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Wisconsin Bicycle Routes

Bicycling from Milwaukee to Chicago

It is possible to travel most of the way between Milwaukee and Chicago on bicycle trails. (Formerly, public radio station WGTD had quite of bit of information and maps of a suggested route, but that seems to have been removed.) The Wisconsin portion of this route is shown on the Milwaukee bike map from Little Transport Press. The Illinois part of the route is shown on the Chicagoland Bicycle map from Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance.

Milwaukee to South Milwaukee.

The route follows the Milwaukee County Oak Leaf trail along the Milwaukee lake shore. From the Milwaukee Art museum, go south on Harbor Drive past the Summerfest grounds, west on Chicago, south on Jackson, west on Menomenee, southwest across the Milwaukee River, southeast on Water St and east on Washington (be careful when crossing the many tracks in the block before Washington). Go south on the new bike trail to its end. Go southeast on Kinnickinnic to the junction with Bay St. Go east on Bay and then east on Russell Street. At the end of Russell St. take the scenic bike path along the lake past the yacht club to Grant Park.

An alternative (or half of a loop trip) is to continue south on Kinnickinnic, which has separate bike lanes for much of its length. (For maps of bike trails and routes in Milwaukee city and county, click here.) When Kinnickinnic ends, go east on Layton and then south on Packard. At Oak in South Milwaukee, go east one block to pick up the Oak Leaf trail on the Oak Creek Parkway.

Continue west and south on the Oak Leaf trail to the junction of 15th and Milwaukee Avenue. Go south on 15th to Ryan Rd. and then follow the alternative route described below.

Oak Creek to Racine County

The portion of the route along highway 32 from Ryan Rd to northern Racine county was recently repaved and the shoulders improved. Still, traffic can be heavy, and the shoulders are relatively narrow, particularly between 7-mile and 6-mile roads. Expansion of the Caledonia power plant and increased rail traffic has resulted in the closure of the rail crossing at Seven Mile Rd. Thus the bicyclist must continue south on highway 32 to Six Mile Rd. (A section of bike trail on the east side of highway 32 recently opened between Elm Rd and the county line and adjoining sections are in various stages of construction.)

Here is an alternative route, particularly for times when traffic is heavy on route 32. This route adds a bit under 4 miles but traffic is negligible:

  • cross highway 32 and ontinue west on Ryan Rd.
  • south on Pennsylvania
  • se on bike trail (a branch of the Oak Leaf trail)
  • e on County Line
  • s on Foley Rd
  • s on E River Rd
  • e on Five Mile Road
  • s on Racine County bike trail

Trail construction over the last few years has raised hopes that this gap would finally be filled. Unfortunately the result so far falls short of the need. But, with the placement of bike route signs in Racine county, the route, such as it is, appears to be semi-official. In contrast to the southbound orientation of the rest of this section, I describe it here traveling north, which has the advantage of avoiding four crossings of highway 32:

At the end of the unpaved Racine county trail at 6 mile Road, follow the new bike route signs west on 6 Mile, north on highway 32, and then east on 7 Mile to its dead end. A new unpaved trail starts there and goes north to the county line (the surface on this section is too rough for my taste; perhaps it will improve with use). At the county line, a new paved--and very nice--trail continues north to Elm Rd. Continue east on Elm, picking up a trail that loops south and then east, crossing railroad tracks through a kind of stile, and then follows a WE Energies plant road north to Oakwood Rd. Go west on Oakwood, north on Highway 32, and finally east at Ryan Rd. From there one can follow city streets to the Oak Leaf Trail in Grant Park.

Northern Racine County

Follow the county MRK trail (crushed limestone surface) from Six or Five Mile Rd to its end at Layard Rd in Racine. Then follow the signs for the Root River Path.

An alternative all-paved route follows the poorly-marked Racine County bike route on local roads past the Wind Point Lighthouse. Turn left from Lighthouse Drive, to go south on Main Street until seeing bike path signs in about 1/4 mile to turn left (east) all the way to the lake to meet the Lake Michigan Pathway and connecting to the Lake Michigan Pathway.

Racine

Racine has two marked routes that connect the county trails north and south of the city. These combine bike paths and on-street routes.

  • One route, the Lake Michigan Pathway, leaves the county MRK Trail at 3 Mile Rd and goes east on roads to the lake which it follows on paved bike paths to downtown. It then follows a marked route on city streets, joining the county trail near the southern edge of the city.
  • The other, called the Root River Pathway, starts at the southern end of the county MRK trail and leads to the Root River, which it follows to Lake Michigan. A side route connects to the county trail. Except for a gravel section in Colonial Park, all bike paths on these routes are paved. Very good maps of this trail are posted on signs along the trail. A brochure on both the Lake Michigan Pathway and the Root River Pathway is available here.

Racine to Kenosha

In Racine and Kenosha counties, a paved bike trail (sometimes called the MRK trail) run along the route of the former North Shore Line between the outskirts of Racine and 35th St in Kenosha. Racine's Root River Path and Lake Michigan Path connect to this trail. To pick up Kenosha's Pike Trail, leave the county trail at Birch Rd and continue southeast to Carthage College.

Kenosha

Wisconsin's travel service has a map available of Kenosha's Pike trail that runs along its lakefront. The Pike trail is a mix of paved off-road trails and on-street routes. It is not well marked, so a good map is desirable.

The most direct route from the end of the county trail from Racine is to go west on 35th St and then south on 30th Ave. The paved Kenosha county trail to Illinois starts at the end of 30th Ave at 89th St.

Lake County, Illinois

From the Wisconsin border to Cook County, the bicycle trail is called the Robert McCrory trail. This trail is compacted limestone north of Great Lakes Naval station and paved to the south. Between Fort Sheridan and Highland Park the route follows streets but is well marked. The trail is picked up again at the south end of the Highland Park train station.

The
Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now called the Active Transportation Alliance) sells a good map of the Chicago area that starts at the state line (but it suffers from excessive optimism, showing bike paths that have been proposed but not yet built).

An alternative in the southern portion of Lake County is the Skokie Valley Trail, a bit to the west of the McCrory trail. It runs from the North Shore Trail to Lake-Cook Rd. on the county line and can be used to make a loop trip.

Another trail through Lake County is the Des Plaines River Trail, an unpaved trail but in quite good condition. It follows the Des Plaines River through county parks and is scenic. The northern terminus is just south of the state line on Russell Rd, a bit east of I94. There is a short gap south of Half Day Rd of about a mile but it is possible to connect by riding on the shoulder of US 45. The trail continues in Cook County, but its condition deteriorates. Because this trail connects to Chicago's western suburbs, it could serve as an alternative route to Wisconsin for trips originating in those suburbs.

Connecting all three trails mentioned above is the North Shore Trail which runs east-west along Rockland Rd. (Highway 176). It is paved to the east of highway 41 and unpaved, in good condition, to the west. (Note that some guidebooks also call the McCrory trail the North Shore Trail.)

Cook County, Illinois

From the county line to Chicago, there are two good routes, mostly on trails. On entering Cook County, the McCrory Trail becomes the Green Bay Trail which extends south to Wilmette. At the end of the trail, continue in the same direction south east to Lincoln Ave. in Evanston. Go east on Lincoln to the Northwestern University campus on Lake Michigan. Follow the lake shore into Chicago and then the marked route to Chicago's lake shore bike path.

Another route is the
North Branch Trail following the North Branch of the Chicago River through county forest preserves. At the county line, go west on Lake-Cook Road (east, from the Skokie Valley Trail) to the entrance to the Chicago Botanical Gardens (Lake-Cook is busy and has no shoulder, so be careful). Enter the Garden and look for a service road that has a sign prohibiting cars. That is the start of the North Branch Trail.

At the southern end of the North Branch Trail, Chicago has a marked route to the lakefront, shown on this
map. The instructions are:

  • East on Devon
  • Southwest on Spokane
  • Southeast on Leon
  • Southwest on Leader
  • Southeast on Lansing
  • Northeast on Forest Glen
  • Southeast on Kercheval
  • South on Kenton
  • East on Bryn Mawr
  • South on the North Branch Channel bike trail
  • East on Lawrence
  • Southeast on Lincoln
  • East on Wilson to the lake shore trail


Chicago has a very good free
bicycle map.

Southeast to Indiana

At the southern end of its lakeshore trail, Chicago has a marked route ontinuing southeast to the Chicago Skyway, where it picks up the Burnham Trail. A series of bike trails in northwestern Indiana can be used to cross into Michigan. The state of Michigan publishes regional bike maps.

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