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Long run suggestion – the major Palos North loop

July 10, 2010

OK, this is hardly an impressive run, but for my fellow CHUGs who may be looking for something a little bit different, wanted to recap 20-22 mile loop in Palos Hills North.  This loop was meant to loop around as much as possible with a minimal amount of road, and to not have any duplication anywhere.

First, it’s helpful to know which map I’m talking about, so I’m using cambr’s updated Palos map:

http://cambr.org/TrailGuides/guideElements/maps/Palos2010Map.pdf

The start is the Buffalo Woods parking lot, at the Northwest corner of Kean and 87th Street. Cross this intersection to be at the southwest corner, which is where this big loop begins.

Hang a right to get on the northern part of the brown trail, and run through some easy terrain which can get quite muddy at times (after a rain, the first uphill as you head south doubles as a creek bed).  You’ll turn south, parallel La Grange for a bit, cross the entry to Hidden Pond West, go down a small hill then back up before intersecting another trail.

Hang a right here (onto the orange trail), passing under La Grange road then turning north.  The first bit is fairly steep and is reenforced; please do your best to not encourage erosion here!  The trail levels off, then turns west, and there are often deer on either side of the trail here.  A few more possibly muddy sections and you’ll come to a crossroads.  From this crossroad, you can hang a left or go straight and start the yellow loop; but for this one, we’ll hang a right onto the red trail.

This trail is again very easy, with a little up and down. You’ll see 87th street again as you curve around, then head west and intersect with the Old Country Lane trail.

At this intersection, hang a left, then look for a right on the correct yellow trail (the yellow trail actually has two ways to head west here).  This section starts the single trail, and if you are wearing headphones, take ’em off and listen for bikes – there are LOTS of places you can run right into one if you’re not paying attention. 

The northern part of the yellow loop doesn’t have a lot of up and down, but it does have a lot of twists and turns, roots, switchbacks, mud and a few other fun things like that.  You’ll head west, then turn south and parallel Willow Springs Road for a while. At one point, the trail will dump out onto this road; hang a left, and stay on the east side of the road for about a hundred feet, and the trail will reenter the woods. An eighth of a mile later, you’ll crest a grassy hill and see the intersection of 95th and Willow Springs Road.  You will need to cross south, then west, and run along the south side of 95th, heading west, for a bit under a quarter mile before again entering the woods on your left.

From here, the rest of this section of the yellow loop will be short – follow the trail for another quarter of a mile and you’ll hit a parking lot, opposite of the cemetery loop.  Do not follow the yellow trail here – rather, cross 95th to the north and hop on the cemetery hill loop (Purple trail).

The purple loop is probably the third hilliest loop you can do, but it is also much more compact, so highly recommended if you want to feel like you’re nowhere near Cook County.  The loop starts off very tamely, meandering through the woods north of 95th street for quite some time before ending at a three-way intersection.  The true purple loop starts here, so hang a right.  You’ll soon see the cemetery again off to your right, and suddenly start descending in earnest.  You’ll regain the elevation, but you’ll gain an appreciation for the size of the hill along Archer Avenue near Willow Springs!  Continue following the loop until it starts heading back to the east; at this point, keep an eye out for a bridge on your right.  The trail beyond the bridge is not very well maintained, but isn’t difficult.  This will dump you out on 95th, opposite of Maple Lake, and about three tenths of a mile east of the intersection with Wolf Road.

Head across 95th, then hang a right (running towards traffic) and get to the Wolf Road/95th intersection. Here is the only somewhat tricky part:  watch for a small, foot-only trail leading up the hill west of this intersection.  It’s not hard to spot, and head up here, intersecting the blue loop.

If you need water, hang a left to head towards the Blue loop trailhead; otherwise, hang a right and enjoy the odd ups and downs and actual technical up/down running available.  Mountain bikes can come careening at you on this part of the trail (and I ran into one absolute moron runner today with headphones on full blast who almost ran me over) – so be careful here.  You’ll head up, then down, then up, then down, then climb back and intersect with the green trail.

From the green, hang a right, and you’ll quickly intersect with the orange.  Hang a right on the orange here (back onto single track).  There are a few odd trails that branch off here; hang a right at the first one (the left one just does some odd stuff and rejoins the trail); and a left at the second one (the right branch here just goes to a gauging station or something).  The orange quickly comes to a T intersection, which seems to be intermittently marked.

Hang a right here, and you’ll soon start going down a wide, paved road, angling downhill. You can get some serious speed on this hill, so watch out for bikes again.  Watch for the trail taking off to your left as you near the bottom of the hill.  The next section of the orange trail has a lot of mudpots, roots and places to test your technical running (and bike avoidance skills).  The trail does a lot of odd traversing but follows Archer annoyingly close for an interminable time.  Finally, the trail abruptly cuts east, uphill, eventually meandering through some really neat mangroves (OK, not mangroves, but it’s running through a tunnel cut through heavy brush).  The trail intersects another trail coming in from the left; keep to the right, up a badly eroded hill. In a short amount of time, you will see the blue trail cutting off to the right.

A note about the blue trail (dynamite road); although previously well-signed, when I ran it today (7/10/10), there was some trail reconstruction, and the blue trail cut off about 50 yards before you get to the actual trail.

This is actually the neatest part of this loop, and it’s all downhill, following a creek and cutting through what, for lack of a better term in Cook County, is cliffs.  OK, not cliffs, but really steep, 40-50 foot banks.  It’s about as sudden of elevation change as you’ll see in Cook County!  See how many building materials you can identify in the trail as it drops to 107th street.

From here, you’ll go straight across 107th and make a beeline for the Cal-Sag channel.  The trail then follows the Cal Sag back east for about 3 miles, and I’d like to throw some words of warning here.  First, this is a seedy area – you’ll find plenty of old campsites of transients if you want to, and a lot of, umm, characters come to fish along the Cal Sag, and also the Saganashee Slough.  You’ll pass between these bodies of water for two miles or so; so, mosquitos, bugs and flies. LOTS of them. Even with a good dousing of Off, I always get eaten through here.  It’s really not a lot of fun, as it’s usually hot, mosquito infested, boring and somewhat dangerous.

At the end of the blue trail, you’ll hang a left, going up into the parking lot and suddenly seeing exactly how much water you’ve just been past (it’s a bit surprising).  You’ll now have some road running to do – head north (on the west side) – there’s a bit of a shoulder, so you shouldn’t have any issues.  Cross 107th, then go maybe 0.2 miles up until the bank on your left becomes less of a mound and opens up to a trail.  This is the burrito hill trail.

An easy trail, burrito hill trail heads straight west, then straight north, working steadily uphill all the way as it works to connect to the yellow loop on a high prairie.  At this point, hang a right, and you’ll quickly come to the Little Red Schoolhouse and back to Willow Springs Road (water is available at the Schoolhouse).  Cross Willow Springs Road -the yellow loop is easy to follow.

Continue on the Yellow trail, passing over the Old Country Lane trail (with an emergency alert box at the intersection), head down a really good hill and back up, and you’ll come to another intersection with the brown line trail.  Hang a right, and you’ll head downhill, underneath La Grange Road, back up a hill, east, and then north.  Cross 95th street at the light (sometimes a long wait), then cut across to Kean when you can see it and head north back to where you started.

Challenging? No, but you get to touch just about every trail in the north Palos preserve (missing the nice black and out back trail entirely, and the enjoyingly aptly named “3 ravines” section of the orange line). It also boasts some of the least used trails.  If you haven’t done these trails, this is a great way to get a good view of everything so you can focus on where you want to run in the future.

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