Pecatonica Prairie Trail


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Pecatonica Prairie Trail Facts

States: Illinois
Counties: Winnebago
Length: 14.3 miles
Trail end points: S Meridian Rd, north of Cunningham Rd (Rockford) and Stephenson-Winnebago County Line, east of N Farwell Bridge Rd (west of Pecatonica)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6015786

Pecatonica Prairie Trail Description

The Pecatonica Prairie Trail, formerly known as the Pecatonica Prairie Path, is a 14.3-mile rail-trail extending from the western edge of Rockford to N. Farwell Bridge Road west of Pecatonica. The crushed limestone-surfaced route is predominately rural, passing through a landscape of farmland, wetlands, meadows and woods. The trail is paved where it passes through the hearts of the small villages of Winnebago and Pecatonica.

The trail follows the old right-of-way of the Chicago and North Western Railway, now owned by Commonwealth Edison and used for electricity transmission. It is also the longest northern component of the Grand Illinois Trail, which is one day planned to connect the Mississippi River with Lake Michigan.

In Stephenson County, the trail remains undeveloped with a grassy surface. Trail users may continue on the corridor west to the edge of Freeport, but mountain bikes and hiking boots are recommended. It may prove to be difficult to navigate even for rough-terrain bikes. This 13.5-mile section is targeted for improvement in the future; eventually, it will connect directly to the Jane Addams Trail in downtown Freeport.

Parking and Trail Access

Access to the Pecatonica Prairie Trail is from several country road crossings. Parking can be found on local streets, but trail users are advised to abide by local parking laws. Parking is also available in Sumner Park in Pecatonica off W. 1st Street. There is a small lot off Main St, just south of E. 2nd Street. 

Pecatonica Prairie Trail Reviews

Local Bicycle Shop Support

I live near this trail and its a great ride! It follows some of the best midwestern countryside you can ask for and runs along side the Winnebago County Forest Preserve Wetlands in Pecatonica.

There is also a local bike shop named The Bicycle Hub in Pecatonica on Main Street just 1 block from the trail. They offer full service bike repair and are also a retail store. You can feel confident that if anything happens on the trail this shop can help support you, even if its simply to share in your excitement of the ride!

Much Improved

It's been a while since I last rode the PPT so I was curious to see what had changed and if the reviews were accurate. Based on today's conditions (9/28/22), I'm happy to report that the trail has greatly improved since my last time on it. With one caveat - the part from the S. Meridian (Rockford) head to the WInnebago County line 1 mile west of Pecatonica is in great shape and very rideable for most people. West of that, towards Freeport, is a different story. More suited for ATV's than any bike. Not recommended. It's not developed at all and really isn't ready for any civilized biking. But, I got in 26 miles R/T on the part mentioned and on a perfect autumn day like today, it could not have been any better. I highly recommend you get out and enjoy it before winter arrives.

make sure you have a good bike.

My husband and I rode from pecatonica and did 21 miles. My bottom is soooo sore from the bumpy roads. I even just bought a new seat prior to going and now my tailbone hurts so bad I can barely walk or sit. Maybe I’m a baby but I definitely preferred the smoother ride of the Jane Adams trail

Pecatonica Prairie trail 11-07-2020

My husband and I did the whole trail r/t Farewell Bridge Road to Meridian Road and back today. Good spots, and not as good spots. We rode it about two years ago, and it was very sandy in some spots. Those spots have course gravel in them now. We ride hybrid bikes with cross-terrain tires. It was ok, but fat tires work better on the grassy and course gravel areas. It needs some work, but was still an enjoyable scenic ride on a beautiful day.


On the decline

I've used this trail for years. The past couple have seen serious decline in the trail's condition. It once was nicely and evenly packed with crushed gravel as recent as three years ago, but now most of it has been overtaken by grass and heavy rains have washed out parts of it. It's still passable on mountain bikes and fat tire bikes, but that's about it. I'm not sure why it has stopped being maintained but at the current rate, in another year or two nature will take it back completely.

Potential, but not a great path yet

I parked in western Rockford and picked this trail up at it's far eastern point. A mile or so into the trail heading west, it turned from compacted earth/small rock to full-on grass, at which point a pool of water from treeline to treeline made it impossible to continue. Ok, headed back to the car and drove down to Winnebago where I picked up the trail heading west again. The trail isn't bad, but I ride a hybrid bike with smaller tires than a mountain bike. Riding wasn't hard, but it wasn't easy either. Halfway between Winnebago and Pecatonica I got tired of the trail and its inconsistent composition and went off-road down hilly side streets to complete my ride to the north side of Pecatonica. What you should know about this path is that the trail is comprised of flattened earth and some gravel (ranging sizes from crushed to large pebbles). The trail also has grass areas either in full, or partially. Personally, I don't care for the grass. The trail itself is 95% non-canopy. For those looking for direct sun and a lot of it..this trail is for you. Along the trail there isn't much in the way of scenery. I'd say it's mostly a 'put your head down and peddle' path. The trail composition wasn't favorable for me nor was the scenery, so I'm at two stars here. I think the trail could be maintained more to improve that side of it. Cheers

Rough parts, nice parts

This trail has so much potential. That's what really makes it disappointing. The eastern portion spent much of this summer being used by the electric utility, so it was technically closed. I rode it a few times in the evenings, but it definitely required a mountain bike. West of Welden Road it returned to the regular trail. Overall it's okay with a few soft spots. You definitely don't want to ride it if there's been rain recently. There are quite a few places that don't drain very well. I prefer my mountain bike over my commuter, even though my commuter has 38c tires. I enjoy riding it for a change of pace, but I'm sure I couldn't get my wife to ride it with me.

Great nature trail, surface needs work

The pros:
Tons of wild flowers and butterflies all along the way

The cons:
We have ridden dozens of rail-trails on our recumbent tandem. This one has a fair (at best) limestone surface. The center of the trail is overgrown, so you are restricted to about a one foot wide lane in either direction. There are some nasty holes at random locations. Soft spots in the surface here and there that are very difficult on hybrid size tires. Vegetation hanging out across the trail in spots. All this makes it difficult to enjoy the ride, because you need to concentrate on the trail so much.

I would not recommend this one for any less than mountain bike size tires.

Both Winnebago and Pecatonica are the typical lovely small Illinois farm towns with shops and restaurants in both. We chose to start in Winnebago (just off route 20) and use one of the many fast-food parking lots. There is a trail from there to downtown, where you pick up the main trail.

Not your Sunday afternoon dally...

It was the first day of Autumn and 93° when my riding buddy and I returned to the trailhead in Winnebago in the late morning after travelling west to a private lane just short of Farwell Bridge Road and back - 19.13 miles indicated on my bike's computer.

This bike trail may not be the most scenic, and may not be a 'real' Rail-Trail, as it seems to parallel the old rail line rather than use it, but it's still better than riding the streets in town for this guy. Lots of sunshine under the sparse canopy of power lines meant lots of water consumed on this hot day.

It is paved only in short sections - in the towns/villages of Winnebago and Pecatonica, as well as in the vicinity of Highway 20, where it appears that a very large paved parking lot has been recently constructed on the north side of the road. Other than that, I would classify this as a 'fair-to-rough' hard-pack surface trail.

Some have commented negatively about the loose/sandy section. That section will certainly get a rider's attention, but this 68 year old on an eight year old, 'bottom-of-the-line' Trek Mountain Bike, rode through it without mishap, as did his younger riding partner on a Hybrid Giant bike.

This trail is definitely not for the rider that wishes to just cruise along and visit, while gawking. One must pay attention and watch for the mini-sinkholes, as well as the variations in trail surface. I am a nature lover however, and 'roughing it' has always held a very special place in my heart. This trail is what it is. If one wants a paved path, choose another. If one wishes for a little private time in nature and reap the joy and benefits that comes along with riding a bike, then this 'less than groomed' trail might be just what the doctor ordered.

I also need to point out that the signage along this trail is excellent - every public road crossing is clearly marked with road/street names and stop signs.

A quick stop at the small gazebo along the river near the fairgrounds in Pec will provide one with an interesting history of the river and the Pecatonica Grist Mill of days past.

In summary... I will be returning to this trail to see what is at Farwell Bridge Road and beyond, as well as to complete the ride to Rockford and see what's up on that end.

As stated previously, "This trail is what it is". Take it or leave it.

Went East from Winnebago.

Three miles from Westfield road in Winnebago to meridian road where it ends. They are doing construction on a sewer main so I am not sure you can go on it during the week past Weldon road. It looks like they've widened it to move heavy equipment through. There are a couple of rough spots but nothing you can't get through. Fields on both sides and flat.

Washed Out and Rough

This trail is terrible from the rain the area has had this summer. The Pecatonica River has flooded out the area around Pecatoinca and from the trailhead in Pecatonica you can only get about 1/2 mile west. Going east on the way from Pecatonica to Winnebago is currently dangerous and not rideable because the trail is beyond washed out in places. Even without the current challenges for this trail there are much better and well maintained trails in Northern Illinois.

Could have been a great ride, but path needs maintenance

Just rode this path 8-5-2017 and although it is very scenic, it is not in good enough condition to bike the complete trail. It would be great for a runner but there are a lot of safety issues for bikers. The main issue being a lot of deep sand where it is nearly impossible to pedal through. I have an Electra cruiser and my boyfriend was riding a hybrid trek and both of us were disappointed to have to dismount our bikes and walk through the deep sand. In one area, the path was completely washed away and there are a lot of deep holes on the path made by animals.
Other than that, it is very pretty trail. It looks like they are possibly building a new area to park in the middle of the trail. With a little more care, the path could be a four star ride.

Meridian Road to Farwell Bridge

I rode this 28.8 mile round trip this week, the day following a lot of rain. I was a little surprised that there were no water or mud issues except for the less developed stretch west of Pecatonica. And even there it was passible but slightly soft and wet.

The trail remains in pretty good shape although there are areas with significant rodent damage. I saw one crater at least a foot in diameter and a foot deep. You have to stay alert and watch to avoid the critter craters! They always hurt a lot more towards the end of a ride.

I rode a mountain bike with wide tires but a hybrid would be fine on the crushed limestone, which runs from Meridian Road to the west side of the Winnebago fairgrounds, where the trail leaves Winnebago county. I rode at 90+% of my normal pace on asphalt, so it's pretty darn good.

I ride this trail at least once a year since it was improved from a path to a trail. I had ridden it many years ago when it was just a path, and all the horror stories are true. It was pretty rough. I have stories I could tell you over a few beers. Now it's a nice trail. It passes through rural countryside with prairie, woods, creeks, farms and so on. A few rural road crossings at 1 mile intervals but not many. Lots and lots of power poles. If you don't like poles from horizon to horizon, don't ride this trail! Winnebago is the only town you pass through between Rockford and Pecatonica, so I recommend taking water. There's an ice-cream shop in Pecatonica. Just sayin'.

As noted in another review, the huge lot off Meridian Road just southeast of the trailhead looks like a great place to park but now has an ominous sign to warn you where your car will be towed to. I chose to park on a small turnoff just northeast of the trail and got away with it. It would be great if the county could carve out a small spot for a couple of cars to park.

The highest elevation of the trail is in Winnebago, so if you park there you can avoid climbing ~100 feet over the first few miles. Of course your return trip from Pecatonica will be all uphill (~130 feet) back to Winnebago. It's slight, but you'll notice it.

Ridott to West Rockford

I just rode this trail on Oct. 26th. 2915. I had already reviewed it a couple years ago. As I rode west from Pecatonica, the trail used to basically stop then turn weedy at the county line.

This day, I noticed it was mowed and cut back for a good clearing. It was not officially finished with limestone but very good for my mountain bike. I was surprised. I made it to Farwell Rd, and noticed it was done ahead of me. I made it to Ridott, Il. and it was very nice following the Pecatonica River for much of it. I would take kids on it. The bridges were privately redone I believe as there are no rails. The last two bridges, near Ridott I walked my bike as they are original 80 plus years old with moderate damage. But passable. I would do it again.

Enjoyable trail

I have this trail on my regular rotation of trails I ride since all the improvements were completed last year. I prefer to start in the town of Winnebago rather than Meridian Rd., just for connivence of not have to park in a remote spot.

I wouldn't recommend your skinny wheel road bike for this (not impossible though), but I have no problems with my hybrids.

Pecatonica and Winnebago are great destinations with nice options for picnicking and relaxing.

Expect a lot of sun (think sun screen), the shade trees are trimmed, with not a lot of shade due to the need for electrical right of way. I can hardly wait for the improvements that are planned to get me all the way to Freeport, and the Jane Adam trail.

Good but only in town or for walking

I rode this trail on 5/20/15 from meridian road to Ridot and this is a nice path. I like the improvements that have been happening. There are new wooden path coverings where the path might dip in to a muddy spot and the path is paved through Pecatonica, Winnebago, and the highway 20 underpass but that's the highlights for me. I'd say that this trail is more for walking than riding a bike because the gravel is not finely ground enough to be smooth and if it is, then the gravel isn't packed down enough. My friend and I had quite the challenge riding on the path after Pec because it soon after turns to grass. We were determined to continue to ride till we thought the path ended and we thought Ridott was it. I could tell that they were working on the grass section because some of the wooden trail coverings had been recently replaced but otherwise I don't recommend continuing further than Pec if you're on a bike going west.

meridian rd. to far edge of pec

Trail was in excellent condition all the way. Better shape than me! We started at Noon and turned around by 3pm and by that time there was a decent amount of shade. the water was turned off at the shelter in pecatonica, but signs in town said water, air cond, food, etc. available in town. We saw cattails and a few frogs on the trail near pec. trail was dry though even after lots of rain the week before.

We saw a few bikes and a couple joggers other than that we had the trail to ourselves. If there was more shade I would give it 5 stars.

Pecatonica to trail end at Meridian Rd. - Not bad!

I just finished this ride today (7/3/14) - a 22-mile round trip, on a cyclocross bike. After all the bad things I have read about this trail I was expecting worse, but it was in pretty good shape, overall, especially considering that it has rained every day for the last 4 days or so. No big puddles. There are places where the loose gravel had migrated, but for all but a road bike, there should be no problem. It's not quite as easy pedaling as the crushed limestone on the Stone Bridge trail - it's a bit more of a slog. There is a section of trail just east of Pecatonica that needs mowing but was passable, but the bigger problem is an almost complete lack of shade. It was barely 70 degrees today, but sunny, and that sun became torture. My phone, which mounts on my handlebars, overheated, and I had to carry it in my fanny pack. Lost a couple miles on my tracking program. I was too bonked to check out the western end, which I haven't seen in a couple of years when it was pretty rough. I'll be checking that out soon, tho.

Best to save this trail for cool, overcast or cloudy days. The sun is beastly. And leave the road bike at home unless you're a brave soul.

Pec to Route 20

So far this year, I have only ridden the trail from Pecatonica to the Route 20 Underpass. Unlike last year, the trail is in great condition. The surface is fine and I have no problem riding my road bike with 700c x 28 tires on it.

Easternmost Ten Miles

Biked west from the eastern terminus at Meridian Road, and back. Made it all the way to Lundgren Road, not quite as far as Pecatonica. Well-maintained, good crushed rock base, pretty easy riding for our bikes with hybrid tires. Saw half a dozen other bikers out enjoying the good weather. Not much shade available, but in April that doesn't matter. There is no place to park at the Meridian Road terminus; do NOT assume (as we did) that it would be OK to park in the big empty field at the SW corner of Meridian owned by the auction company. We were chewed out by a very testy landowner. We apologized and he grumped at us that we could leave our car there but next time ASK PERMISSION FIRST. However, after completing our ride, we decided that next time we'd park in Winnebago, as the 3 miles between Meridian and Winnebago are rather boring. I am giving this section 4 stars due to its good condition.

Winnebago to Pecatonica Section

Rode the approximately 7.5 miles from Winnebago to Pecatonica and back on 9/22/13. The path is now well graded and compacted after recent rains. Dirt/packed gravel. No soft spots or loose gravel sections on this part of the trail. There are a few sharp transition curbs on the small bridges perhaps. Two of us were riding crossover bikes with medium width tires and it was no problem. I don't think it would be an enjoyable ride for road bikes with narrow tires/rims. The grade is very level and the riding is easy. There are many nice country views of farms and fields. There are some nice country restaurants and dairy bars in both Winnebago and Pecatonica for lunch stops. Enjoyed the ride !

Not yet done

Yesterday me and my son rode from Winnebago to beyond Pecatonica with the expectation the trail was done. Several mile west of Pecatonica the trail transitioned from crushed gravel to a rustic trail. I would definitely suggest if you want to do the entire trail, you have a good set of mountain bike tires

Ready to ride

ON Sept. 12, 2013 there was an official opening ceremony for the path. It has been mowed and because of the hot dry weather, the path is very easy to handle right now. With the mowing having been done there are really no problems. Next year 2014, the parking lots and trail heads will be in place. Along with more signs and trail heads. Right now starting near the fairgrounds in Pecatonica, or either the village of Pecatonica or Winnebago would be the safest. Anywhere but not parking along the Rt. 20 4 lane as I have seen some people doing.

Not for thin tired bicycles.

Getting better

Well the Pecatonica prairie trail is mostly complete. However, it is not officially open. Meaning some low areas need some work. You can take a city or mountain problem. However, we are still waiting on a mower. Yep was in the budget but. I'll leave it at that. No parking on Meridian Rd. But in the villages of Pecatonica and Winnebago you can park. Both towns have water to fill up on.

Path is getting weedy in a few spots. Next year, the amenities will be done. And the west end stops nowhere, but should be done to at least Farwell Rd. in the near future. Not sure on the date to Freeport. Patience for a while. But back and forth, will still get you a good 25 mile ride on what is finished.

Just not there yet ...

I rode this path on Saturday, July 20.

I started out in Pecatonica. The path through Pec is all asphalt, which is wonderful! However, the path on either side of town is not. The path is gravel, but not crushed gravel, a mostly pea sized gravel. The weeds were overhanging the trail. At bridge/path transitions they used road gravel that was poorly graded. About a mile out of Pec towards Freeport the trail converts to grass (I turned around there). In total I put in about 8 miles on it, loaded up my bike and headed for better riding.

DO NOT attempt to ride this trail with a road bike or hybrid!!

Overall, not a path for putting in any serious bike path miles. A lot more work needs to be done here before it becomes really usable.

Good trail within Winnebago County

I rode this path Sunday, July 14, 2013.

The trail is serviceable from Farwell Bridge Road (3.3 miles west of Pecatonica) to Meridian Rd. (3.0 miles east of Winnebago). It looked very overgrown near Freeport and Ridott and I did not travel this portion.

The first 1.5 miles east of Farwell Bridge Rd. has not be graded and graveled. It is dirt and grassy/weeds that has been cut short and would be fine for a bike with off road tires (mountain and/or hybrid). Might be a bit difficult with road tires.

When you reach the Winnebago County line (about 1.5 miles) the path is then leveled and gravel. There are some rough spots on the approaches to some newly installed bridges.

The trail is relatively smooth and packed gravel all the way to Merdian Rd. The path is paved through the villages of Pecatonica, Winnebago, and the underpass for US 20. There is some wash-out areas from heavy rain about 1.5 miles east of Winnebago (midway between Falconer Rd. and Weldon Rd.) but it is passable.

Farwell Bridge Rd. - Pecatonica -- Approx. 3.3 mi
Pecatonica - Winnebago -- Approx. 8.0 mi
Winnebago - Meridan Rd. -- Approx. 3.5 mi

Starting at Winnebago or Pecatonica and riding back and forth between the towns is a nice ride.

Pecatonica to Freeport--The Good and the Bad

Recently, I rode the first half of the Pecatonica Prairie Path from Rockford to Pecatonica. Today, I rode the second half of the path, going from Pecatonica to Freeport. While the first half of the trail has experienced a welcome renovation, the second half still needs work.

As it curves through Pecatonica, moving west through the county fairgrounds, the path is newly blacktopped. As it leaves the fairground area, it transitions to hard packed gravel. For the next mile or so, the trail is in great shape, and benefits from a new bridge. Unfortunately, it then changes to a grass path. As the miles pass, the path becomes overgrown with weeds, brambles, and long grass. The bridges show extreme wear, with approaches that can puncture a tire and broken boards showing through to the muddy water below.

It's apparent that at some time in the past, this path was better maintained; in fact, you come across several covered picnic shelters that have been inexplicably abandoned to the weeds and grass.

Half way between Pecatonica and Freeport, you go through a small town called Ridott. The trail pass through a park where you can relax, but there's no water available, and Ridott has no businesses, so you can't buy water either. Hint: bring enough water with you!

After Ridott, the path is in pretty bad shape. In one place, ties from the old railroad bed still wait to be removed form the trail. The weeds and grass encroach mightily on the path the rest of the way into Freeport.

Like the eastern half of the trail, this half is lined by power lines--hence, the lack of trees and shade.

Bottom Line: the trail is best suited for mountain bikes. Road bikes will suffer greatly. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to avoid being snagged by stinging plants and raspberry canes.

Vast Improvement

I biked the Pecatonica Prairie Path from Rockford to Pecatonica and camped at Seward Bluff campground just south of Pecatonica. I first did this route last year, before the trail underwent recent renovations, and the changes are wonderful! The trail has been graded, smoothed, widened, and resurfaced. New bridges have been installed and the portions of the trail that pass through urban areas have been topped with asphalt. If you haven't been on this trail in a while, it deserves a visit.

There are still some things about the trail that may be a problem for some bikers. For example, the size of the gravel is a bit large and in some places it needs to be packed down more. For example, I've got 1 1/2" wide tires, and once my front wheel got swallowed in a loose gravel and dumped me. Also, Com Ed installed power lines along the trail (probably occurred when the trail was still an abandoned rail line)and they've not allowed trees to grow up along the trail--thus, unlike other bike trails in the area, you'll find no shade along this path.

There still finishing renovations, but things are really looking up on the Pecatonica Prairie Path!


I'm the type of guy who bikes to, from and between Rockford and Freeport, so when I heard about this trail I was very excited! When I finally saw the trail the excitement turned to sadness. And when I heard the trail was to be redone the excitement returned! So much so that i went out and took some "before" pictures. For anyone wondering this trail would cut between 5 to 10 miles form the preferred Rockford-Freeport bike route.

Complete makeover completion estimated in summer 2013

My name is Rick Sager. I would like to invite anyone who reviews this trail to ride the trail later this summer...(2013). The trail from the west end of Rockford, il to the Winnebago/Stephenson Co. line, appro. 12.5 miles is scheduled to be completed this summer of 2013. Much of the work is ahead of schedule and the ammenities will be the last items completed. The grand opening date has not been set, however I will submit that when I learn it.

I am a trustee for the Village of Pecatonica, Il. Eventually, the trail will continue into Rockford, il. downtown to the east. and also eventually join up with the Jane Adams Trail in Freeport, il to the west. Those dates/years are uncertain but being worked on. Please be patient as the committee is also working on an official website for the Pecatonica Prairie Path.
The work being done will make this an excellent trail for off road cyclists. The only paved parts will be through the villages and future trail head areas.

Thank you, Rick Sager

Dangerous on a bike

We tried to ride this on our bikes but ended up leaving the trail and riding on country roads. The old bridge by Ridott is interesting but I would recommend hiking on this trail and not riding a bike. It would be nice to see Freeport and Rockford be connected with this trail but those two towns lack vision and economic savvy. It's sad because there is a lot of potential here.

progress report

The path was been taken over by a group of local government entities. Stephenson County is taking over the part in Stevenson County with funding help from the city of Freeport and the Freeport Park District.

Winnebago County is taking over the part in Winnebago County from Meridian Road west to the Stephenson County Line. I have heard some story that the Rockford Park District is planning some kind of paved trail that will head east from the Meridian Road trail head, but I don't know much about it.

Winnebago County has already started resurfacing it with crushed stone from the Winnebago county line going east into Pecatonica. I am not sure how far the resurfacing has gotten as the trail goes east. It may be complete all the way to route 20. I have walked on this section from Sumner Park (at least up to the bridge work) and it is a very nice path now.

The county is also rebuilding the bridges west of the fairgrounds which means that part of the trail is closed until the bridge work is done. The forest preserve district claims it will be done by the end of the year (per their web site).

The part of the trail that goes through the Winnebago County fairgrounds has been rerouted. It now goes north through Sumner Park and then goes along the river along the north and then the western edge of the fairgrounds before connecting to the existing path.

This trail is definitely ride at your own risk. The unmarked "trail head," located just outside of Rockford, looks like the entrance to an industrial waste dump. During the first couple of miles, the track is deeply rutted, scattered with large rocks, and sometimes vanishes into muddy weeds. It's evident that ATV's and heavy machinery use this trail more often than bikes. Eventually, the path becomes more managable, but just barely, as the surface is not taken care of, and rocks, holes, ruts, branches etc. impede your progress. At one point, the path goes under Hiway 20. Here the trail has been upgraded: it's paved in black top and the ride is wonderful. But it's just 1/4 mile long--kind of a tease to let you now what this trail might be like. As you leave Winnebago and approch Pecatonica the trail begins to disintegrate until it becomes completely obscured in brackish water and cattails . . . I had to dismount and literally drag my bike through the muck and shoulder-high weeds. Closer to Pecatonica the trail surface improves, but that's not saying much. It's also true that the locals seem to have no knowlege of this trail and signage is almost non-existent. Good luck trying to find the beginning of the trail in Pecatonica . . . I made a guess of it, and started biking under some power lines.

Dangerous and Overgrown With Vegetation!

I took the PPP on Sunday, July 22nd, 2012. Or rather, I tried to. It's supposed to be a part of one of the legs of my Grand Illinois Trail ride. I'd been planning on taking it right from it's west terminus in Freeport, Il. and biking it to the end, close to Rockford, Il. 1. In Freeport, Il. it's impossible to find the PPP trailhead. There are no signs of any kind to show the correct path. Locals do not know anything about the PPP! 2. A bit further east, along Illinois Rt. 75, it's not possible to locate ANY trail access. Spots which SHOULD lead to the trail are COMPLETELY overgrown with vegetation. 3. After some time, I FINALLY realized that some of the paths overgrown with vegetation were part of the PPP. They were a few miles east of Freeport, Il. - on Fawyer Rd. 4. The Ex-C&N-W RR Pecatonica River bridge is generally not in bad shape, but some rotten planks are currently covered with plywood! 5. The overgrown roadbed is riddled with animal holes in some areas, which are difficult to see. Some are pretty big and potentially dangerous! 6. There are many old, small bridges and culverts in which the wood is completely rotten. This is VERY DANGEROUS ! In my opinion, the part of the PPP between Freeport, Il. and Pecatonica, Il. (the part I've just ridden) should be CLOSED IMMEDIATELY and removed from the GIT! The link below displays a few images from the current state of the PPP.

A difficult ride, at best.

I rode this trail May 16, 2012 from Harwell Bridge Road to Winnebago and back. The trail surface is dirt and cinder dust (probably part of the old rail bed aggregate) overgrown with grasses and weeds most of its length. The grass and weeds are often 2-3 ft. high and obscure the ruts and holes in the trail so well you simply cannot see them all. Some of them are large and deep enough to stop your bike instantly. Generally on the fills (where the rail bed had been raised well above grade) the trail is more passable, but in the cuts it is more overgrown and stays muddy, even in dry periods. One 1/10th mile section between Pecatonica and US Hwy 20 is a mire with many puddles of standing water and ooze so soft and deep it was impossible to ride through. Although (in Winnebago County, at least) signs (use at your own risk!) are posted prohibiting motorized vehicles, people have been using dirt bikes and all-terrain 4X4's. I shared the trail with one of them west of Winnebago yesterday. Another problem is that farmers are still using the path to get their tractors from field to field and cutting ruts into the trail surface. You don't see them because of the overgrowth, but you will definitely feel them.

On the section I rode, all bridges are in place and planked, albeit the planking is quite old and weathered. The nails no longer keep the planking down as you go over it, but it does not move laterally. Except for three new or refurbished bridges on either side of Hwy 20, none of the bridges have railings. The underpass at Hwy 20 is finished, and it is very nice. In Pecatonica you detour slightly to a road through the fairgrounds as the railbed was converted into a parking lot many years ago.

I cannot recommend riding this trail until the surface has been improved. The trail is a test for even the ardent and strong rider. It is far too dangerous and difficult for casual riders or children unless you are hiking. If you try it, I suggest nothing less than a full-suspension mountain bike on nothing smaller than 2.10 tires. It would be prudent to carry an extra innertube and pump. Bridges (excluding the three new ones with railings) should be walked or you risk problems with nail heads.

The trail has great potential and will be an enjoyable ride once it is finished. At this time, however, it should not be listed as an active recreational bike trail. I give it one star for the nice work done in the Hwy 20 area alone.

Not bad, not great

We parked at Sumner Park in Pecatonica, walked a block or so to the Pecatonica Prairie Path (PPP) and then headed west. The east edge of the SW corner of the FP is about 1.25 miles according to Google Earth.

Sumner Park is pretty nice. Has all the usual park amenities plus a working bathroom that was not locked. Kind of a rare find for me of late. The outdoor water fountain was not on, but the sink in the bathroom worked for getting Wilma some nice cold water when we got back. There was also a pop machine.

The PPP follows a power line easement. It is not real well signed in Pecatonica so the best way to find it is via the power lines. It seems to go right thru the fairgrounds and there is a gate there. It appears like you could detour around the fairgrounds to the south if the gate was closed. Seems a little odd.

Given the PPP runs under power lines, it is not real surprising that there is no shade. There were some holes, probably animnal burrows, in the surface of the grass and packed dirt path that might present a big surprise to a bicyclist who was not paying attention.

I took some video and pictures and posted it at

We were only on the path for the approximately 1.25 miles leg from Sumner Park to Pecatonica Wetlands Forest Preserve. But that part of the path was in good shape for a dirt and grass path. It is not going to be real popular with bicyclists who are mostly interested in getting somewhere as fast as they can. The surface is going to dictate a mountain bike and it will be a lot more effort than on a paved surface.

What we saw was a nice hiking and horseback riding surface, but the lack of any shade at all would make it unpleasant in warmer weather. The part we were on was 6-8 feet above the surrounding terrain so the path was pretty dry. There was a lot of mud and standing water on either side but none on the path itself.

Dry Weather Trail

Decided to check out this trail last night. Rained early in the day so I had expected it to be a little muddy but it was much more wet than I had expected. Dispite the muddiness I decided to do a little cyclocross training. Started at the far east end, only did about 8miles due to the poor conditions. Looks like this trail would be great for those looking to do some cyclocross training or looking to take a fatbike out and really see what it can go through. Thinking I will give it another try during some less wet conditions.

Cowpath suitable for mountain or cyclocross bikes

I located this trail east of Ridott but was not going to take my 29er with 38mm tires on it. It might be a fun challenge with wide knobby tires. After crossing it but not finding it in Ridott, and adding about 10 miles to my trip from Freeport to Rockford I finally found it, but the entrance from Farwell Bridge Rd. was unmarked and unrecognizable. This should not be considered a biking trail by normal rails-to-trails standards and it should be removed from Illinois DNR's bicycling map of northwestern Illinois.

This needs to be removed from GIT

I took the northern half of the GIT, this should be removed as a trail. I experienced the worst trail ever. My bike was trashed by all the mud and my legs got all cut up from the tall weeds. I had bags get trashed from mud and I ended up carrying my bike.

Do not use this trail

On July 6, 2011 I got on this trail in Winnebago to bike to Pecatonica. The trail is poorly maintained in several areas. A new bridge has been installed but the grass was 3 ft high in places. Near Pecatonica the trail has water on is and is impassable. Do not use this trail use the road instead.

Riding West From Meridian Road

I just rode this route from Meridian Road west to Conger Road outside just East of Pecatonica. The entrance is very hard to find and you have to park in the auction house parking lot at the corner of Cunningham and Meridian Road.

The first mile or so is a almost like a service or farm implement road. It is very rough and slow going. Standing water and deep mud holes make certain parts of the route impassible, so you have to go the high road and ride over the recently bulldozed tree brush.

Parts of the trail are very decent (watch out for the purple rock pits) until after you go through Winnebago then it is a grass trail very well suited for long distance runners. It is very slow going, but there are some newer bridges and the Sherman Underpass of US 20 that are interesting scenery.

This trail (at least the portion I rode) definitely requires a mountain bike and tires suited for mud. If you are into slow, rough riding with constant pedaling then this is a trail for you. There are very few downhills and the trails don't allow for any type of speed or carried momentum.

Overall ride-ability sucks, but it is different than just cruising on nice polished trails. If it ever gets the attention it needs and is made a bit more biker friendly it could be a very nice trail.

If I ride it again I would probably start from the west side near Freeport and head East.

Tough Cycling

10/2/2010 I rode west from Hosington Rd to Farwell Bridge Rd and back. The trail is over grown with grass and weeds 90% of this area. About a mile west of Hosington Rd the trail is very wet to include standing water over mud. I had to walk about 100 yards thought the worst of it. Some sections have been moved so the tires actually touch the trail surafce rather than riding on the layers of new and old grasses. The scenery is quit nice and you are definitely alone out there. When you get to the city of Pecatonica it is a cluster fu__ getting though town and back on the trail. I followed the trail only to come to a fenced area with locked gate at the Winnegao County Fairgrounds. I back tracked to find my way arouund.

Great change of pace

The trail is great for a change of pace from the crushed rock that most trails offer now... The difficulty factor is raised due to the conditions, but thats what makes it a great ride. The first mile or so, starting from the east, headed west, is really rough. I'd suggest starting a street up from the beginning unless you are into off road riding.

Trail showing signs of life but overgrown

I just completed the northern leg of the GIT on August 6th 2010. I attempted to get on the Pecatonica Prarie Path at the designated start off Rt 75/Strutco Rd. near Freeport. Starting off on a nice gravel path, it abruptly ended with a double set of barricades on each side of a brand new bridge. The bridge was fine, but the path quickly shrank into a barely passable single track. About a mile in, the growth became so thick it stopped my bike by dragging on the panniers. Had to bail out and reroute onto the local roads. I checked at a couple of other locations at road crossings and the same overgrowth was present. There were a few locations where the river was near the trail from recent flooding. When viewing the trail from a distance near Ridot, it appeared to be flooded.

There is evidence of new bridgework in progress on both ends of the trail. The trail crew on the Jane Addams Trail said the Pecatonica should be open and connected to the JA in a year. They already have the new maps ready to post.

For now, with the heavy rains, flooding, and overgrown conditions, this would be a job for a lightly loaded mountain bike and determined rider.

I would give this one 1 star for rideability and 5 stars for adventure biking.

Good potential for the near future. Will try again in another year.

Yes, maintenance

I'm trying to get my daughter to do some fun new things. This trail is just about in our back yard. Awesome views, easy acess for many different ride lengths. We saw a bunch of different birds and animals. And BUGS(I guess you'll have that in July.) Oh well, just swat and keep pedaling. It does need some TLC. I would be interested to know what group or entity is reponsible for mowing, triming, and such as there is a board or 2 that need to be replaced on the river bridge. Anyway it is a nice gem that needs polishing.

Needs mowed.

On May 2, 2010, my family road once again on the Prairie Path. This time we went from Village of Ridott to Dakota Road. The path was clear the entire way, the grass was a bit tall on this section (maybe just over ankle high). We were going to continue on down the path but, the grass was knee high, which is far to tall to pull a trailer in and for a 7 year old to try and trudge through. The kids loved seeing the bridge. It does have a board missing on it though. Other than the mowing it is still a fun trail.

Bumpy, but fun.

My family and I just road this trail on Good Friday; we went from the village of Winnebago to the bridge just past Hoisington Road. I have a 6.5 yo that road his own bike and a 3.5 yo that road in a trailer. I was happy to see that there were new bridges or box culverts in on the trail. There was only one older bridge that we went over. The trail could use a bit of TLC in the areas where the bridges were replaces as it is very rutted from the construction equipment. My 6.5 yo loved the bumps and called them the bull riding bridges. The new arch culvert under Route 20 was a neat feature that both the boys loved.

The trail itself is in good shape just in the areas where the new bridges were at were in need of care. That section if from Comly Road to Swift Street in Winnebago. The rest of the ride was fine. My 6.5 yo was really tuckered out at the end, but had fun. He will even be getting a new bike now, as we found his was too heavy for him and shifting gears would have helped.


Any idea who is responsible for maintenance of the trail? Would like to contact.

Path Conditions

Hey, I actually live in Winnebago and ride the prairie path quite frequently. Although from alot of rain the past couple years the stretch of the path east of winnebago from falconer road to weldon road is partially washed out, and seems to be getting worse every year. The portions of the trail from falconer road to swift street is in pretty good condition. There is two bridges west winnebago on the path before you get to route 20. There are signs saying that there is a bridge out. The second bridge, if your riding west out of winnebago, is in disrepair but still very passable. The stretch of path that is in between comly road and route 20 has high grass and can be a rough ride. I havent ridden past 20, but I have hiked past 20 and some spots can be a little rough. I highly recommend a moutain bike if you intend to ride.

Needed Improvements by Bruce Schandelmeier 4-7-08

Starting Spring 2008, the eastern corridor of Pecatonica Prairie Path is to have a face lift . Starting at Meridian Road on the west edge of Rockford and going west approximately 8 miles to Conger Road, the path is to be resurfaced and improved to riding and hiking conditions with crushed stone. I believe it is a state grant of 4 million to start improvements. At one time, the city of Winnebago was talking of Black topping the section that runs through town. There are 3 or 4 bridges that need to be made or repaired to be able to cross creeks. There should also be a crossing for the path going over or under the 4 lanes of hwy 20, that would be included.

In 2007, I rode from Meridian road to the town of Ridot. Caution in crossing a couple of degraded bridges that have eroded entrances, one now says it is closed. A mountain Bike is a must as some areas are rough. They started in 2006 to clear some of the undergrowth with graders and that left the path with tire ruts and tread marks. It is a nice ride if you are not in a hurry.

I was on the section from Meridian Road to west of Winnebago at Keith Road the other day, and the first 2 mile section between Meridian and Falconer road is wet and has many large mud puddles that are hard to get around without going through the weeds. Wear old shoes or just go right through the middle where the gravel is. Each year, these mud holes stay longer and take more time to dry out.

"Still overgrown, but Hikable"

"I have just finished hiking the Pecatonica Prairie Path. I hiked it from west to east as part of my hike of the Grand Illinois Trail. I tried to start at Il 75, but the trail is impassible at that site. I finaly found a starting point at Dakota Road. The whole thing is still very overgrown but I was able to hike it all the way to Meridian Road. The bridge just west of Winnebago is still out, so you need to take a detour on the roads around it.
You will also need to cross Route 20 , an active four lane highway.

You can get full details on my hike - along with lots of photos - on my website at """" starting with the August 5th entry

I do not know if you could cycle on it. The grass and weeds are knee high in many places.
A cyclist that I met in Rockford told me that there are legal issues that are preventing the maintainence of the Path.
Slow Walker"

have fun finding it

"This trail follows a high voltage powerline between Freeport, Ridott, Pecatonica, and Winnebago. It is overgrown to the point now where it is not worth using. The trail did have signs for it the late 1970s. They have long weathered and disappeared. The trail was actually ridable but rough and soft when I rode it in 1978 and 1979. Yes, the trail is almost 30 years old. The building of the US 20 Freeport bypass in the mid 1980s cutoff the Freeport end off from the rest of the trail.

The Illinois Distict 2 bike map is the only map that I know of that shows where the trail is. This trail is the poster child for what neglect does to a trail. "

From Winnebago High School

"This path is not well marked. Don't park in the Winnebago High School parking lot as it is quite a walk to get to the path from there. From the main street, turn right (west) on McNair and then turn left (south) on Swift. The Path can be entered by the Winnebago Feed Store, just follow the telephone poles to find it.

However, a bridge is out that prevents you from going more than 3/4 of a mile. A better way is to continue about two miles west on McNair and follow the road around a curve. Here you will see the Path (again watch for telephone poles as signs are VERY obscure and faded).

Biking would be difficult without a mountain bike. Hiking is nice. There are lots of wild cherries in bloom, a nice breeze, farms, creeks, etc. "

Review from 2-years ago

"I saw this trail listed in many places so I thought I'd try it. I don't think it would be fun with a full blown mountain bike let alone anything else. I found the trail to be very overgrown. It's not well kept at all. Part of it was so swampy I had to turn back and find a side road. I drove by the entrance three times befroe I finally asked and soembdoy told me it was between those two bushes. When friends have mentioned it, I have never recommended it. This was two years ago and maybe it is better maintained now. If not, do not try it."

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