Kayaking, rock climbing, biking, sailing, playing — whether you love the sound of a paddle hitting Lake Michigan’s waters, the whir of your bike spokes on a city trail, or the full-throttle roar of a jet ski skimming the lakefront, there’s a whole lot of outdoor adventure to welcome you to Chicago.
Here are eight of the many spots and experiences to discover.
1. Maggie Daley Park
Imagine rock climbing with Lake Michigan and the city skyline as your backdrop. That’s exactly what you’ll find at Maggie Daley Park, part of Millennium Park and Grant Park Campus. Maggie Daley Park features climbing walls that reach up to 40 feet, with a total surface area of 19,000 square feet. They’re divided into beginner and advanced spaces, with three types of climbing offered: bouldering, lead-harnessed, and top rope.
If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, head over to Maggie Daley Park’s Skating Ribbon, where you can rent a pair of rollerblades or a scooter at the fieldhouse and whoosh along a meandering, landscaped path. In the winter, the ribbon is transformed into a unique ice skating path, right on the lakefront.
2. Grant Park
Rent a segway at Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours and glide effortlessly through Grant Park, a 300-acre-plus oasis in the heart of downtown Chicago. Lush gardens bloom with color, creating a beautiful backdrop for the park’s main attraction, Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world. There’s a 20-minute show every hour, 9 a.m. – 10 p.m., with the fountain’s center jet shooting 150 feet into the air. Come dusk from spring through fall, the fountain’s water display is choreographed to lights and music.
If ollies and flips are more your style, let loose at the Grant Park Skate Park. This lakefront course features concrete ramps, grinding rails, quarter pipes, two stair sets, and a cool gap jump. There are also wheel-friendly courses for BMX bikes, rollerblades, and scooters.
3. Lakefront Trail
The Lakefront Trail stretches 18.5 miles along Lake Michigan, lined with beautiful parks, biking, and jogging paths, boat harbors, and beaches. Join a guided tour with Bobby’s Bike Hike and cycle the scenic path, which spans the north and south sides of the city. Alternatively, grab a Divvy bike as part of the city’s bikeshare program from one of the many Divvy stations across the city, and explore the lakefront at your own speed.
4. Chicago beaches
Want to hit the waves? Head to North Avenue Beach or Montrose Avenue Beach to rent a kayak at Kayak Chicago. Guides lead you on any number of tours, from city skyline viewings and sunset paddles to Navy Pier fireworks viewings and annual Air & Water Show excursions. Or head to Jet Ski Chicago at North Avenue Beach, where you can rent a powerful WaveRunner.
You can also try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding. Chicago Water Sport Rentals at picturesque 31st Street Harbor will have you out on the water in no time, no matter your experience level. You can even sign up for one-hour paddleboard yoga classes that begin with stretching on land before heading out onto the blue waters of Lake Michigan. Chicago Water Sport Rentals also offers jet skis and kayaks.
5. Chicago Riverwalk
Lake Michigan isn’t the only place you can kayak. Head to Urban Kayaks on the award-winning Chicago Riverwalk to glide along downtown’s skyscraper river canyon. (Urban Kayaks also offers rentals from Monroe Harbor for paddles from the lakefront to Museum Campus and back.)
The Riverwalk is an outdoor adventure in itself. This 1.25-mile pedestrian stretch consists of a series of coves, where you’ll find bars and restaurants, the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, public art (including Art on theMART, the world’s largest video-projection art installation), fishing, and bird watching. It’s a great place to bike and run, too, although bikes need to be walked in designated locations.
6. Ping Tom Memorial Park
If you love venturing off the beaten path, pay a visit to Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown. This 17-acre oasis, complete with pagoda-style pavilion, Chinese landscape design, and impressive river views, is located in the heart of one of the oldest Chinese communities in the country. Make your way to REI Boat House, which offers kayak rentals and classes, as well as a public dock for non-motorized boats. You can also take a Chicago Water Taxi all the way from downtown to Ping Tom Memorial Park.
7. High-speed cruises
Adrenaline junkies will love Seadog Cruises’ 30-minute Lakefront Speedboat Tour, which departs from Navy Pier, cranking up the music and racing to Museum Campus and The Magnificent Mile. For a higher-octane version, complete with sharp twists and turns and 360-degree spins, take Seadog’s 30-minute Extreme Thrill Ride.
8. The 606
Get your fitness fix on The 606, an elevated biking, walking, running, rollerblading, and skateboarding-friendly path that extends 2.7-miles through four of Chicago’s hippest neighborhoods: Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. If you love to bike, you can rent wheels from a nearby Divvy bikeshare station. Make pit stops along the way at The 606’s observation areas, public art installations, and intimate parks. And take lots of detours to explore the vibrant, creative neighborhoods the trail travels through.