The Galena River Trail, which starts under the Highway 20 Bridge in Galena, extends for almost 10 miles south a little bit beyond Chestnut Mountain. This mixed paved and tightly packed crushed gravel trail is beautiful and worth the drive from Dubuque. We were on it a day after a heavy rain and only had a few mud puddles to dodge, so Kevin and I highly recommend this trail.
It leaves the Galena River Boat Landing area, winding through a grassy area with its own spring. Meandering westward through wooded riverside terrain bursting in late summer yellow wildflowers, the trail becomes wider as it is shared with local driveway accesses. The section also includes signage of the natural and historic features. One informative board describes how a flour mill became an electrical plant, another explains the Galena River Lock and Dam history, and several others feature the local flora, such as ferns, horsetail reeds, wetlands vegetation, and wildflowers. After four miles or so, Adirondack chairs invite riders to take a break and view the junction of the Galena with the Mississippi. The trail heads south along the Mississippi backwaters. Riders soon see a hiking trail on the left that leads to Casper Bluff, a Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation Land and Water Preserve with effigy, conical, and linear mounds. This hike is well worth the time.
Back on the bike trail, riders will find the village of Aiken, a whistle-stop community from the train era. Here the gravel path merges with the paved South River Road. Views of the river on the right are spectacular, especially in a clearing that shows Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort downstream. Traveling through more woods with exposed limestone rocks adds to the scenic quality. The trail passes along the west side of Chestnut Mountain. It is fun to watch the alpine slide riders on this warm summer day. Continuing on for another mile, the shared road trail is bumpy and hillier than before but still navigable. It stops with several large stones and an Illinois DNR sign informing the rider that the trail ends. We are ten miles from Galena. Hopefully, in the future, this wild segment to the south can be developed and continue towards Blanding’s Landing and Hanover, and ultimately join the Great River Trail in Savanna.
We retrace our path back to Galena. Since it’s such a lovely day, we notice that another portion of the Galena River Trail also runs north from the Highway 20 Bridge to the Buehler Preserve entrance. This segment sits atop of a dike or old rail bed. Views of the Galena River are immediately below the trail and provide lots of opportunities for birding. We ride back to the car, sad to see another beautiful day of biking end. Yet we make a pledge to return in the fall for another spectacular show.