Since I finally began exploring the Palos Woods Trail System in earnest, this is all I can say after each time I ride here.
Being rather stubborn, I resisted doing any rides which required me to put my bike in the car and drive it anywhere, thinking that this defeated the purpose of the ride. Feeling contented with the great variety of rides that the Western suburbs have to offer also contributed to my neglect of this system of trails, but a recent foray into the heart of Palos has changed my mind entirely!
Sure, I had ridden here a time or two way back when, when the Wheel Thing would sponsor their Pumpkin Smash rides through the area, but that was years ago, and I had managed to stay away until just recently, when I thought it was time to re-discover this vast expanse of trails.
My stubbornness put me on my bike from the git-go the first time, foolishly crossing the I-55/I-294 corridor on LaGrange/Mannhem Road's narrow, glass-strewn shoulder to make it South to the preserve. My persistence was rewarded immediately with some of the most challenging terrain riding I have ever experienced.
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The smartest thing that I did that first ride was to stop in the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center to pick up the county's excellent map pack. Slip a few bucks into the donation box while you are there, as these maps are well worth it!
The ride back home that day netted me a few brushes with death on Mannheim Road, and a flat tire by the time I reached Countryside. My dislike of road riding and of the feel of rear-view mirrors glancing off of my shoulder at 70 miles per hour convinced me that this ride was worth driving to, and I have been throwing my bike in the car and coming back to explore the area ever since that day.
Exploring is the right term for the rides here at Palos, which offers miles of trails from easy paved/screened doubletrack to the most intense sort of singletrack imaginable here in Illinois. One would have to have true "buns of steel" to check them out in a single day, so plan upon several exploratory visits.
Trails are mostly well marked, with only a few exceptions. Trails marked with orange "No Bikes/Horses" are strictly off-limits, and I have seen patrols every time I have been out here, so don't be tempted to skirt the rules, especially with all of the great, officially-sanctioned trails at you disposal!
There are quite a few trails which should not be ridden when wet (most clearly marked as such), as significant damage will be done, and our riding privileges will be yanked. There are also miles of trails suitable for riding even in the wettest conditions without leaving an undesirable impact, making this a great destination no matter what the weather may bring.
The epicenter of the riding scene here is in Pulaski Woods at the Mountain Bike Staging Area, which you can get to by entering the Maple Lake complex off of 95th Street, just East of Archer Avenue. The dedicated groups that made all these rides possible gather here all the time for rides and trail maintenance outings, and you won't find a better crew of riders anywhere!
Take the time to study our overview and the county's map, and you will see that there are lots of other places to launch from, and I suggest picking a new place to park each time you go, which will allow you to really cover all the preserve has to offer.
Much of the lower areas in this preserve appear to be on bedrock, which yields lots of stones to contend with on the trails. Considerate users have arranged some of these into stone bridges and passages for some of the lowest spots, where rainwater rushes down the drumlin hills towards the many ponds, sloughs and lakes on the property.
Many of these rides are not for the casual recreational rider, with severe elevation changes and lots of switchbacks and blind corners to navigate. It is customary to let the other trail users you encounter know how many are riding in your group as you pass, with shouts of "solo", "two more" or "lots more, heads up!" exchanged as riders pass on the narrow stretches of trail.
It's a good idea to make some noise where the terrain limits your visibility ahead, as you can really get going with some of the hills' help, only to find other trail users coming at you around the next bend. These rides are the kind where a helmet, knee, elbow and shoulder pads would not be overkill, so be careful and have fun!