5 Places to Run In…Chicago

The Chicago skyline can be spotted from the Lakefront Path along Lake Michigan. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Chicago has long been one of the top running cities in the world. It hosts the second largest marathon in the country, the largest triathlon, and enough 5K and 10K races to keep you occupied nearly every weekend of the year. A large reason for running’s popularity is due to the city’s Lakefront Path that provides runners with an outstanding traffic-free route to rack up plenty of miles. But while the Lakefront Path is certainly the preeminent running attraction, it isn’t the only option for runners in the area.

Here are five places to run in the Windy City from urban lakefront paths to unexpected winding river trails.

Lakefront Path

The city’s famed running route stretches along Lake Michigan all the way from Hollywood Avenue on the north side to the South Shore Cultural Center on South Shore Drive. That’s more than 18 miles of largely uninterrupted running, with water fountains and bathrooms along the way, at least during the warm-weather months. It offers the best views of downtown and trail markers are placed every half-mile to help track distance. It’s also easily accessible from both downtown hotels and neighborhoods along the lake.

During summer months, the path can get very crowded, particularly between North Avenue Beach and the Museum Campus. But when you’re running toward the downtown skyline on a warm summer evening, it’s hard to think of a better place to be.

The 606

While the Lakefront Path is Chicago’s traditional and historic running draw, the 606 is just getting started. The trail opened to the public for the first time on June 6, 2015, and is already drawing rave reviews for its architectural charms and as a new recreational resource in neighborhoods in need of more green space.

The trail has replaced the old Bloomington rail line, stretching from Ashland Avenue in the east to Ridgeway Avenue in the west, for about 2.7 miles. It runs parallel to North Avenue, about two blocks north, and it’s elevated, providing a unique way to see the city as well as travel east-to-west without dealing with a stoplight every block or two. About a dozen entry points allow runners and other users access to get on and off the trail.

Named for the area’s zip code, the 606 serves the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square. The trail has been in the making for the past 10 years, with the hope of turning the abandoned railroad right-of-way into a “unique urban green space uniting nature, science and culture,” according to the city.

Des Plaines River Trail

The Des Plaines River Trail is one of the longest in the Chicago area. If you are willing to take surface roads to fill some gaps, you could run from River Grove just west of the city all the way to the Wisconsin border. But the heart of the trail runs through the northwest side of Chicago, connecting several Cook County Forest Preserves along the way.

The trailhead at North Avenue, just east of Route 171 at Jerome Huppert Woods, is a great place to start. From there go north through various forest preserves, including Fullerton Woods, Schiller Woods, Robinson Woods and the Catherine Chevalier Woods near O’Hare airport. You’ll follow (for the most part) the Des Plaines River, with plenty of tree cover, and feel surprisingly isolated despite being so close to so many people. The trails are largely crushed limestone or asphalt, and there’s plenty of water and bathroom options along the way.

Washington Park

This 372-acre park located on the south side near the University of Chicago is best known for its connection to the World Columbian Exposition in 1893 and as the possible future home for Barack Obama’s presidential museum.

If you’re looking to go more than a few miles, Washington Park connects in the south to the Midway Plaisance, a park that’s 220 yards wide and a mile long that runs between 59th and 60th streets. It’s where the amusements were held during the World Columbian Exposition and now serves as a beautiful green space that will connect you to Jackson Park, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Lakefront Path. It’s also home to the Chicago Half Marathon in the fall.

Palos Trail System

This grouping of forest preserves southwest of the city is worth the drive. Located 15 minutes south of the I-55 and I-294 intersection, Palos is a trail running mecca. It has two things sorely lacking in most Chicago-area forest preserves—singletrack routes and lots of rolling hills.

With more than 25 miles of mostly unpaved trails, Palos has become a popular spot for weekend long runs. Technically the trails are part of a dozen congruent woods and preserves overseen by the Cook County Forest Preserve. You’ll find plenty of tree cover, making this a great summer destination.

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