So many of you who have not been working or living in a big city may find yourself missing nature trails and places to hike or walk or generally not see other people. While (alas) no mountains are ever going to be around Chicago there are a number of easy ways to get a bit of a nature fix right in the city. As a Western girl I have found many places to see a bit of nature in the city and have some recommendations after the jump.
In Hyde Park there are several large parks throughout the neighborhood. There is a group that meets to go on birdwatching walks in Washington Park. Find them at the Darrow Bridge (behind the Museum of Science and Industry) on Wednesdays at 7:00 and Saturday at 8:00. Learn your walk through the park that dates to the Columbian Exhibition and learn your Midwestern birds from some fantastic (mostly septuagenarian) birders. For more more information check here.
Also keep an eye out for the Hyde Park monk parakeets. Some nest in trees in the neighborhood, but you will also see their nests on light poles at the end of the birding walk.
The lakefront, especially on the south side, is a great reprieve from the city. Walk, bike, meet a friend, sit at the Point and read Hegel. The lake front on the north side is packed with bikers and roller bladers so enjoy the relative peace of the south shore.
The University of Chicago is classified as a botanic garden. Did you ever notice the signs on the trees? The website is not up to date but there are periodic walking tours or grab some friends and make your own walking tour then share lunch with the statue of Lineaus on the Midway.
$10 gets you into an urban foraging class. Meet up with others and learn what plants are edible in parks around the city. Check it out here.
The “Magic Hedge” is another bird sanctuary on the lake front near Montrose Harbor. It is a great place to see migratory birds. It has a different reputation after dark, but nature is best during the day anyway.
Nature under glass
When winter arrives you may prefer to view your nature under glass. The Garfield Park Conservatory, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Lincoln Park Zoo all let you look and plants, animals and butterflies while (mostly) avoiding the snow and wind.
(i.e. easier if you have a MAPH friend with a car – buy coffee and bagels and hit the road.)
The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum is huge and you can pick any number of hikes with a handy map that shows how many miles you might be wandering from the parking lot. Helpful docents will tell you where fall color is best and in the oaks area acorns fall like rain this time of year. Enjoy the land buying habits and trees planted by the Morton Salt baron.
The Chicago Botanic Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden can be busy on weekends but is another nice bit of nature. For even more nature. Get on your bike and take the bike trails through the forest preserve all the way to the Botanic Garden. You only pay for parking so if you bike in the garden is free.
The Forest preserves have a large parking lot on Devon Avenue and others along the way so you can decide just how long you want your bike ride to be. A map of the North Branch Bicycle Trail is here but you can also see options on Google maps if you click the bike option.
North Chanel Trail
Starting at Lawrence Avenue west of Western Avenue you can pick up the Channel Trail and bike the Skokie Sculpture Park. See enthusiastic reviews here. Even better if you keep going a bit further you can end up at Walker Brothers Original Pancake House and reward yourself.
Also you can rent a canoe part way up the trail. Chicago River Canoe and Kayak has several put in locations that allow you to get on the water and paddle. It is a completely different way to see the city and well worth it. I have seen hawks, kingfishers, deer, marmots, ducks, herons (great blue and green backed), kingfishers, various slider turtles and snapping turtles and geese while paddling the Chicago river.
Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock is ideal for a weekend camping trip. Well maintained trails and beautiful waterfalls make this a nice spot to get some nature for the weekend. You can do it as a day hike, but it makes for a long day of driving and hiking. I recommend not hiking it when the heat index hits 101.
The Indiana Dunes are also quite close to the city. You can also get there by train. Check out the South Shore Line schedule if you are car-less and need some nature. You can read for class on the train.