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Trail Guides
Palos Forest Preserve - Willow Springs, IL  (Read 164122 times)
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Trail Maps and Photos

2012 Map Scan showing XX Extension





Trail Review:
Palos is the grand daddy of the trail systems available in Chicago. It is the largest trail system and therefore gets the most use. In all, there are some fifty miles of singletrack and widetrack trails to explore, though the legal singletrack is congregated in the western half. The area has hills, rolling widetrack, tight twisty singletrack, climbs, fast descents and plenty more to keep you satisfied for hours.

Northern section
This is where the mtb action is. There are singletrack trails for novices as well as advanced riders. One nice thing here is that the trail network has many intersections to let you change your route from one ride to the next, adding in more challenging trails or bypassing them as you see fit. But that also makes it possible to get lost if you don't have the trail map with you. We have a suggested route below if you want a tip on where to ride.

Keep your eyes open for the trail markers there are illegal trails that are closed to cyclists. They are marked with an orange "stick" at one or both ends of the trail (depending on whether they have been vandalized). FPD police patrol the illegal trails and ticket offenders.

There are many picnic grove parking lots where you can get at the singletrack. The Cook County Forest Preserve District, who oversees the place, urge riders to use the MTB Staging Area at Pulaski Woods #2 so congregations don't impede other visitors' access to the groves.

As all trails at Palos can be travelled in either direction, remember to follow proper trail etiquette, keep your head up for oncoming trail users and wear appropriate safety equipment.

Southern section
The Swallow Cliffs area offers 15 miles of the best widetrack Palos has to offer. Avoid temptation to take the singletrack in this part of the forest preserve. The singletrack is closed and YOU WILL BE TICKETED.

From the toboggan run parking lot, head east to pick up the widetrack and ride under LaGrange Road. The trail follows along the Swallow Cliff ridge which the toboggan run is built upon. This trail follows a 6-7 mile loop with an eventual climb up Swallow Cliff. Now on top of the ridge, you will cross back under LaGrange Road and will come upon another forest preserve parking lot.

Trails branch out from this grove to much of the south side of Palos Forest Preserve. Keep in mind where the Swallow Cliff ridge is and you have little chance of getting lost. All trails loop back eventually to one of the forest preserve parking lots. Keep an eye out for horseback riders and trail runners.

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Suggested route

1st leg
For starters, follow a short connector trail in the back corner of the MTB staging area in Pulaski South Woods Grove 2, which takes you south to one of the widetrack trails in the preserve. Take a left here for a quarter-mile to a trail on your right called the "Out and Back." This trail used to lead into a constantly wet section which caused people to turn around and head back, hence it's name. That section has been closed, with the trail now looping back to the widetrack further east.

When you come off the "Out and Back"  trail east of where you entered, you could turn right and follow the widetrack east across Flavin Road to miles of old country roads converted to multiuse trails. But assuming you came for singletrack, turn left to head back west towards the way you came.

Pass the connector trail and continue on the multi use gravel to Wolf Road. Take a left and go south to the Wolf Road Woods grove. There will be a trailhead by the entrance (leading south) that starts "Graviy Cavity." This is a more technical trail that is not well-suited for beginners. You'll find a good number of roots, rocks, a creek crossing and some low rollers before exiting right onto "One Day".   If you want an easier experience instead, ride through the Wolf Road Woods parking lot. At the end will be another trailhead (leading west), called the "Pipeline." You can take this to the next trail intersection, which is called "4 Corners." We'll continue on in a minute, but first back to "Gravity Cavity."

At the bottom of "Gravity Cavity", you can continue your ride by taking a right along a trail that took "One Day" to build, over a wooden bridge.  Follow this trail up to the trail intersection #17. Here, you have "3 Ravines" on your left (which is more uphill in this direction) and "Ho Chi Minh" on your right. Take the right fork and head up to the next interection.  

You're at "4 Corners." Turning right takes you on the "Pipeline" to Wolf Road Woods. A left (straight, if you had skipped "Gravity Cavity" and came in on the "Pipeline") goes to the easier, looped trails in the Old Argonne section of Palos (where nuclear research took place in the 40s). Continue straight (right, if you skipped "Gravity Cavity") to the widetrack just ahead. Go right until the ground on your left opens up at a broad grassy clearing. If you stay on the widetrack, you'll get back to Wolf Road and the connector trail where you started. Veer left instead onto the grassy singletrack and follow to an old water pump. The trail either takes a long straight plunge down a "Grass Hill" and brings you to the bottom of the Bullfrog Lake parking lot circle, or a sustainable flowy trail on the Grass Hill that resides next to the straight plunge, bringing you down to the Bullfrog Lake shoreline and parking lot circle.

Follow the parking lot road out from the circle to the top of the parking lot almost at the entrance, about 20 cars in.  At the signboard on your left (#10), you'll see singletrack heading straight into the woods, this is "Bullfrog Lake".  Follow this for the second leg.

2nd leg
The trail starts out with mostly gradual turns, a number of elevation changes, a winding downhill run and two good climbs. Eventually, you'll see two dirt trails breaking off to your right. The first fork is at about a 90 degree angle to the main trail, the second at about a 30 degree angle as the main trail bends left. Don't take this first trail, it is not open to cyclists.

If you take the second one, you will soon come to an old paved road (which is not used for vehicles anymore). On the way, you pass a trail on the right that leads to a marker for the area's former use.

At the paved road, turn right and head downhill. Left leads to the Old Argonne area (it's at the center of the main singletrack collection). You can pick up a lot of speed here, but be careful you don't overshoot your next turn.  The road is heavily eroded and there are large pot holes. Halfway down where the road turns left, brake hard and look for a trailhead on your left. Turn in here and you will start on "Turf 1." This trail twists its way southwest with mild elevation changes, a few bumpy sections and log ride-overs. It then hooks up with a mostly uphill trail called "Psycho Path" that brings you back eastward.

At the end of the "Psycho Path", you can either turn easy left or hard right. Left gives you another chance to visit the Old Argonne area, and the old paved road. If you go this way, your first intersection is a four-way where two choices (left and straight) actually take you in the same general direction - towards the old paved road. Right takes you on a loop around this area, with a chance to turn right half-way around and get back to "4 Corners."

From the end of "Psycho Path," turn 180 degrees hard right and head down the orange connector trail.  Follow it to the next intersection (#16).  Here, you can choose to do a large loop or a small loop.    

If you choose to do the large loop, continue straight on (#16) south onto "Dynamite Road". This is a stretch of trail with a lot of small rocks, called baby heads, to bounce over.  You carefully cross over 107th Street, shoot down the asphalt and quickly access a unique technical trail called "XX" - the steep climbs to enter XX are evident that skilled riders are welcome but others may be better off to pedal south a few more pumps and get onto the mostly straight and flat "Canal Trail." This will shortly turn left and go east along the Cal-Sag Canal (inter-twining with the other end of "XX" ).  "Canal" will travel the entire south side of the Saganaskee Slough to the next major road, Flavin. From the fishermens' lot, you must turn left onto the road and ride north along the right shoulder. Cross back over 107 Street and go up the hill until you see singletrack on your left, called "Burrito Hill." Turn in here and follow it to the widetrack. Take a left and head south and then west. Along the way, you can take a little diversion on the "Out and Back" this time riding it the opposite direction . Either way, you'll end up taking the widetrack west to the connector trail, which brings you back to your starting point.

If you choose to do the short loop and stay within the triangle without crossing any major roads,  take a left at intersection (#16), and another left just ahead of you onto "3 Ravines." The right turn here is not open to cyclists. This trail heads east and includes three ravines (surprise!) that you may find steep. Riding down them and up the other side will take speed and a good comfort level with the terrain. Confidence and practice helps intermediate riders navigate them easily. Otherwise, you should dismount and walk it. If you ride it, be sure to yell out your presence before you start so oncoming riders are warned to be careful. A collision here could mean serious injury to the uncautious.

At the next intersection you come to, you have a choice of turning left and heading up "Ho Chi Minh" to "4 Corners." Or turning right to "One Day" and taking a left to catch "Gravity Cavity" for a good climb.  With your first choice, you can take a right at "4 Corners" and take the "Pipeline" back to the end of Wolf Road Woods. With your second choice, you end up at the start of Wolf Road Woods, with a little more exertion. Either way, go a few hundred yards up Wolf Road to the multitrack, turn right and catch the connector trail back to your stating point.

Palos Mountain Bike Staging Area
Googlemaps Link to Palos Mountain Bike Staging Area Lot.
Pulaski South, on Wolf Road, Just South of 95th Street (near Wolf Rd & 95th in Willow Springs, IL)

This location is the closest access to Bullwhip Trail (east) and the Connector Trail (south) to Multi-track that Leads to Out-and-Back. The Wednesday Rides and the Mountain Biking 101 (MTB101) and Mountain Biking 201 (MTB201) depart from Here.

If MTB Staging Area lot is full, go further south on Wolf Road, to Wolf Road Woods Lot (see next link), and Ride your bike back down the road/hill to the Staging Area if meeting a group ride.

Googlemaps Link to Wolf Road Woods Lot.
This location is the closest access to Gravity Cavity, One-Day Trail, Pipeline to 3 Ravines and Psychopath. Also closest to Out-and-Back.

Googlemaps Link to Bull Frog Lake Lot.
This is the closest to the Bull Frog Lake Loop, BullFrog Lake, Bottom of Grass Hill, Stairsteps, and Turf over to 3 Ravines.

Swallow Cliffs
From Interstate 55 exit LaGrange Road (Route 45). Go south on LaGrange Road for 6 miles. Look for a large steel framed bridge that crosses the Cal-Sag Channel. The next Intersection is Route 83, exit on 83 west (don't cross back over LaGrange Road).

Park at the Swallow Cliffs toboggan run parking lot, which is less than 500 yards from the intersection.

Public Transportation
Public transit info: CTA, Metra, Metra & Bikes, RTA Route Planner
Or call (312)836-7000.
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