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It’s “Just Like Riding A Bike”

Learning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage for most American children, and there’s a reason they say that once you’ve learned something, it’s “just like riding a bike.” Perhaps that’s why biking has been such a popular pastime throughout the pandemic, with sales up 63% in June 2020 compared with the year before. Hiking, too, has seen a surge in participation, with the number of hikes logged on the AllTrails app up 171% in 2020 over 2019, and the number of individual hikers up 135%!

The benefits of regular exercise and of spending time in nature are both well-documented; hiking or biking in the great outdoors checks both boxes. Depending on one’s level of fitness, experience and available opportunities, outdoor enthusiasts can roll or stroll into a variety of shorter local hikes and bike rides of varying difficulty, or venture further afield to tackle more extreme options.

Naperville and the surrounding area offers numerous opportunities to enjoy nature or explore locally from your bike seat or a pair of sneakers, including these three popular choices:

  • Illinois Prairie Path – The scenic 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path, which starts near Wheaton and runs primarily along a former right-of-way for the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin railroad in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties, is credited with sparking the “rail-to-trail conversion” program in the United States. Two of the Illinois Prairie Path’s three branches are also part of the 535-mile Grand Illinois Trail, which runs from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi. The beautifully landscaped property of Monarch Landing in Naperville borders the Illinois Prairie Path, and the vibrant retirement community’s Happy Hikers Group takes full advantage of this spectacular proximity.  
  • Springbrook Prairie Forest PreserveThis 1,829-acre preserve, home to the largest grassland communities in DuPage County, offers seven miles of limestone trail designated for mixed uses including hiking and biking, as well as two miles of mowed trails for exploration (no bicycles). Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy watching – and listening to – a variety of birds, including meadowlarks, bobolinks, and state-endangered northern harriers!

Monarch Landing has a bike club, which, weather and other conditions permitting, hasmet twice/weekly with a group of more than a dozen residents. Looking for someone to enjoy the outdoors with? The Naperville Bicycle Club offers a variety of casual meetups for rides of varying length, and a Naperville Hiking, Biking and Outdoor Enthusiasts group boasts a membership of nearly 5,500. 

For those who really want to push themselves – and are willing and able to travel – the United States’ three major thru-hikes, or end-to-end trips on a long-distance trail, clock in at a grand total of about 8,000 miles, and completing all three earns a hiker the “Triple Crown.”

  • The 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail stretching from the Mexican border north to Canada traverses spectacular scenery throughout California, Oregon and Washington, including 10 mountain ranges. Sound familiar? In 2012, Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical account of her experience as a solo thru-hiker on the PCT in 1995, entitled “Wild,” hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and was adapted into a hit movie in 2014.
  • Hikers encounter landscapes ranging from tundra to desert and elevations ranging from 4,000 to 14,000 feet as they trek the 3,100 miles of the Continental Divide Trail running through Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. At an average pace of 24 miles a day, it takes about 150 days – and four or five pairs of shoes! – to complete a thru-hike on the CDT.

For those who prefer to see their scenery atop two wheels, the United States also boasts a wide variety of bike trails ranging from smooth, serene stretches like the Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Oregon and the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Massachussetts to rugged or just plain white-knuckle routes like the mountain-bike mecca Captain Ahab in Utah and the mountainside-hugging Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana, which is closed to cars in the spring.

With those “lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer” finally upon us, as legendary crooner Nat King Cole celebrated in song, it’s the perfect time to take a cue from another song on that 1963 album and hop “upon the seat of a bicycle” – though not necessarily one built for two – or strap on a pair of walking shoes and take to the trails!