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The Virgil L. Gilman Trail travels from quiet forest and prairie lands to bustling neighborhoods in just 11 miles, linking a woodsy community college campus with the eastern Chicago suburb of Montgomery. The trail’s namesake, Virgil Gilman, served as administrator of the Fox Valley Park District for 30 years and successfully championed public access to Fox River, as the public shoreline grew from 66 feet in 1946 to 20 miles during his tenure.
The rail-trail is built along the routes of two former railroads. In the west, the corridor of the Chicago, Aurora & DeKalb Railroad was utilized; it ran as an interurban route 1906–1923, though it never reached Chicago. East of Copley Park, trail builders used the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway’s Aurora Branch, which survived as a railroad until the late 1970s.
Beginning at Waubonsee Community College, you’ll head across native prairie for the first mile on asphalt, then travel on a short section of crushed stone (for 0.3 mile) before returning to a paved surface for the remainder of the trail. Back on pavement, you’ll head into the Bliss Woods Forest Preserve, where you’ll find large white and black oaks, as well as sycamore, white poplar, and cottonwood. Birders enjoy spotting downy woodpeckers, cardinals, and blue jays along the path.
Leaving Bliss Woods, the route follows Blackberry Creek and crosses IL 56 on a pedestrian bridge 3.2 miles past the college. In 0.2 mile, a trail heads north into the 715-acre Aurora West Forest Preserve, an old farming area that’s being restored to its natural state.
In another 1.3 miles, look for a path on the left that heads into Blackberry Farm. This living history replica of 19th-century pioneer life was created by Virgil Gilman as Pioneer Park and continues to be popular today.
Past the park, the trail rolls in between housing subdivisions and alongside an active railroad corridor, though thick vegetation screens both from your sight. Arriving at Terry Avenue, the trail continues 0.5 mile on quiet side streets that are very easy to navigate. Take a left onto Terry Avenue, followed quickly by a right onto Rathbone Avenue. Follow Rathbone, and turn left immediately after an at-grade railroad crossing to regain the trail as you enter Copley Park.
Leaving the park, you pass beneath two railroad overpasses in quick succession and arrive at a circa 1897 railroad trestle across the Fox River in 0.4 mile. This is also a junction for the north-south Fox River Trail that runs 44 miles from Algonquin to Oswego.
After crossing the bridge and the riverside commercial district, the trail ends with a 2.7-mile run through established Aurora neighborhoods with frequent street crossings. There’s a little bit of wildness in the remaining 0.3 mile before the trail ends, however, as the trail crosses Waubonsie Creek, whose wetlands host migratory birds in season.
To reach the western trailhead at Waubonsee Community College: From I-88 W, take Exit 113 for IL 56 W. Continue south on IL 56 for 2.3 miles and turn right onto E. Galena Blvd. In 1.3 miles, turn right onto IL 47, and in 1.5 miles, turn right onto Waubonsee Dr. at the entrance of Waubonsee Community College. Go 0.4 mile, turn right onto Circle Dr., and look for parking. From I-88 E, take Exit 109 for IL 47. Head south on IL 47 for 2.1 miles, and turn left onto Waubonsee Dr. at the entrance of Waubonsee Community College. Go 0.4 mile, turn right onto Circle Dr., and look for parking.
To reach the eastern trailhead on Hill Ave.: From I-88, take the exit for N. Farnsworth Ave. near mile marker 119. Head south on N. Farnsworth Ave. 4.5 miles, and turn right onto Montgomery Road. In 0.3 mile, turn left onto Hill Ave. The trailhead parking lot is 0.6 mile ahead on the left.
I frequently take the VL Gilman from the access off Terry St. on the west side of Aurora and go west to Bliss Road and exit to ride the country roads west of Route 47. The Gilman Trail is beautiful and many sections are recently paved (within West Aurora) sections.
This is a great trail, especially for longer run training, whether a 1/2 or full marathon. The trees throughout the trail block out most of the wind and sun. As you head west on the trail, you need to run uphill/dowhill over a couple of bridges over highways. Overall, I'd rate this as one of the best Chicago area trails.
Great trail, lots of beautiful sceneryand smooth well maintained trails. Ridden it twice, both times from Fox River Trail in Aurora to Waubonsee and back.
Rode a short section of this trail yesterday. That day had heat warnings by the weather people, but it was the only day that fit in our schedule. We parked in the lot at Bliss Woods. There is a kiosk about the trail at the end of the parking lot. There also is a working water pump next to the pavilion, and an outhouse large enough for a wheelchair in Bliss Woods. The trail is in good shape. Only a small section between Bliss Woods and Wabonsee College is crushed stone. But that section is in good shape too. There are a few roads to cross, but the interruption is minor compared to the beauty of the trail. Lots of wildflowers, A few butterflies, and woods line the trail. We rested at the benches at the college. We did not go into old Aurora.
My eleven year old daughter and I rode the trail this morning from Randall Rd to Waubonsee and I just had to write a brief review. You can get on the trail right by Aurora Country Club off of Randall and maybe even park across the street at Aurora University with their permission. I personally would not go East of here alone with her. I live fairly close so we bike there. I believe it was about eight miles to Waubonsee from here.
The trail is kept up very well. It's also just busy enough so you don't feel like you're out there by your self. The trail its self is very easy riding. Some of the bridges might be a little bit of a challenge for some, but not bad at all. The whole trail is awesome, but going through Bliss Woods is just amazing.
As far as washrooms, we just used Waubonsee's. We brought water bottles on the bikes. You can also use the bathrooms at Blackberry Farm if they are open. I really don't think it's a big deal for me, as it's not that far. If you're iffy on this because of other reviews, don't be! We can't wait to get back on there tomorrow!!
I recently road the VL Gilman trail from River St. to the college. As others have stated, this trail offers some diverse scenery. You have everything from thick beautiful forests, creek-side views, prairies, and suburban housing. If I had to guess, I would say that the stretch I rode was 70% shaded and the rest sun. It was a 90+ degree day and the shaded areas made a huge difference. There are also a lot of nice bridges to cross.
The trail itself is in very good condition. There is a one-third of a mile stretch that is crushed limestone that is also in good condition. There was one section of our route toward the eastern part of our ride where you have to ride on roads. They were not very busy traffic-wise. You also pass through an industrial area with trucks. Overall it is not bad as it is only about 0.75 miles, but watch out for the rough RR tracks.
As for the safety concerns that others mentioned, from Terry Ave. westward, I was not concerned one bit. This is a nice suburban stretch. As I headed east to River St., my concerns were slightly elevated as the area gets a bit more dicey. However, I am not from Aurora and have no way of knowing whether I was heading into an unsafe area or if it just looked less safe. Perhaps some of the other reviews heightened my concerns. Had I known that I was as close as I was to the Fox River bridge crossing, it would have been enough to make me press on despite my elevated concerns. As another post mentioned, how safe you feel is a very personal matter.
As others have mentioned, there are very few opportunities for pit stops. We did stop at Blackberry Farm and they let us use the bathroom, so that is an option. There are also a lot of sun dials that the county purchased with tax payer funds along the trail. So, if you are one of the extremely few people in the world who are interested in such things, you are in luck:)
Overall, I am very glad I tried this trail. I will definitely add it to my list of trails that are worth riding in northeastern IL. The only thing that may limit the number of returns for me is that I must pass the Fox River trail to get to this one. The Fox River trail is tops on my list and it is hard to pass up. But on its own merit, the VL Gilman trail is one of the better trails around.
Wow, I loved the section of the Virgil Gilman Trail that I road on today. In fact, it makes me want to reevaluate my ratings for other trails as this trail set a new bar.
If you have read other reviews about this trail you will see that it has received mixed reviews. That is because the trail is really comprised of many sections, some very rural and others that take you right through Aurora.
I am not really big on city riding so I avoided the city leg by starting just west of Rt 31 and then traveling west. There is a nice parking lot near the intersection of Jericho Road and Terry Avenue in Aurora (just off Rt 31). The trail is clearly marked with a large stone sign. From that lot I headed west to Waubonsee Community College and back. It was 15.8 miles total. Note, if you want a shorter ride, then I suggest parking at the lot located just off Orchard Avenue, then head west to the college.
The trail is relatively flat, paved (except for a very short section of crushed stone) and passes through woods and a short stretch of prairie near the college. The scenery is nice throughout and you pass by a golf course, Blackberry Farm (a small park for kids) and over numerous bridges. While you are totally away from cars, there are a few roads you cross along the way. Fortunately, the two busiest roads have bike bridges that make it a breeze.
A final note… if you take the trip as I described, you end at the college before you head back. The college has a student center with refreshments and restrooms. Just head straight to the first building you see coming off the trail and you will see the student center. Enjoy, but don’t tell anyone or this trail will be crowded! LOL.
I live just a few blocks from an access point to the Gilman Trail and have ridden at least a portion of it four or five times a week for the last four months. I've ridden to the eastern end maybe a dozen times; to the western end five or six times; and various portions of the trail west of the Fox River dozens of times.
The Gilman Trail east of the Fox River is generally not as scenic as most of the other sections. It almost exactly follows an old rail line through older neighborhoods with mixed residential, commercial, and industrial. Some parts of this stretch are lined with trees and largely disguise the fact that you are in fact riding through a residential area. This becomes apparent at the many street crossings the trail makes in this section. Most of these are quiet residential streets where you simply need to slow to check for cars. A couple of the crossings are of busy streets, Montgomery Road being by far the busiest. It is unfortunate this crossing is not protected in some way, either with a bike/pedestrian bridge or at least with a crosswalk signal. It can sometimes take several minutes for traffic to break and allow a safe bike crossing.
While the neighborhoods you pass through in this stretch are far from the fanciest in town, they do not resemble any burned out city I've ever seen. None of the industrial buildings are abandoned. Badly in need of a coat of paint perhaps, but not derelict. Few places seem immune to graffiti these days. I have no doubt some has appeared on a few of the buildings near the trail, but it has apparently been painted over as I've not seen any while riding the trail this year.
There has been some mention of not feeling safe in this area. I can't address what would make someone feel safe or unsafe. I can say in the dozen or so times I've ridden to the eastern end of the trail I've not had any issues at all. The most threatening thing I've seen is a bunch of kids who were practicing a group dance routine on one of the side streets. Some of this section of the trail is used by the locals as a shortcut so there is sometimes some foot traffic.
A mile or so from the eastern end of the trail the area becomes farm land, with the trail elevated above the surrounding fields. The eastern terminus is at a small parking lot with room for seven or eight cars. It's not clear if the last few hundred yards are technically part of the Gilman Trail. The eastern end is not labeled as the Gilman Trail and there is a zero mile marker well before the parking lot. This makes no difference to the rider as the paved bikeway continues to the parking lot, but it might make finding that end of the trail a bit difficult if you want to start there. It's directly across from a very large trucking facility on Hill Avenue.
Heading west from the Fox River there is a homeless shelter just off the trail. The shelter does not allow their patrons to stay in the shelter during the day time so some of the residents just hang out in the vicinity. I have seen what I assumed were homeless people walking along the trail. The worst I've had any of them do is not return my "hello". I'm not saying there aren't issues. I'm sure there have been some. I simply haven't seen any in several dozen passes through this area, so it's clearly not an everyday occurrence.
I've also not seen garbage littering the trail. Perhaps I've just been lucky. Today I rode through this section. I did see one empty cigarette pack on the trail and a discarded takeout container along the trail. That was it. I'm not questioning the reports of others concerning garbage. I'm sure they saw what they reported. But the fact I haven't seen anything like that suggests somebody is actively maintaining the trail and cleaning up whatever garbage may make its way there. I can also say one day I noticed a broken board on one of the bridges in a potentially dangerous spot. The very next day that board had been replaced. Somebody is keeping an eye on this trail and taking care of it. On several occasions I have also seen police cars driving along the trail, so it is patrolled periodically.
Not too far west of the river you pass through three underpasses. Just east of the center underpass, on the south side of the trail, there is a small mountain of tree bits that have been through a chipper. I believe the smell that has been mentioned by a few people is coming from this large compost pile. The smell is sometimes quite pervasive and a bit unusual so I can understand why people would wonder about its origin. The compost heap is partially shielded by brush at the edge of the trail so it's fairly easy to overlook. I had ridden through there at least a dozen times before I noticed it.
Just after the third underpass you enter Copley Park. It's pretty much just a baseball diamond. The trail follows the curve of the outfield fence. Just past Copley the trail goes on-street for a few blocks. The first couple blocks are industrial. While it may resemble a truck parking lot, it is in fact a city street. On weekends this section is very quiet. On weekdays there are often large trucks parked along the side of the street or maneuvering into one of the businesses. The trucks are all going very slow. Keep your eyes open, use some common sense, and you shouldn't have any trouble. Just after you turn onto the street there is a very rough railroad crossing. The section of rail on the north side of the street is the least damaged and provides for the easiest crossing, though I strongly advise going slowly and being very careful.
After the two blocks of industrial you enter a blue collar neighborhood. Again, it's far from the newest or fanciest part of town, but most of the homes are kept up, several showing signs of recent work. I've been through here dozens of times and never had any kind of trouble. There's almost never any traffic through here so even those generally opposed to riding on city streets shouldn't be afraid to take this short stretch. After the one additional block of residential you make a left turn on Terry Avenue. The off-street trail picks up again about a block from the turn. I should add all of the turns in both directions are signed. They aren't gigantic flashing billboards, but they all say "Gilman Trail" and include an arrow telling you which way to turn. Where you pick up the trail again is a very large sign by the street and a large flagstone wall behind the parking lot clearly visible from the street, both clearly marked "VL Gilman Trail".
From this point westward is the most scenic portion of the trail. Much of the trail is tree-covered and passes by golf courses, parks, and some of the newer residential sections of Aurora. There are also a number of rather interesting bridges that must be crossed, three of them over busy streets and easily the "hilliest" parts of the whole trail.
Just before the entrance to Blackberry Farm there is a monument to "The Old Man On The Trail". It's worth taking a couple minutes to check it out. I can't say for sure, but if you're in dire need of a bathroom you might find one at Blackberry Farm. I'd check the gift shop. Unfortunately, they close rather early during the week. According to their web site, Blackberry Farm is a living history museum where pioneer life is re-created through educational demonstrations and hands-on fun. They have a train, a hay wagon, pedal tractors, paddle boats, a carousel and ponies. Rides on all of these are included with admission. Might make a fun diversion if you're in need of a break.
West of the SR56 bridge, one of the road crossings comes up rather quickly after a curve in the path. You're following this curve, seeing nothing but trees, and suddenly there's a rode, seemingly out of nowhere. Keep your ears peeled for traffic noise as the road may appear rather suddenly.
There is one fairly short section of trail before you get to Waubonsee College that is crushed stone rather than the asphalt of the rest of the trail. I advise caution through here. While it's generally not bad, I've encountered a few spots that were a bit soft. Following a heavy rain there is also the possibility of erosion.
There are benches in a number of spots on the trail west of the river. All of the street crossings with trail parking areas have flagstone walls with very low stone ledges that can be used as benches if needed. You may need help getting up from such a low perch if you're not in top shape, but it's there if you absolutely need it. There are benches by some of the buildings at Waubonsee. You'll have to ride a bit from the trailhead and go right up to the building entrances to find them. All the buildings at Waubonsee are open during the week and, while I've never gone looking, I'm sure they all have bathrooms and drinking fountains. There is also rumored to be a cafeteria there. I would expect they're only open during the week, though I imagine there are vending machines available any time the buildings are open.
All told, I think the Gilman Trail is a pretty nice ride. Not all of it is picture perfect scenery, but the good far outweighs the significantly less than perfect.
First time I ran it I started near Hill street, was just a 2 mile out and 2 mile back run. Found myself frequently looking over my shoulders. Second time I ran I started at Route 25 and ran west. Immediately greeted by a homeless person OD'ing and being treated by paramedics and police, trail then takes you past the homeless shelter, and a tunnel with quite the smell, garbage litters trail everywhere. After you clear the trail you come up to a tiny sign with an arrow, as you find yourself in an industrial parking lot. I had no idea where to go, couldn't see any other signs of where the trail was supposed to go. I was maybe one mile into a 12 mile run, and was about to give up. Thankfully as I turned around to go back to my car, some biker's rode by, and I turned and followed them. It was about 2 blocks north through a residential area, to find the next sign that pointed you west where you eventually pick up the trail again. Not the best of neighborhoods to be wandering around in. The last time I ran the trail, I started at Orchard road and ran west. Was beautiful. Huge old trees, shade for 90% of the trail, rivers, old bridges, very few road crossings, but two tough bridges when you're legs are tired. I ran to Bliss road before turning back, so almost all the way to the end. Would run this all the time, its a very scenic and not terribly crowded path. Biggest complaint, excluding everything east of Orchard, there are zero water fountains, zero bathrooms... but plenty of sundials at the parking lots, but good luck grabbing a drink or using a washroom
Although I knew about the trail I just rode it for the first time in June 2015. We started at the College trail head and went as far as Terry Avenue in Aurora where the trail turned into city streets. We are not fond of riding on regular streets and roads since too many drivers do not respect a bikers space so that is as far as we went. We have done a second trek since, We like the fact that it is mostly smooth asphalt running alongside streams and through wooded areas. The ascents are not difficult so as seniors (69) we were very comfortable on the trail. We recommend to anyone.
One of the best trails !! Need more parking space
There is great variety on the trail. From farmland to forest to river to old industry, the Gilman has it all! Ignore the negative reviews and check it out!
We enjoyed most of this trail. On the eastern end it wends through an urban area with frequent street crossings. The neighborhood and older bridges and viaducts are interesting.
There is a two block long gap in the trail traversing an industrial area. A poorly maintained railroad crossing is a hazard to bike travel.
As we proceeded westward we crossed the broad Fox River followed by a gradual change from urban to rural with another long and high bike bridge across the interstate highway.
I started off at at Waubonsee Community College. I thought it was odd that 99% of the trail is paved, but there's a few hundred yards at the beginning that is crushed gravel...and it's before you get into the prairie.
There are a lot of neat bridges. Most of the trail is tucked in amongst some trees/woods or at least the backs of wooded residential areas, but there is a little stretch at the other end that is just field (not a prairie) and power lines. All in all, this is a nice trail.
My wife and I rode this on 4/12/14 from Sugar Grove to Aurora. The first 7 miles are very nice, a mix of woods and prairie. As you enter the city, the trail becomes littered with trash. Not an occasional wrapper or plastic bottle, but entire bags or garbage dumped there. It is very sad to see since this area has this wonderful trail but few in the area take any pride in it enough to keep it look nice. I would suggest stopping at the Fox River and turning around at the point if coming from the West.
Rode this trail recently for the first time. Was a little concerned after reading some of the reviews, but it was fine. I chose to park/start at Waubonsee CC since I wasn't too sure about starting at the other end and possibly not find parking, and bike through downtown Aurora. There's a small patch in Aurora where you're on connector streets, and you have to watch for directional signs, but I didn't get lost. Closer to Aurora, there are more street-crossings to deal with, but only one was on a somewhat busy street -- all the others were back & side streets. There was one section of trail that went under two overpasses where you'll need to hold your breath -- first tunnel smelled like a pig farm, and the second tunnel smelled like the urine repository for the county. When I got to the Hill St. parking lot, there were only 2 cars there, so I guess parking at that spot can be hit or miss.
Overall it was a good, smooth, clean trail with a variety of scenery. I will bike it again.
The Gilman Trail in my opinion is a nice ride, it is also very historical. The bridge over the Fox River was originally built by the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern railway company in the early 1900's, it was their right-of-way from Joliet to Aurora. I like this trail more than others, because it has a country look, urban look, and an industrial look, I also like how it goes through the middle of intersections. It connects with the Fox River Trail, the just recently built Hurds Island trail, the Orchard Road trail, and connects with almost all major streets within the City. It almost serves as a thruway if you think about it geographically.
We parked at the Hill Ave entrance to the trail. It has parking for only about 8 cars. The trail started out ok but quickly turns into a nightmare of street crossings seemingly every block. The mood of the scenery quickly changes also. It looked more like riding through Detroit with all the abandoned buildings and gang graffiti spray painted everywhere. The trail abruptly ended in a business park with no signs to point you where to pick up the trail. We doubled back and took the Fox River Trail South for a few miles but decided to turn back and head for our vehicle. Big disapointment after reading the other reviews and seeing the ratings. Maybe it is different on the Waubonsee start point. Otherwise we did not see anything that resembled the photos that were posted here of this trail. We drove from Joliet to ride this trail. Waste of time and gas. For the riders that rated this trail so high, I invite them to try the Old Plank Trail and then tell me which they prefer. Win some, lose some and this trail in my opinion is a loser.
Despite it's relatively short length (12 miles), this trail provides a nice variety of scenery. From tree-lined paths to open fields to quiet suburban streets, it has it all. The trail never seems crowded, the asphalt is is good shape, and it's quite flat (other than a bit of a hill on the bridge). You won't find a lot of parking at the Montgomery trailhead, but I have so far not had trouble getting a spot. This trail also intersects the Fox River Trail, so you have the option of many more miles without leaving the path. Note: There is a very short gravel section near the school, but that should not cause much problem. If you are looking for a relaxing ride with decent scenery, this is a good choice.
I have always enjoyed riding the Gilman trail. It is all asphalt, except an half mile stretch near the college. The ride takes you thru forest preserves, a former campground, an industrial area, golf course and then city parks. The overpasses are very convenient and it connects with the Fox River Trail.
i justed started to ride againand i live near and love the trail . i think it is a well mainted trail that is a nice ride .i do hope they make it longer but hay . there are a few nice lookout over the bridges and stuff . just agood clean trail and not to crowed ontop of that
I love this trail. It's an easy ride (except getting up the I-88 bridge), and it is not crowded. The forested part of the trail is beautiful to ride through. I've taken a friend there, and she loves it now as well. The only downside is that there are no water fountains along the way, nor many places to sit and rest. The beginning/end is at Waubonsee Community College. It would be nice if there were some tables or benches there to rest on after your ride.
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