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Northwestern Illinois Bicycling

Welcome to Northwestern Illinois

District 2 covers the region from Rockford and DeKalb west to the Quad Cities. Counties covered are Boone, Carroll, Henry, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Rock Island, Stephenson, Whiteside, and Winnebago, as well as portions of adjacent counties. We hope you will find it helpful in planning your bicycle trip in or through northwestern Illinois. And while you are cycling, we invite you to stop and take in many of the scenic and historic wonders of this region. Enjoy your trip in our beautiful state.

The Terrain

The northwestern comer of the state competes with southernmost Illinois for topographical diversity. Terrain ranges from flat to slightly rolling in the southeastern portion of this region to high hills, knobs, and steep ravines around Galena and East Dubuque. This region offers a glimpse at what much of Illinois was like before the glaciers pushed through the state. Unlike most of the rest of the state which was scraped flat during past glaciations, the glaciers missed the northwestern comer of Illinois and adjacent portions of Iowa and Wisconsin.

The scenic Rock River valley enters this region from Wisconsin at South Beloit and flows southwest to the Quad Cities. This narrow valley offers scenic vistas and wooded bluffs carved from the surrounding prairie. Just north of Dixon is Castle Rock State Park with its interesting castle-like rock formation overlooking the Rock River. Nearby White Pines State Forest is a rare example of a native Illinois pine stand.

Although limestone bluffs abut much of the Mississippi River banks in Illinois, one of the most dramatic examples is at Mississippi Palisades State Park just north of Savanna. Nature bas carved impressive rock formations into these stone cliffs. Views from the bluff tops are inspiring, especially at sunset.

The heart of the unglaciated region is the area in and around Jo Daviess County. Here stands Charles Mound, the highest point in Illinois. A few miles away, the Apple River carves a small canyon. In Galena, rows of historic buildings perched almost one atop another progress up the steep hillside leading up from the Galena River.

The steep hills and bluffs of northwestern Illinois combined with the state's heaviest snowfall allow residents and visitors alike to take advantage of winter sports such as bobsledding, snowshoeing and cross-country and downhill skiing.


The scenic country roads winding through the hills and valleys of northwest Illinois invite bicycling. Traffic is usually light, although volume can be heavy around Galena during holidays. Mountain bicyclists have the option of Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park.

A facility under development is the Great River Trail which will extend from the Quad Cities north to Mississippi Palisades State Park. The trail is a combination of a 10-ft. paved path and shared use of low-volume roads. Suitable for mountain bikes is the Pecatonica Prairie Path, a rail-trail between Freeport's east side and Rockford's farwest side. Other longer trails arc the Riverfront Trail along the Rock River in Rockford and the Long Prairie Trail in Boone County. See maps for trail locations.

Northern Illinois is the home of the 475-milc Grand Illinois Trail, the most ambitious trail project in the state. When completed, this trail will make a loop from Chicago west along the I&M and Hennepin Canals to the Quad Cities, then north along the Great River Trail and local roads to Galena, then east along local roads to Freeport, then continuing east and southeast along a number of connected off-roads facilities back to Chicago.  Much of the trail is already in place with more segments scheduled for completion in the upcoming years. See map for trail location.  For more information, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Other dedicated bicycle facilities are found primarily in the urban areas of Rock Island, Moline, and Rockford. Because of their relatively short length, it is impractical to indicate all facilities in urban areas on the map; however, there are contact numbers for Rockford and the Quad Cities under the Important Addresses and Phone Numbers listing.


With rolling hills, prairie stands, and the Mississippi River bluffs, hikers can choose from a number of beautiful trails. Established hiking areas arc limited to the region's recreation facilities. Many of the trails listed above under Bicycling are shared-use facilities suitable for hiking. The longest trail in the region is the Hennepin Canal State Trail which is also suitable for mountain bikes and equestrians.