Credit: Julia Thiel

It’s hard to get the timing of a fall bike trip on the North Branch Trail just right: go too early, and the leaves won’t have turned color yet; too late and they’ll already be on the ground. The first time I took the trail to the Botanic Garden just happened to be on a perfectly crisp November day when the yellow and orange leaves seemed to glow in the sunlight. I’ve done the same ride every year since, five times in total, but never had the same luck. Even without spectacular fall colors, though, it’s a lovely trail through woods that make it feel like you’re miles from civilization—until you have to cross a major road, of course. Both the path and the Botanic Garden are practically empty at this time of year, and I’ve seen plenty of deer and, once, a controlled prairie burn along the way. The 18-mile-long trail currently begins at Devon and Caldwell and ends at the Botanic Garden, but a project beginning this year and scheduled to be completed next summer will add three miles to the south end of the trail, stretching it to Foster and Kostner.