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The North Branch Trail follows the North Branch of the Chicago River over 20 miles through Cook County. The trail was originally a dirt path often used for horseback riding; though it’s now paved, an unpaved equestrian pathway still parallels the main trail.
Near the north end of the trail, the Chicago Botanic Garden, which includes more than two dozen gardens on 385 acres, is worth a short excursion. Nearby, you can also pick up the Green Bay Trail, a busy community route flanked by restaurants, shops, parks, and residential neighborhoods about a mile from the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The north end of the trail features a 4.4-mile loop around Skokie Lagoons and Erickson Woods. Because the loop’s west side runs along I-94, you’ll find heavy traffic noise; take the eastern side of the loop for a more peaceful experience. After the loop, you’ll travel south for more than a dozen miles through many wooded areas and lagoons and along golf courses. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, especially deer.
Amenities are plentiful, with parking lots, bathrooms, and picnic areas available throughout the route. Though several road crossings occur along the way, they are clearly marked and have electronic buttons for those crossing.
To access the northern trailhead, take Lake Cook Road to the Chicago Botanic Garden, located east of I-94/US 41 and 0.5 mile west of Green Bay Road. Park here. You can also start from the many forest preserves along the way as the trail heads south.
To access the Forest Glen trailhead in Chicago, take Milwaukee Avenue to Devon Avenue. Head 0.2 mile east to the Caldwell Woods Preserve. Take the entrance road labeled Caldwell Woods Groves 1, 2 & 3.
To access the southern trailhead, take SR 50 to W Foster Avenue. The LaBagh Woods entrance is east of Cicero, where there is parking, and the Irene C. Hernandez Family Picnic Grove. The trail entrance is farther east on Foster Avenue, across from N. Kostner Avenue.