little rises and dips along the trail. It can get crowded. Keep an eye out for roaming ice cream trucks in the forest preserve parking lots!

Also, one often parks on Tower Road. Do the northern stretch by the Skokie Lagoons and Botanical Gardens early or late, not in the heat of the day. Unlike most of the trail, that part is sunny and can be hot.

It's a fun trail."

Nearby Trails

Go Unlimited Today!

  • FREE Account
  • View over 40,000 miles of trail maps
  • Post your trail reviews
  • Share your trail photos
  • Save your favorite trails
  • Learn about new trails near you
  • Get a free map in the app!
Register for FREE
Purchase Unlimited

Explore by City

Explore by City

Explore by Activity

Explore by Activity

Log in to your account to:

  • View trail paths on the map
  • Save trails to your account
  • Add trails, edit descriptions
  • Share photos
  • Add reviews

Log in with Google

Log in with Apple


Register for free!

Join TrailLink (a non-profit) to view more than 40,000 miles of trail maps and more!

Register with Google

Register with Apple


Your account has been deleted.