For snowshoers and cross-country skiers in the city, Northerly Island is a nice escape to nature that happens to be just minutes away from some of the most condensed population in the Midwest. The 91-acre manmade peninsula (yes, it’s not actually an island), sits in Lake Michigan, housing the Adler Planetarium on its northern end, with Burnham Harbor separating it from Soldier Field to the east.
What Makes It Great
Those who were around in the ’90s recall that the land was then the home of Meigs Field, an airport that had been built in 1947. When the airport’s 50-year lease ended, the Chicago Park District did not renew it, but the state legislature pressured them to continue the airport’s operation. After much bickering between the city, state and federal authorities, a new 25-year lease was supposedly agreed to in 2001, but the U.S. Senate did not authorize the federal component of the agreement.
On March 30, 2003, Mayor Richard M. Daley had city workers destroy the runway in the middle of the night. It was a controversial move, but he ended up getting what he wanted—a public park on the island, as the original plan by Daniel Burnham had intended.
Now more than a decade after the airport’s destruction, Northerly Island has become a great natural getaway with wild prairie grasses and amazing view of the city of Chicago.
During winter months with snow on the ground, the Chicago Park District often rents snowshoes and cross-country skis on Northerly Island. Visit the Chicago Park District for more information and dates for rentals. Or bring your own equipment and explore anytime.
The area is designed as a natural preserve, and the paths on the island are organized to best see the different ecosystems on the island. There’s a big outer loop, a little over a mile total, with several trails connecting in the middle. This obviously isn’t the place to get a lot of mileage, but you don’t need a lot of miles while snowshoeing.
The park also contains the Northerly Island Field House and the Pavilion at Northerly Island, which hosts concerts throughout the year.
Who is Going to Love It
Nature lovers and those looking for a nice place to escape the typical city congestion. You’re close to the Lakefront Path, but enough of a detour away to really cut down on traffic. And in the winter, you really will find yourself alone in the elements with that amazing view of the city.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The peninsula is connected to the Lakefront Path just west of the Adler Planetarium via Solidarity Drive. You can park in the lot for the planetarium, or park across Burnham Harbor in the lot for Soldier Field and walk over.
Park hours are from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily.
The southern 40 acres of Northerly Island is currently closed due to a $7 million habitat redevelopment project in the park. Among the changes will be new landscaping to improve a camping area, a pond to help the endangered mudpuppy salamander, additional trails, boardwalks and a bridge at the south end of the peninsula.