Midwest Trails: Sag Valley Trails, Palos Park, IL

This was quite the weekend for running trails. Saturday I ran the Sag Valley Trails, while Sunday Teo and I continued our Trail Running Project by visiting Hidden Lake Forest Preserve (see post here). It was a beautiful morning for a run, cool but not cold and, while I started out with a long sleeve shirt, the sleeves were soon pushed up.

The Sag Valley Trails are located in Palos Park to the south and west of Chicago. Compared to the Palos run I recently posted about, the main trail is 100% crushed gravel, reminiscent in feeling to a rails-to-trails conversion, as seen in the photo below.

However, unlike a rails-to-trails conversion, there were many twists and turns to the trails and the terrain is non-stop undulation, with the trail usually ascending or descending. Even though I carried a map and referred to it several times, I missed a turn and ended up running the yellow path (see map above) in a figure-8 pattern, rather than as a straight loop. This added approximately a mile to my effort.

The main trail is a loop, with multiple connectors and side trails to shorten or lengthen the run. When I say that the terrain is undulating, I mean there are hills. Anyone who claims they can’t find hills to train on should head over and complete this loop. Below see a typical hill from the yellow path. There were probably a dozen of these hills in the loop.

One of the hills here (centered in the trail system), was used for many years as the Swallow Cliffs Toboggan Run. “The six parallel toboggan runs at Swallow Cliff in Palos Township, known to many fans as “Terror Hill,” are yesterday’s Great America. Ask anyone about them, and if they’ve not been, they’ve heard of them. If they’ve been down the chutes, you’ll see a look like they’re falling down them all over again, an excitement mixed with disbelief that they ever had the courage to ascend the nearly 130 limestone steps, climb onto the wooden toboggan, watch the starter lift the gate and immediately plummet almost 100 feet, sliding a total of about 1,100 feet.” As I ran by on Sunday, people were still using the steps to get in a hill workout.

In kind of a neat bit of serendipity, my wife and I purchased one of the retired toboggans from the Park District via Ebay. Not sure if we’ll ever actually use it, but we are happy to have a piece of the Forest Preserve District to safeguard.
Feet hot, muscles aching after the run? Or just  need a break? The Sag Valley Trails pass over several beautiful streams that offer a cooling and soothing place to soak.

As seen from the photo of the old toboggan hill, Sag Valley is a popular destination for runners, walkers, cyclists, and equestrians. On Sunday there were at least two high school cross country teams training there. This is definitely a more urban (relatively speaking) experience compared to Palos. On one section the trail parallels Route 83 and the noise from the traffic is quite loud and constant. The drawback is that it’s not a bucolic forest trail run, but on the days you might need to see another face or, heaven forbid, have an accident of some sort, civilization is nearby.


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