The Run Down

For this guide, we're taking out the bikes and doing some heavy duty pedaling across Chicago. We're headed to the North Branch Trail, and we'll go 21 miles (one-way) to the Skokie Lagoons.  This guide documents the notable spots along the way. Here are the highlights.

1. Start @ Forest Glen Woods

2. Visit @ Historic Wagner Farm

3. Fishing @ Willow Road Dam

4. Picnic @ Skokie Lagoons

1. Forest Glen Woods

The Southern end of the trail starts at Forest Glen Woods. If you want to be super precise, the trail starts right off the Forest Glen Ave bridge that crosses over the North Branch Chicago River. We snapped a few pics of the starting point below. Also, here are a few logistics tips before we jump into it.

– Getting Started – If you’re coming from the city, and don’t want to bike all the way to the Forest Glen Woods, you can take the Blue Line and get most of the way there. Exit the Jefferson Stop.

– Going Home – If you’re too exhausted to make the return trip, there is a Metra stop close to our last location in this guide. It’s the UP-N (Glencoe).

Once you get going on the trail, you’ll find signs like the one below periodically throughout the 21 mile trek.  These are particularly helpful to track progress, and motivate yourself to keep going until the end.

The trail itself follows along the river and is basically one big green space.  If you’re not racing to get to the end of the trail, there are plenty of picturesque spots to take a break.

We rode the trail on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon and the traffic on the trail was surprisingly light.  There are parts of the trail you’ll have to yourself, and when you do pass people going the opposite way, they are usually smiling and waving hi.  As a biker in the city, it’s more common to get death stares from people and cars, so this was a nice experience to have.

2. Historic Wagner Farm

Our first formal stop is about 11 miles into the bike ride. We’re at the Historic Wagner Farm – an actual working farm operated by the Glenview Park District. This former family farm is 18.6 acres. They raise cows and chickens, they care for a stable of horses, and grow all sorts of vegetables in their community garden.

This isn’t directly on the bike path. You’ll have to take a short 5 minute detour onto a main road, but it’s a nice break at the half-way point.

These are views of the main farm grounds. It’s a legit working farm, and depending on when you go, you’ll see workers tending to animals and the gardens.

The gardens are open to the public. Just walk right on in and stroll up and down the rows of vegetables. While you can’t pick these fresh veggies yourself, you can plan your bike ride so that you visit at the same time they host their farmer’s market.

The farmer’s market is every Saturday from 8am – 12 pm (usually end of June – end of October).

There’s a visitor center at the farm where you can cool down, grab a drink, or use the facilities. It’s also where the farm hosts a lot of events and activities. One of the things we were able to see is their cow milking machine in action. It looks kind of terrifying at first, but we were assured that the cows actually love doing this. It gets them out of the heat, and apparently, for the cows, it feels like getting a massage.

3. Willow Road Dam

Further North on the trail, we saw a sign for a dam that caught our eye.  We deviated slightly off the trail and stumbled upon what appeared to be a prime fishing spot. We’re actually at the southern tip of the Skokie Lagoons and on top of a dam that regulates water flowing from the lagoon into the Chicago River.

We spoke to fish anglers here, and this is the go-to spot for walleye, pike, and bass. The logistics of bringing a fishing pole and all your gear while riding on the trail is probably a bit too complicated, but take a stop here and make a mental note of the place for when you’re ready to do that fishing expedition.  As a reminder, if you do plan on making a fishing trip, then you’ll need to get a fishing license ($15) or face a steep fine.

4. Skokie Lagoons (Forest Way Picnic Grove)

The Skokie Lagoons are the last stop on the North Branch Trail.  The lagoons cover 894 acres, so to be specific, we suggest ending at the Forest Way Picnic Grove.  This is right along the bike trail, and we’re stopping here, because this area has a huge patch of green space that makes for an excellent place to pull out the picnic blanket and rest after a long bike ride.

This picnic grove is aptly named, because the green space veers off from the trail and as you walk further into the grove, you’ll find yourself in a secluded and quiet spot with nature being the only thing around.

In this particular area, as you walk closer to the water, you’ll notice a ledge that juts out across the water. This apparently is a hangout spot for geese, but what caught our eye was that it connects all the way across to the island on the other side. While we didn’t make the walk across this ledge ourselves, it might be an adventurous challenge for Nande members to explore.