Gravel Bike Adventure: Wauponsee Glacial Trail & Midewin Tallgrass National Prairie

I recently gifted myself a new gravel bike for my birthday this fall and I am enjoying getting on it and exploring some new trails that my triathlon bike could not take me on.  What’s a gravel bike?  Well, it mostly is a road bike with a couple features that allow it to ride on non-paved trails and other surfaces that a road bike would be ill-advised to ride on.  Those features include a little more comfortable upright riding position thanks to a more compact frame, and a wider fork and frame to accommodate wider tires.  It is very similar to a cyclocross bike I would think and would handle similar terrain.

So I thought that I would take rides on trails that I normally don’t get to ride on during triathlon training and posts some photos and thoughts about those rides.  It’s getting a little late in the season, but hopefully I can hit a few more trails soon.



I have ridden portions of this trail before but not from one end to the other, so I was glad to get all the way to the end of this 22-mile trail on this late November day.  Named after an ancient glacial lake, the trail itself is mainly a flat rail-to-trail conversion, although I saw no signs of previous rail usage until the end of the trail near Kankakee.

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Due to some rough trail conditions of the trail located by the Sugar Creek Preserve where I would normally park and begin riding, and the trail closure just south of there to replace an old bridge, today I hopped on the trail near Manhattan and rode it to the end.  That was about a two-hour ride total, with a small detour into the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
This trail is straight and flat for the most part.

As soon as I turned out of the parking lot I was met by a couple of walkers, one of which was a friend – Rollie!  I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him as I see him all of the time on my local trail near home, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to run into him out here.

Riding south I had to shoo away a black cat and a raccoon, and I spooked some crows.  I was a little concerned about passing a rider on a horse, but I made enough noise for both of them to notice me before making a cautious pass.


This is an old train trestle bridge over the Kankakee River at the end of the trail in Custer Park.


Turning around at the end of the trail was welcome as it seemed that was a slow and steady gradual uphill climb to this point.  Another positive was having the sun now at my back which made what was left of the fall colors a little more vibrant.

About two miles away from where I parked I noticed a side trail of sorts that seemed like it was an actual trail heading into the Midewin National Preserve, so I decided to enter it and explore a little bit in there.  Midewin is a huge expanse where the old Joliet Army Ammunition Plant was located back in the days of the Second World War.  There are many reminders of the former plant visible from the trail, including bunkers where they stored the TNT that the plant produced.  Lots of old roads and an old cemetery that is well cared for.


The type of trail in the prairie reserve.



A munition bunker was located on the other side of this fence.  There was a ladder-type thing there seemingly inviting me to go over to the other side.   Do you think I should go over and investigate the bunker?


Yeah, couldn’t resist going over to take a closer look.


Just off of the Wauponsee trail is this cemetery inside of Midewin.  It seemed out of place but is well kept.

I would have explored further into the prairie but I saw a person walking alone up in the distance and then he disappeared, only to reappear as I got closer.  He was wearing a trench coat and seemed a little too weird for me, so I decided that I had better play it safe and turn back.

All in all, it was a good ride.  The trail is a little boring – straight, not much variety in scenery, but is well maintained and in good shape.  I will definitely go back just to explore more in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.


Author: Ironman Chris

Family, running, triathlon and drumming are my things.

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