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In just a few short miles, the Wauponsee Glacial Trail leaves the urban confines of Joliet to bask in open farmland and reclaimed tallgrass prairie where the bison roam again. Named for a glacial lake that covered the area 13,000 years ago, the Wauponsee Glacial Trail sports a mastodon logo on its trail signs. The surface is paved through Joliet but is crushed stone the rest of the way. The route passes through areas where towns are few and far between and shade is a rare commodity.
The 22-mile-long path follows the route of two historical railroad lines: the Illinois, Iowa & Minnesota Railway (later acquired by the Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific) from Joliet to Manhattan, and the Wabash Railroad (eventually sold to Norfolk Southern Railway) from Manhattan to Custer Park.
Beginning near the I-80 overpass in Joliet, the trail leaves an industrial area as it briefly runs alongside the Metra commuter railway and then passes through woodsy neighborhoods. Leaving the city behind, you might consider stopping at the Sugar Creek Administration Center to get more information on forest preserve trails and camping permits or to fill your water bottles.
After the center, you’ll notice that the path becomes crushed stone, on which horseback riding is permitted. Vast fields of corn and soybean stretch to the horizon along this 5-mile stretch that aims southeast toward Manhattan, where a trailhead with restrooms and water greets you. Restaurants and an ice cream parlor are a couple of blocks away in town.
In 1.5 miles, the trail transitions away from Manhattan in a southwesterly direction on the old Wabash Railroad spur. (The corridor heads northward as a Metra line between Manhattan and Chicago.) You’ll find another trailhead (parking entrance on West Hoff Road) 1.8 miles south of Manhattan as you begin to pass the 18,500-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. You can gain access to the prairie reserve’s 33 miles of trail on a path that’s another 0.8 mile south on the right. The Joliet Arsenal controlled this land from World War II until its decommissioning in the 1970s, and many ammo bunkers are still visible. The U.S. Forest Service introduced a bison herd on the west side of the property in 2015.
After passing nearly 5 miles of reclaimed prairie on the right, you’ll come to a trailhead in the farming community of Symerton, and another trailhead is 4.6 miles south in Wilmington township. Another 2.3 miles brings you to a circa 1902 trestle, originally a four-truss bridge, that stretches 600 feet across the Kankakee River. A pony plate girder span replaced the easternmost truss after a railroad accident.
The trail ends just across the river in unincorporated Custer Park.
To reach the southern trailhead in Custer Park: From I-55, take Exit 240 for Lorenzo Road. Head southeast on Lorenzo Road 0.2 mile, and then turn right onto SE Frontage Road. Go 2.5 miles and turn left onto IL 129/Washington St. In 0.2 mile, turn left at the first cross street onto W. Strip Mine Road/County Road 29. In 1.6 miles, turn left onto Baltimore St. and make an immediate right onto W. River Road. Go 3 miles and turn left onto IL 113. Continue 1.8 miles and turn right onto Washington St. The parking lot is immediately on the right.
To reach the Symerton trailhead: From I-57, take West Wilmington Road for 12.3 miles and turn right onto South Symerton Road. After 0.5 mile, turn right on West Commercial Street and continue for just over 0.1 mile. The trailhead facilities are on the left.
Only on-street parking is available at the northern trail terminus on the outskirts of downtown Joliet. To reach this endpoint: From I-80, take Exit 134 and go south on S. Briggs St. Take the first right onto W. Haven Ave. (which becomes New Lenox Rd.) and go 1 mile before turning right onto Rowell Ave. In 0.2 mile, the Wauponsee Glacial Trail begins on the left, though there is no parking lot.
My husband and I wanted to take a different trail this weekend. Overall, the trail was in great shape just a couple of soft spots. It was a very hot day so we had the trail basically to ourselves. We had trouble finding the trail head in Joliet but really enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Kankakee river park.
I started at Custer Park, where there is a small lot for parking. I rode the entire trail on 12SEP17 starting at 7:30 am. I didn't see anyone the first ten miles, but later in the day, I came across fellow bikers as well as runners and hikers. The trail is well kept and mostly shaded. Only about 2 miles of it is paved, the rest is crushed limestone. Although I was riding my mountain bike, it has a thin smooth tread 'commuter' tire on the front. I had zero problems with the trail surface. In fact, I'm fairly certain I could use my road bike on the trail, but I'm not going to risk it. There are benches at irregular intervals for breaks, restrooms, and a couple water fountains. Overall it was a great ride and I'm looking forward to doing it again.
Rode this trail on Sunday Oct 23th - 27 miles. Parked at the Sugar Creek Reserve and stoped at Symerton to ride back. This is a wonderful trail - I had no idea! There are benches along the way to stop and rest. There are way markers with interesting information about the area and miles to next points. Each trailhead has a restroom, water fountain, and parking. There is a new trailhead for Midewin not on all the maps yet so you can enter Midewin from this trail. You can watch farmers harvesting their crops. Just a wonderful trail - I had no idea how nice this was. Nice job Will County!
Starting in Joliet I expected this to be a very urban trail, then through lots of suburbs with many street crossings. The paved section is certainly in a city, but the crossings are not too frequent and there is a continuous screen of trees on both sides of the trail. The Sugar Creek Preserve has lots of parking, a bathroom (pit) building, one picnic table in the sun, and an elaborate plaza where the paved trail turns to stone in the shadow (almost) of the Chicagoland Speedway.
The stone surface is excellent, with no soft stretches or washouts, no hills, wide and smooth. The trail proceeds through mostly suburban areas, still screened from view by trees. After 5 miles or so there is a break in the trail, very short, at the end of the commuter rail line. From here the trail is all rural, with varying degrees of shade and wind protection, until it becomes more solidly tree-lined as it approaches the end in Custer Park. There is limited parking available at the southern trailhead and no other facilities, but there are a few access points along the trail with restrooms and (I think) water.
All along the stone portion of this holiday weekend ride I encountered very few other users. This is great for me as a way to escape the crowds so near Chicago's sprawl, but disappointing to know that so few others are taking advantage.
Started at sugar creek administration center entrance headed north. Black top trail lots of small creek bridges to cross. Quiet and shady.Not a soul on trail rode about 2 miles then decided turn back getting deeper darker woods again not anyone on it. Smooth ride.
This trail was pretty well maintained. Some sections were a bit bumpy on a road bike, but that is to be expected. There were perhaps 10 people we saw after doing the entire trail back and forth on a saturday morning. Which is nice. The views weren't amazing, but better than the usual cityscape I am used to.
My trail guide states that there is no parking at the most northern entrance but you can park about three miles further at the Sugar Creek Administrative Center. As my wife & I wanted to see the entire trail, we parked at the western end of the Old Plank Road Trail and rode through the streets to the start of the Wauponsee Trail. About one mile into the ride we crossed the first traffic cross street and immediately found ourselves into one of the largest glass-strewn areas on a path I have ever encountered. My wife's new tires made it through, but my bald tires did not. After replacing my inner tube while my wife beat off the mosquitos, we returned to the parking lot having lost our enthusiasm for the day. Next time we will park at the Admin center.
I just finished a 30 mile round trip starting at the SC Ad Center and riding south 15.2 miles and then return. Today it was quite a temperature rise from what we have seen lately. Since there is limited shade I was glad I took multiple Gatorade bottles to keep the hydration at acceptable levels. After about five miles from my start I did not see water available on the trail so keep this in mind before you start.
The trail is in good shape as it was free of debris except for a few horse droppings. I did notice some spots where the stone is scarce so there May be some places on the trail where it could be muddy after a rain.
Great ride overall, and great training for my KATY Trail trip in June.
Nice views, I pull a little utility trailer behind me with food and water, and a small folding chair for comfortable breaks. The only think that I think could make it better is maybe the trail having a roller taken over once in a while to smooth out the horse tracks, and folks should pick up their dog's poop. I'm cracking up at the folks crying about their skinny tires getting stuck. It's a country trail, what do you expect? Get a real bike.
My spouse and I rode this trail in August starting at the Sugar Creek Preserve heading south. Like a previous poster stated, be sure to bring plenty of water with you if you are riding on a hot, sunny day. There is a place to fill your water bottle from a drinking fountain at the trail head in Symerton. You can also take a detour into Manhattan, via Manhattan Rd.east, for food and drinks.
The trail was in overall great condition with excellent views of the Midewin National Prairie and the old Joliet arsenal ammo bunkers. If you Google Map the trail, you will see Klingler Cemetery just after entering the Midewin. Its a small detour and a pretty cool POI.
The trail is very quiet and we only ran into a handful of other riders during the course of the day. There is a little park on the Kankakee river at the trail's end just before crossing the steel river bridge that makes for a nice rest stop before making the return trip.
Most of this trail is exposed with very little shade, so bring a lot of water if it is a hot sunny day. Trail is better suited for wider tiles, and will ride slow in places. You do get nice views of "prairie" as it may have looked before Europeans settled here 200 years ago. Only places to stop for food or Gatorade are in Manhattan south of Joliet then not until Wilmington.
I have ridden part of this trail from Custrer Park to Symerton. Tomorrow i will ride from Joliet To Manhatten. You can park at Washington St for the Old Plank Road Trail. From there you you make a right hand turn out of the parking lot a left onto Boulder a right onto 2nd then your 1st left. (all this is deatiled at the Washington St parking lot on teh brown building.) About a 1/2 mile down after making that final left you will see the trail right before I-80.
Rode the trail for the first time yesterday. Was a beautiful and quiet ride. Enjoyed that it also included a beautiful dog park I plan on using in the future.
I ride a Giant FCR Flat bar road bike with 28mm Continenetal Gator Back tires. I had high hopes for this trail. It was part of a plan for a marathon ride. I planned to ride the Old Plank from Park Forest, then pick up Waubonsee trail down to the Kanakakee River. Having ridden Old Plank several times, I decided to check out the Waubonsee Glacial trail first before I combined the two trails into one long ride. I accessed the trail at Rowell Rd in Joliet.
The first few Miles of the trail are wide, paved (pavement in excelent condition) and scenic. After the Visitors Center at Laraway Rd the trail turns to limestone screenings. The surface sucks. I don't think the trail gets enough use to keep the limestone packed. And there are portions of the trail that are completely unconsolidated. Someone had been riding horse on part of the trail, and the surface was marred with Hoof prints and Road apples. On other portions, farm boys had used the trail to race ATVs, further aerating the surface.
To make matters worse, trail is largely unprotected and since it runs generally southwest, you're always headiing into prevailing winds. I bucked a 20mph headwind all the way south and was hard pressed to get over 12MPH. In the distance I could see a storm gathering. So I made my way to Symerton to seek shelter. Thankfully the only business in town, a bar, opened at noon and I was able to sit out the storm.
The Storm front passed and the wind direction changed so on my trip back north, I was now battling the same 20 mph head wind, only 15 degrees cooler. The trail surface had turned to wheel sucking spoo. It took me 3 hours to make the 15 miles back to Joliet. Most of the way I was on the center ring in front and the big ring in back, maintaining a cadence that should have propelled me at about 15 or 16 mph, but I was going between 5 and 7 MPH. I arrived soaked, muddy and cold; My bike looked like it had been dipped in concrete.
When I loaded up my bike and unloaded my bike bag, I set my cell phone and wallet on the rear bumper. You can guess the rest. I drove away and lost everything. A 100MPH + trip back to where I parked ensued when I realized what had happened. I found nothing and I went home and cancelled everything.
After that ride from hell, some redemption: Someone called About 9PM and had found my Cell and Wallet by the roadside. This restored my opinion of humanity, but unfortunatly, not of Waubonsee Trail.
I rode this trail on probably the nicest day this fall. If you begin in Joliet and travel to Custer Park you enter from urban to country in about three miles. Most of the trail is crushed limestone and there are some areas with loose gravel but for the most part the trail is packed down pretty well. There are several rest areas along the path. The fall scenery was beautiful. Some parts of the trail are covered with leaves, if wet could be a problem. Threre are long stretches of farm land throughout the trail but the iron bridge at the Custer Park trail head is a pretty cool place stop and take in the view of the Kankakee river.
My wife and I rode the Wauponsee Trail last Saturday. We started in Custer Park and rode north. This was our first time riding from that point north; we previously rode from the Nature center north into Joliet. The southern tip of this trail is quiet (at least on this day), we only saw one other biker. It was cloudy and at times sprinkling rain but it was a great ride. Riding by the Tall Grass Prairie we would be trailed by butterflies. About ten miles up the trail from the Custer Park head is a rest stop with bathroom and water fountain. It is a well kept trail, great scenery.
We started our tour of the Wauponsee glacial trail in a little town called Custer park. If you can find it, start there. the trail starts with a 600 foot rail bridge over the Kankakee River. It gives you a breathtaking view of the area. The trail itself is nice and wide. It has mile markers and every once in awhile a nice sign thats tells you where you are and some interesting history about the old railroad and the ancient glacial lake that covered most of Illinois. If you go out on a bright day I personally recommend a nice pair of sun glasses because you WILL go blind. the trail surface is pretty new but its nice a packed down. overall a great trail to ride.
I rode the Wauponsee Trail today. I had great expectations when I started at Rowell Road in Joliet. The trail was great, mile markers and asphalt. Once the trail officially began, the trail turned to semi crushed lime stone in spots, other miles were easier and more hard packed. overall, the signage was very good, but the trail was tough to ride on with skinnier tires.
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