LaGrange, WI (About 2.25 hrs. north of Chicago)Trail MapTrail Review
The Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest sports some of the better trails in the Midwest. The namesake kettles (giant glacier-induced potholes) and moraines (accumulations of rocks and stones carried by the glaciers) give this state forest some of the most diverse terrain in the area. And that means there's good riding to be had here.
The system starts on the five-loop John Muir trail and connects to the three-loop Emma Carlin trail via the aptly named "connector trail." The loops on both John Muir and Emma Carlin are one-way, while the connector trail is a two-way route.
The easiest and shortest trail on the Muir side is the red loop. It winds for an uneventful 1.5 miles through mostly open fields and some sparsley wooded forest. Many people use this trail to warm up, check their clothing selections or wait for slow-poke friends. The 4-mile-long white loop is a slightly more difficult trail option.
The orange loop's marquee steep, loose uphill demands good climbing skills while the rest of the 5.3-mile loop requires at least intermediate general skills. If your doubtful about the distances of the green and blue loops, the orange is a good litmus test.
The blue and green loops feature a series of rolling and sometimes steep inclines as well as fun, twisty and winding trail sections. The blue spur is the more technical of the two, with freqent finesse areas and washboards. From the connector trail intersection to the trailhead, the blue trail is more up and down fun than any of the rollercoasters at the Six Flags that you pass on your way up from Chicago. A full loop on both blue and green is a challenging an exhausting endeavor even for the fit. If you've never done them in tandem, you might want to try one at a time (you can cut off onto the orange route from the blue).
The 5-mile-long connector trail attaches the northernmost lobe of the blue loop to the three-loop Emma Carlin trails to the northwest. While the connector trail is no piece of cake itself, the Emma Carlin loops are even more advanced. Loose, rocky, hilly and narrow are the first four word that come to mind in describing these, the most technical trails in the Southern Unit. For the very fit, the Emma Carlin trails can be taken in as part of a "Tour De Kettles" along with the John Muir Trails. You can also explore them seperately by parking at the Carlin trailhead, further north.
Weekend traffic, particularly on the John Muir loops tends to be heavy, though the one-way trails make it seem less so. There is no water out on the loops, so be sure to bring your own or fill up at the pump just off the Nordic Trails Parking lot, east of Highway H. The sandy/rocky base allows the Kettle Moraine trails to dissipate water easier and dry faster than similar soup-prone, clay-based trails around Chicago. Be sure to bring bug spray with you, the mosquitos can get very heavy at times.
Speaking of soup, if you want some excellent food with ambiance to spare (or need bike repairs or gear), the LaGrange General Store at the intersection of Highways 12 and H is the spot. They serve great deli sandwiches!
Don't be a cheapskate about buying trail or parking passes, both the lots and trails are regularly patrolled by rangers who write big money tickets for scofflaws. And the pass money goes straight into trail mantenance.
While hiking is allowed on the Muir side, most hikers tend to stick to the Nordic side. Equestrians have a separate trail system and are not allowed on the mountain bike trails.Getting There
Take I-94 north to Highway 50 in Kenosha, WI. Go west (left) on 50 to Highway 12 (just before Lake Geneva). Take Highway 12 north (it curves west) to Highway H (you'll see the La Grange General Store). Go north (right) on H and the trailhead is about a mile up on your left.
Or, get on Hwy. 12 in Illinois and take it north (follow the signs carefully so you don't miss a turn) into Wisconsin. Take a left at the LaGrange General Store and go about a mile to the park.More Info
RIDE (Recreation for Individuals Dedicated to the Environment), a regional mountain bike advocacy organization, spearheaded the efforts to keep the Kettles open to mountain biking in the 90s. RIDE, along with local bike groups and industry (TREK USA is a nearby neighbor), have since led the way in helping the DNR to maintain and expand the trail system. WORBA
now handles trail care.
These trails get closed down when it rains, so check
to see that they are open before heading out. You can call for trail conditions at 262-594-6202.