THE GREAT OUTDOORS, CLOSE TO HOME!
With summer upon us, let’s talk about ways and places to enjoy the outdoors! Although we live in one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, we’re fortunate we don’t have to go far to experience nature, play outside, or simply take in the fresh air. From downtown to the lake shore and surrounding suburbs, outdoor fun is all around—you just have to know where to look.
PARKS, PONDS AND PRESERVES
From the popular Busse Woods to beloved Lincoln Park, Chicagoland is blessed with a bounty of woodlands and green spaces. But beyond these iconic gems, there are countless lesser-known parks and nature preserves awaiting discovery.
- University of Chicago Botany Pond | 1103 E 57th St, Chicago: Close to the university’s Main Quad is one of the most beautiful spots on campus. This landscaped work of art was originally planned at the turn of the century as a botanical research laboratory; today you’ll find flowering trees, shrubs and a small stone bridge.
- Somme Woods & Somme Prairie | 1714 Dundee Rd, Northbrook: From east to west, the three distinct areas of the Somme Preserves progress from shaded woodland to sun-dappled savanna and finally to wide-open prairie. Indeed, the Somme Prairie Nature Preserve is an original prairie—and after extensive restoration work, it is now one of the highest quality prairie remnants in the state.
- Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool | 125 W Fullerton Pkwy, Chicago: This may be in the heart of Lincoln Park just west of DuSable Lake Shore Drive, but stop and you’ll discover a calm hideaway secreted behind lush vegetation; to some, it evokes the atmospheric tranquility of Monet’s gardens at Giverny.
- Shakespeare Garden | 2121 Sheridan Rd, Evanston: Secluded behind a double wall of hawthorn hedges on the Northwestern campus east of the Ford Motor Company Engineering Building, this charming diminutive garden was established in 1915 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the eponymous playwright’s death.
PLAYTIME FOR THE YOUNGER SET
Whether you’re raising your own kids or babysitting for friends or family, some active playground-time could be just what uber-nanny Mary Poppins would prescribe. Here are a few we think the kids (and you!) will love:
Ward (A. Montgomery) Park | 630 N Kingsbury St, Chicago: Amidst the high-rises of River North, the undulating green rubber “mountain” of this 3-acre park is a hit with young climbers. Set along the Chicago River, you’ll also find a splash pad, playground equipment, adjacent dog-friendly area, and great skyline views.
Indian Boundary Park | 2500 W Lunt Ave, Chicago: Kids of all ages love the large wooden play structure at the center of this park in West Ridge. There are slides, monkey bars, tunnels, platforms and lots of swings. And if the kids get tired, take a rest and see the mallard ducks and painted turtles in the nearby lagoon.
Little Bear Garden | 2001 Patriot Blvd, Glenview: Set within the 140-acre Gallery Park and masterfully designed in collaboration with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, you’ll find a hedge maze, playground, sand lot, and interactive water feature. Adults can relax in “porch swings” suspended from the surrounding trellis. Close to the shops and eateries of Glen Town Center and the Kohl Children’s Museum.
Bromann (Charles) Park | 5400 N Broadway, Chicago: Do the kids need to release some pent-up energy after dining or running your errands in Andersonville or Edgewater? This small park gets great reviews from neighborhood residents for its ADA-accessible playground, well-built equipment and shock-absorbent ground covering.
BIKING BEYOND THE CITY LIMITS
With the 18-mile waterfront trail along Lake Michigan and elevated 606 winding through Wicker Park to Humboldt Park, Chicago has no shortage of cycling options. If you’re looking to venture beyond city limits, here are some exciting trails to explore:
North Branch Trail System: Starting within city limits at Devon and Caldwell Avenues, you can explore nearly 20 miles of paved and unpaved trails that wind along the North Branch of the Chicago River. It’s a varied route that takes you through the northern suburbs all the way to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.
Major Taylor Trail: Named for legendary African American track cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor, this is another city-to-suburb trail. Connecting Dan Ryan Woods in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood with Whistler Woods in Riverdale, it’s a 7-mile route that combines off-street trails through the forest preserves with on-street bike lanes that call for a degree of urban-biking comfort.
Green Bay Trail: If you live in the city and don’t own a car, take Metra or the CTA to Wilmette to pick up this historic 9-mile trail. It’s a good-for-all-ages route with lots of places to stop and enjoy the shops and eateries of North Shore communities like Kenilworth and Winnetka.
Deer Grove Forest Preserve Trails: Encompassing nearly 2,000 acres north of Dundee Road in Palatine, this was the first forest preserve in Cook County. Cyclists can explore rolling upland forests, wooded ravines, wetlands and prairies along a 14-mile network of paved and unpaved trails.