Portage, IN (1 hr. east of Chicago) Trail Review
This fun trail system provides an exhilarating, don't-miss destination for riders wanting an alternative to the Illinois trails. The 10+ miles of singletrack, divided into two skill-based loops and known collectively as the Outback Trails at Imagination Glen, have plenty of memorable features to make beginners and intermediate riders glad they came. You'll find a string of tall whoop-dee-doos, tight turns, lots of quick drops with short & grinding climbs around a bend, a section riddled with log ride-overs, and more! A nice plus for novices is that selected challenging sections have bypasses so these riders can enjoy the trail without getting in over their head. Also, mile markers and maps are placed along the trail to keep you up on where you are.
What really makes the place interesting is the undulating terrain. The hills are typical for the midwest: modest. But the ground here isn't flat for long. And the designers have used the contour of the land to throw in plenty of variety and challenge. You'll find small patches of sand throughout the park, mostly in low areas, but nothing that will bog you down. There are two trail loops and both start at the clearly visible trailhead sign. Follow it and after a minute, you'll come to a three-way fork.
Beginners: turn left here and hit the roughly 3-mile Front Side loop that starts near the signboard (the arrows on the trail are red, with some blue markers showing you shorter routes). Most of the loop is gentle turns and gradual elevation change, though a couple climbs will give you a workout. You will have to keep an eye out for the arrows showing the way — you get several chances to cut the ride short if you want, but you could also end up missing a fair chunk of trail without realizing it. The challenges here may not be as dramatic as those in the second loop, but experienced riders will still enjoy including this loop in their ride.
Experienced riders: go either straight or right at the 3-way. Straight takes you immediately to the former rail bed that leads to the more-challenging, 7-mile-long Dark Side loop, down to your left. Or, take a right and you'll go back to the park entrance over some nice rollers. Then, you'll be led around to the left and take a slightly longer run on the old rail bed to The Dark Side. After crossing over the Salt Creek river, you'll come upon a sign pointing the way in to your left. Take a second left right away to start the loop. If you want a little extra fun, ride to the right for a short stretch. Just past the observation tower, you'll come to a small open area with a concrete slab to your right. The trail bends to the left and meets the main loop at a bailout point. Turn left onto the main loop and you'll ride a great string of whoop-dee-doos back to the start of the loop. As you ride the rest of the loop, you'll have a second trip through those whoop-dees to look forward to!
The trails get closed in the spring after the temps get over freezing to keep riders away from the mud; the trail sections along the river seem particularly susceptible to rain or flooding.