In search of destinations for outdoor adventure around Chicago, I turned my sights to Imagination Glen's Outback Trail which is a well-maintained, up-and-coming mountain biking area in the Indiana Dunes region.

Roller Coaster on the Outback Trail

Its probably because I wasn't looking hard enough, but I was beginning to get worried that I wouldn't find much in the way of outdoor adventures in greater Chicagoland. That was a bit of a misconception though- after all, in an area populated with 9 million people, there has to be a few other me's out there who need some new stomping grounds for outdoor adventure. I think the Indiana Dunes are that area now.

I've been to the Dunes before but the last time I went we went specifically to the dunes themselves. What I didn't realize at the time is that the entire area of Northwestern Indiana is a playground for outdoorsy types. Since moving here, I've been making frequent trips to Indiana's relatively small stretch of shoreline and discovered some big adventures.

For being a relatively flat state, Indiana has some fantastic mountain biking. Brown County (south of Indianapolis) has achieved the highly coveted "Epic Ride" status from the International Mountain Bikers Association. Closer to me, the Outback Trail at Imagination Glen is actually an excellent mountain biking trail by anyone's standards and is quickly making a bid to become the next Midwestern Epic. Maintained by a fiercely dedicated band of local riders, I headed out here as soon as I could.
Well maintained trails through tranquil woods
I've had the privilege of riding about 7 trails designated as "Epics" from the IMBA and that's brought me from Northern and Southern California through the mountain states and all the way to some fine east coast destinations in Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New England. This is to say, I don't say just ride any trail and think its an epic.

The Outback Trail makes excellent use of space and terrain, creating both challenging and more cross-country style rides around the well protected salt creek. The Front Side generally contains some easier, more relaxing trails with a stacked-loops style; the biker can make a day out of riding all the difficult trails or make an easier ride out of combining the novice loops.

On the far side of Salt Creek is the Dark Side trails which are a notch higher in technicality. Some of the rides are actually quite demanding including Rollercoaster, Rich's Revenge and Basement. Actually, you might need a full suspension bike to clear some of the features- mine was fine for about 90% of the trail but there were some sections that needed a higher quality ride.

I did meet a few locals who live next door to the trail and I'm happy that they are such a dedicated bunch. I rode with a few folks who were very kind in showing me the better sections of the trails. After almost 15 miles of riding, I was surprised at how winded I was despite my GPS indicating that I didn't get more than a few hundred feet of elevation change. Nevertheless, the trails are well designed and maintained for folks like me who need an adventure base close to downtown Chicago. Can't wait to come back with a new bike!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!