Biking is one of summer’s most fun calorie busters.

Hopping on a bike path offers the best of both worlds—it’s a safe I-got-the-kids-outside-in-fresh-air-and-away-from-Wii alternative, and you can squeeze in a workout.

In fact, a one-hour ride at 12-14 miles an hour will knock 550 calories off your 140-pound frame. Moms love multi-tasking.

If you’ve grown tired of the paths closest to your neighborhood, consider throwing the bikes on the car and driving a few miles outside of your comfort zone—or bike it! Here are 5 great places to hit the trail:

1. North Branch Trail System: Near and dear to many North shore residents, the North Branch is one of the most easily accessible trails, with access along Glenview Road and Lake Avenue in Glenview, Winnetka and Willow roads near Northfield, Tower Road in Winnetka, and finally, the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Try: Hopping on and biking north to the Garden, where you can park your bikes and head toward the English Garden for an ice-cream cone. Or, head south and take a slight detour to Hackney’s on Harms for a late afternoon lunch on the patio.

2. Green Bay Trail: Another very easy path to access if you live close to the lake. Hard core riders can start in Wilmette and ride straight up the path to the Great Lakes Naval Station. And if you’re driving from another suburb, consider parking at the Wilmette train station. When you’re ready to call it quits, hop the Metra with your bikes and you’ll be safely deposited back at your car.

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Try: Just about anything! The Green Bay Trail allows for easy access to all the towns it traverses. If you hit the trails on a Wednesday, Highwood offers its evening Farmer’s Market and a bunch of great festivals all summer long.

3. Des Plaines River Trail: Described as one of the most picturesque, the Cook County portion of the river trail runs more than 40 miles from Isle A La Cache Museum in DuPage County north to Rivershire Park in Lincolnshire. Bikers like it for the long distances one can go without having to stop for automobile traffic—another plus with kids.

Try: Making it all the way to Lincolnshire and detouring to Swirlcup for a hot fudge sundae—you’ve earned it.

4. Busse Woods Tail System: Located near Palatine, the Busse Woods Trail is an excellent option for a weekend day trip with young riders. The almost-eight-mile trail winds its way through the preserve and its three main bodies of water. It’s a trail for nature-lovers; see if you can spot the herd of elk!

Try: Bringing your fishing poles for a post-ride siesta lakeside, where you just may catch a northen pike or largemouth bass.

5. Illinois Prairie Path: You’ll have to venture out west for this one—a 60-plus mile path that eventually runs along the Fox River in the far western ‘burbs. The Illinois Prairie Path is a scenic ride and enjoyable for novice riders and experts. Built along an old railroad right-of way, riders have a number of access options.

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Try: Hop on the trail in Wheaton, and grab lunch at the Front Street Cantina in Geneva.

Bonus! Chicago Lakefront: Don’t knock the lakefront. For as crowded as it can sometimes seem, it’s like that for a reason—riding along the lake is fun! Trying to navigate your way from the northern ‘burbs can prove long and potentially dangerous with kids in tow. We recommend putting the bikes on the car and parking in Lincoln Park. From there, head as far south as you like, and you can even stick your toes in the lake at Ohio Street or North Avenue beach.

Remember:

  • If you head out on a Forest Preserve of Cook County trail, riders 14 and younger are required to wear helmets.
  • There are plenty of places to picnic, so consider a panier bag for your bike, or hook up the old Burley in the back of the garage.
  • Plan ahead. With smaller kids in tow, you want to be sure you turn around to head back to your starting point well before they tire out. Cranky kids on bikes aren’t fun for anyone.
  • Don’t forget essentials, such as water, sunscreen and bug spray.

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