When the sun is shining, residents in the windy city love to take advantage of the best things to do outside in Chicago. Of course, there is no shortage of outdoor bars and restaurants, where you can soak up some much-needed vitamin D while you sip & nibble, but there are also plenty of other activities available in Chicago parks as well as several outdoor areas. When the temperature really rises, you’ll want to cool off by visiting the city’s beaches.
With Chicago’s 26 miles of lakefront, 25 beaches, 200+ miles of bike lanes, 19 miles of lakefront bicycle paths and 600 parks, it’s a great city to enjoy the outdoors!
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If you haven’t already booked your family-friendly hotel for Chicago, I suggest looking for a hotel near The Loop in downtown Chicago, especially if it’s a first-time visit. There are plenty of budget-friendly, boutique, and luxurious hotels to choose from in this part of town.
9 Fun Outdoor Activities in Chicago
I’ve partnered with Hotels.com to share some of my favorite outdoor activities in Chicago that allow for safe travel and proper physical distancing.
As spring moves into summer, take advantage of the sunny weather with our top things to do outside in Chicago.
Kayak down the Chicago river
Kayaking is one of the best social distancing outdoor activities as it allows for lots of fresh air, exercise, and a fun adventurous experience. So, why not kayak down the famous Chicago River? You can also explore the river by canoe, row skimmer, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs).
Explore the Lincoln park
Chicago’s largest park is Lincoln Park and one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city to live in. Most Chicagoans have visited one of Lincoln Park’s lakefront attractions and its well worth a re-visit. Lincoln Park includes the Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago History Museum, Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Conservatory, North Pond, Diversey Driving Range, Green City Farmers Market, and Chicago beaches. There is so much to explore!
Hike the 606
The 606 is a unique elevated trail that runs through several Chicago neighborhoods. A major highlight of the “606” is the Bloomingdale trail. You can hike this 2.7-mile trail built on a former rail line found in the northwestern part of Chicago. The Bloomingdale Trail can be regarded as a tourist center because of its amazing view. The trail sits about 15 feet above four cities namely; Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt, and Wicker Park.
East End Walk: 1 hour 15 minutes long and 1 mile in length starting at the trails east end above Bloomingdale and Marshfield Ave, ending at Western Avenue.
West End Walk: 1 hour 15 minutes long and 1 mile in length starting atop the trail at the trails west end near Ridgeway Ave, ending at Humboldt Blvd.
Bike the lakefront
Along Chicago’s lakefront, you can walk, jog, join a volleyball game or bike. There are 19 miles of lakefront bicycle paths and one of the most iconic is Lake Michigan. Pack a picnic and explore Chicago’s scenic Lakefront Trail that follows the Lake Michigan shoreline from Ardmore Street to 71st Street.
Visit the beach
Although Chicago is famous for its landscapes, metropolitan buildings, the fact still remains that it’s a beach lover’s paradise in summer. You can check out the 26-mike lakefront for beaches of different views and vibes. At these beaches, you can kayak or cycle, swim, chill, and even have a picnic. Some beaches that can be found in Chicago include:
- Oak Street Beach
- North Avenue Beach
- Rainbow Beach Park
- Montrose Beach
- Leone Beach Park
- 57th Street Beach
- Ohio Street Beach
- 63rd Street Beach
- Margaret T. 12th Street Beach
Grant Park encompasses 300 acres between the city’s skyline and Lake Michigan in downtown’s loop. There is a 19-mile-long path along the lake that is great for walks, jogs or a bike ride. A walk in the park should include, Buckingham Fountain. It dates back to 1927 and is one of the world’s largest fountains.
Three of the city’s best-known museums are located in Grant Park; Adler Planetarium, Field Museum of Natural History and the Shedd Aquarium.
The park hosts lots of amazing events focused on music, food festivals, celebrations, and lots more.
Boat on Lake Michigan
Some of the most beautiful views and cityscapes can be found from Lake Michigan. Rent a SUP, sailboat or take a boat cruise to enjoy the ultimate outdoor activity in Chicago. For the ultimate lake activity, head to Burnham Harbor, a short walk from 12th Street Beach, to the harbor and head out on a fishing boat or fish from shore. You are likely to catch salmon, trout, and even bass.
Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden includes 27 spectacular gardens on 385 acres and millions of plants & flowers.
This is one of the most visited botanic gardens in the United States and includes a waterfall garden, an English Walled Garden, a Japanese Garden and discover a garden with trains chugging across bridges and trestles.
The garden hosts seasonal festivals, tours by train or on foot, art exhibitions, and lots of ways for families to learn about nature and foliage.
Zip-line through Bemis woods
Thinking about adventure? Bemis woods is a 480-acre forest preserve with hiking & biking trails, picnic groves & a creek with a canoe launch. You can also climb and zip your way through treetops. You could also enjoy the aerial view of the Bemis woods of over 2,000 feet! With over 30 crossings and about 5 zip lines, you can’t regret ever visiting Bemis woods. This is a fun day trip from Chicago and take just about 45 minutes from the city.
9 Fun Facts About Chicago
- Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States.
- The Chicago River is the only river in the world that permanently flows backward.
- The Willis Tower (Sears Tower) in Chicago, Illinois is the tallest building in the United States (909 feet tall).
- From the top of Willis Tower (still known to locals as the Sears Tower), you can see four states on a clear day: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
- Chicago is known as the United State’s railroad capital, with more major railroads serving the city than any other place in America.
- Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833 and as a city in 1837.
- Walt Disney was born in the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago in 1901.
- The Ferris wheel was invented in Chicago in 1893 for the World’s Columbia Exposition.
- Route 66 begins in Chicago.
What are your favorite outdoor activities in Chicago? Please share in the comments!
As travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. If you are comfortable with traveling, please travel responsibly and within regulation as any travel is at your own risk.
If you do decide to travel at this time, here are a few recommendations:
- Wear a face mask.
- Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis.
- Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures and status of local businesses and Chicago Travel alerts.
- Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.