Low-stress ways to leave Chicago

by Justyna Frank

Some of the best lakeside places for overnight camping, weekend or week-long bike tours require creative ways for getting out of the city. All of our Lake Michigan sharing neighbors —Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan— offer more wild and picturesque places along the shore than does our own state, which is unfortunately dominated by the enormous city we inhabit (the notable exception being Illinois Beach State Park). This makes it difficult to get out to those more remote and quiet places in a safe and stress-free way. But not impossible.


Traveling south to Indiana, it is best to start downtown, heading south on the Lakefront Trail. For a low-key way to get to Indiana Dunes, it’s worth adding a few extra miles to your journey in order to stay mostly on bike trails, and avoid interaction with cars as much as possible.

Leaving the south end of the Lakefront Trail, you’ll travel down South Lake Shore Drive and Ewing Ave to connect to Burnham Greenway. This will shuttle you through the rest of the Illinois section, past the picturesque Wolf Lake, all the way to state border. The section of Indiana just east of us, between Hammond, Munster and Merrillville, offers an impressive network of dedicated trails that can be accessed at various points. You will eventually want to end up on the Oak Savannah Trail and Prairie Duneland Trail, which will deliver you to The Dunes*.

For route details, please refer to the GPS map from Out Our Front Door, following the longer routing that sweeps a little further south to avoid traffic. BTW, Out Our Front Door is a fantastic organization to check out if you’re interested in local group adult or family tours.

Traveling to Wisconsin, you have a couple of options for going north: North Shore Channel to Green Bay Trail, or —my preferred route— North Branch Trail. Both options eventually merge with the Robert McClory Bike Path, and continue off-street all the way to Kenosha. If you take the NBT option, continue on the bike path through the Chicago Botanic Garden. As you exit through the north gate, you can take a lovely new spur trail east alongside Lake Cook Road, which will connect you seamlessly with the north-bound path along the Metra train line. The McClory Bike Path is linear, and unremarkable, but it has the advantage of being entirely protected from traffic, and over the border it runs into Kenosha County Trail. In Wisconsin, you will stay mostly on easy to follow county paths, with one short street section just south of Cliffside Park in north Racine. Past that point, you will merge on to Wisconsin’s monster Oak Leaf Trail, which you can take into Milwaukee and beyond.

For a couple more variations on getting out of Chicago going north, please refer to another Out Our Front Door map, and for detailed routing to Milwaukee, click here.


It is worth noting that both Wisconsin and Indiana have train options: Amtrak to Milwaukee, or South Shore Line to various points on the way to Indiana that would get you past the worst of Chicago traffic.

While easily-accessible trails in Indiana don’t continue much past the Dunes area, if you travel to Wisconsin, from Milwaukee you have a number of very attractive options. One is to continue your lakeside exploration north by bike on the combination of Ozaukee Interurban Trail (with a lovely overnight camping option at Harringron Beach SP), and the Sheboygan Interurban Trail (with camping at Kohler-Andrae SP).

Or, and this brings us to the third option:


Once you’ve made it to Milwaukee, you can book a high-speed ferry ride to Muskegon, MI, which puts you in a pleasant part of Michigan, with trail riding options north to Hart and Silver Lake area, or back south to Holland. Depending on how much time you have, you continue further south to Saugatuck, South Haven and Kalamazoo (via the Kal-Haven trail). Both Holland and Kalamazoo have Amtrak options to get you back to Chicago.


* In hopefully not too distant a future The Marquette Greenway will offer a seamless and car-free way to get from Burham Greenway all the way to New Buffalo in MI. The majority of the trail is already in existence, with a few short but key missing sections already funded and due to be constructed soon.

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