Farnsworth House by bike or train

[posted to “carfree chicago”:http://carfreechicago.com%5D
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Last week, a friend of mine rented a shared car to get to the Farnsworth House, the famous glass house designed by Mies van der Rohe on the banks of the Fox River, about 60 miles southwest of the city. Two years ago, a few months after it was purchased by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and before Metra allowed bikes on board, a friend and I decided to bicycle out there. It made a truly rewarding destination for one of the best bike routes out of the city: the Illinois Prairie Path — the nation’s first rail-to-trail, built on the remains of an old electric interurban.

We had breakfast in Chicago, rode out past Oak Park to pick up the Prairie Path all the way out to its Aurora terminus (getting lost exactly once, in a lovely forest preserve in Warrenville where the leaves were just starting to turn), and continued along the Fox River trails to Oswego, stopping for lunch. From there, it was another five miles or so down Route 34, bypassing Yorkville, to River Road and finally to Farnsworth. For the return, we saved a few miles (as it was already past dark) by taking the Blue Line from Oak Park — today, a new bridge over the Desplaines River connects the Blue Line directly to the path’s terminus in Forest Park.

For the less athletically inclined, the good news is that now there are two rail options that will get you mostly there. Metra’s BNSF service to Aurora stops about ten miles short of Farnsworth, and allows full-size bicycles. Amtrak will get you closer — downtown Plano, just two miles north of Farnsworth — but currently the only train headed there (ultimate destination Quincy) is scheduled for day trips into Chicago. Starting next month, though, funding from Illinois will allow Amtrak to add a morning-west, evening-east roundtrip to Quincy, making a day trip via Amtrak possible.

I went in late summer, but I imagine that it’s even better in fall and equally lovely in mid-winter, with the huge trees around it either ablaze with color or with the pale white house blending into snowdrifts. Regardless of season, I recommend going with a small group rather than on a tour bus: its tranquility would be ruined by a group of 40.