UPDATED JUL 14, 2020
Chicago’s pockets of greenery give the city life. And when you need to unplug or get some fresh air, they’re the perfect escape. Walk, ride, or post up for a picnic, these local parks are worth an afternoon of your time.
Lincoln Park is full of, well, parks, but it’s easy to miss this real life secret garden. The main entrance is a narrow one, surrounded by the mini-forest of trees and plants that await you upon entering. In the middle of the three-acre landscape is a pond of lily pads, plus a walkable path that loops around it so you can take it all in from every angle. And trust us — you won’t want to miss a single one.
If you like what you see at the Lily Pool, simply walk across Fullerton Avenue and check out an even bigger pond, surrounded by wildlife you don’t see in many other areas of Chicago (ducks, herons, and, you know, just 15,000 species of plants!). Adventure along the numerous paths that extend throughout the (over 130-year-old) nature sanctuary and learn some fun facts about what you’re exploring with the informative signs provided by Chicago’s Nature Museum. There’s even a butterfly garden that includes tips on how to grow your own (your landlord will be thrilled).
Not many parks feature a prairie river, lagoon, and an inland beach, but Humboldt Park is one that does. The 219-acre park also includes an historical field house, boat house, and a miniature version of Wrigley Field, called “Little Cubs Field.” But if baseball isn’t your sport, there are plenty of opportunities for one that is: soccer fields, basketball courts, and tennis courts are located within the park as well. Oh, and if you like to fish, did we mention there’s a lagoon?
Prepare to explore a variety of habitats in the greenest area of the South Shore neighborhood right next to the South Shore Cultural Center (a Chicago Landmark!). From a prairie to a wetland, woodlands, and dunes, this sanctuary has a meandering path and boardwalk that lets you experience it all. FYI, nature buffs: be sure to keep an eye out for the rare butterfly meadow and sightings of migratory birds.
Chicago has a variety of bird sanctuaries, but if you’re really serious about birds, then this one’s a must-see. Also known as “The Magic Hedge,” Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary has documented over 300 species of birds sighted, making it one of the best places in Illinois to bird-watch. And it doesn’t hurt that the sanctuary is right next to Montrose Beach, so if you get overheated from the excitement of all the bird sightings (we know, we know — wild), you can always cool off in the lake.
One of the biggest (and greenest) staples of Hyde Park is this man-made peninsula that is covered with grass and surrounded by Lake Michigan. Just east of the Lakefront trail, Promontory Point attracts everyone — from University of Chicago students to families, cyclists, runners, and rollerbladers. And if the weather permits, bring a bathing suit so you can enjoy the refreshing lake water while taking in a killer view of the Chicago skyline.
Okay, so there’s not always a rainbow hovering over these dunes, but there is enough plant life to make this natural area seem like a pot of gold. You’ll find these dunes (which include wetlands and a savanna) in a quieter area of the south side of Chicago, so you might forget you’re in a big city. Luckily, the Insta-worthy view of the Chicago skyline is there as a reminder that you, in fact, still are.
Come for the Fountain of Time sculpture, stay for the harvest garden, arboretum, lagoon, swimming pool, playground, and MORE in a park that’s part of the National Register of Historic Places. Fun fact: Washington Park was Chicago’s bid location for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Rio de Janeiro might have outbid us, but we’d still let Michael Phelps swim in this park any day.
Escape your usually-hectic city life and zen out in this peaceful Japanese haven in Jackson Park. Tucked away just south of the Museum of Science and Industry, the Osaka Garden is worth finding, and just a warning: you might not want to leave. Its Japanese-inspired elements include a moon bridge, waterfall, several lagoons, and a whole lot of green.
To any non-Chicagoans, Grant Park is probably best known as the home to Lollapalooza and all of our many, many national championship celebrations. But it’s also called “Chicago’s Front Yard,” and for good reason. Grant Park encompasses Millennium Park (selfies with The Bean anyone?), Maggie Daley Park, the Museum Campus, Art Institute, and Buckingham Fountain. So the next time you’re on Michigan Avenue and craving some nature, Grant Park awaits.
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