Chicagoland to Kettle Moraine State Park

A beautiful, scenic ride through the gently rolling hills of Illinois and Wisconsin with camping in Kettle Moraine State Park and a stop for lunch at Lake Geneva.

Bicycle Adventurers: Evan, Matt, Kyle, and Emily

When: Depending on weather and your tolerance for the cold, this short trip can be done anytime from April to November. We did this trip in early August 2016.

Accommodations: Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern UnitWhitewater Lake campground

Distance: We rode 88 miles over two days.

Bonus tip for this adventure: 

  • Lake Geneva can be very busy in the summer, but has a beautiful park & beach and a lot of great places to get lunch.
  • For the ride home, stop off in the friendly small town of Delavan, WI for lunch. If there’s a Packers game happening, you’ll find the entire town’s population in Star Rock Bar & Grill. Be careful if you’re wearing a Bears jersey :)

Day One

Day one started early at the Clybourn Metra stop. The UP-NW train runs every one to two hours on weekends, and each car can hold at least a few bikes. Make sure to check ahead as there are certain weekends in the summer where the Metra does not allow bikes on the train. 

The ride to Crystal Lake on the Metra is less than an hour and a half, so it’s easy to get there on an early departure and still have a full day for riding. From Crystal Lake, we hopped onto the Prairie Trail for traffic-free riding. There are a few short but steep hills on this trail, so we made sure to watch out for other cyclists and runners as the trail is pretty narrow. The trail is paved in some areas and crushed gravel in others, but wasn’t a real problem on our touring bikes. We took the trail all the way to Genoa City, eventually getting off on Highway H heading into Lake Geneva. The traffic on this road is a little on the heavy side, but there is a wide shoulder so it isn’t bad for cycling. 

We got to Lake Geneva with about 30 miles under our belts, so we decided to take a nice long lunch break at a restaurant near the lake. After taking some time to relax a bit, we headed north out of Lake Geneva on our way to Kettle Moraine.

From Lake Geneva, we continued on highway H. This is probably the worst part in terms of traffic for the whole tour, but still not too bad. After a few miles, we got off at Como Rd and connected to the White River State Trail. There is another road before Como, which would have gotten us off H faster, but it was under construction when we did our ride. After that, it was pretty much smooth sailing on very sparsely populated farmland roads. The hills are gentle and the scenery is beautiful, making for a very peaceful ride, aside from the random farm dog who decided to chase us for about a mile — apparently our tires looked pretty appetizing.

We stayed in the Whitewater East campground, which was very nice. The campsite was forested on all sides so we had a lot of privacy, and we didn’t have any major problems with raccoons or mosquitos. A couple of our friends drove in to meet us at the site, bringing a huge amount of very welcome food for dinner.

Day Two

In the morning, we woke up, had some breakfast and packed up our gear for the trip home. Since our friends had driven, we opted to put some of our heavier gear in the car to pick up later, making the Sunday ride a bit easier. 

For the ride home, we decided to take a shorter route to Harvard, IL instead of Crystal Lake. Harvard is serviced by the same UP-NW line, so it’s an easy ride back to the city from there. 

The ride from Kettle Moraine to Harvard was very easy, as we spent almost the entire time on lightly trafficked rural farm roads. There are a few hills, but nothing too challenging. About halfway through the ride we stopped off at the small town of Delavan for some lunch and drinks. It was tempting to spend more time at the nice sports bar they have in the town, but we wanted to make sure we got to Harvard in time for the 4pm train, so we didn’t stay too long. 

Riding to Harvard was very easy with very flat roads and plenty of visibility. Once we got to Harvard we stopped by the local grocery store and picked up some beers for the train ride back to Chicago. With the ride from Whitewater to Harvard being only 33 miles, it was a nice, leisurely day and a lot of fun.

Your favorite local bike shop? In Chicago we have many bike shops to choose from. I live in the Ravenswood neighborhood, so I usually go to Turin Bicycle on North Damen. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable, and they have a lot of great gear. Close to Turin, you can also check out Green Machine Cycles on Montrose, which is stocked with a lot of very useful bike touring gear such as panniers and racks.

Bike overnight tips and tricks? I’m a bit of a planner, so I like to have my itinerary mapped out in advance so I don’t have to worry about getting my group lost in the middle of nowhere. My favorite tool for this right now is an app called Komoot. Komoot is great because you can use its planning tools to create your route online using their maps with elevation profiles and other great features. From there, you can get the app on your phone and download your local maps for offline use in case you lose cell phone coverage. My favorite part is you can then turn on voice navigation on your headphones or Bluetooth speaker, which makes it super easy to follow your route while cycling without needing to stop and check your map frequently.

Here's some Komoot GPS information: 

About Evan Miller: I am a web designer and developer living in Chicago, IL. Bike touring is my favorite hobby and I’m interested in spreading my knowledge. I also ride with a nonprofit organization that is a small group of volunteers in Chicago who like bike camping too. If you want to learn more or come along on a ride, check us out at www.outourfrontdoor.org. My personal website can be found at www.evanart.com.

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HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your own bike overnight adventure!

3 responses so far ↓

Green Machine Cycles - May 8, 2017 at 7:28 PM

We're actually putting together a route similar to this for Adventure Cycling's bike camping overnight June 2-4. Please join us on this two night loop through southeastern Wisconsin. Route, schedule, and other practical information will soon be available on our website, Facebook page, and here, on the event page.

Charlie - May 10, 2017 at 3:16 PM

One more step closer: Here is our ride. Feel free to join us!

https://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/bike-travel-weekend/find-a-bike-overnight/?ShopClubListingsaction=bikeTravelWeekend:main.bikeTravelWeekendDetail&idBikeOvernight=1528

Tim - Jul 20, 2017 at 6:39 AM

Super helpful! Going to try this in the next few weeks...

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