What Central Park is to New York, the Lakefront Path is to Chicago—the signature, tourist-friendly place to both get exercise and show off the best of the city. The 18.5-mile path starts at Hollywood Avenue on the North Side and hugs Lake Michigan all the way to the Chicago Cultural Center at South Shore Drive. Along the way it shows off the city’s beaches, parks, the Lincoln Park Zoo and too many cultural attractions to name.
What Makes It Great
For Chicago cyclists, it is the go-to spot for any recreational ride. Over the length of the trail there are some street crossings and slow points, but for the most part, cyclists enjoy an almost uninterrupted path that features accurate mile markers every half mile, frequent water fountains (at least in the warm-weather months), rest rooms and plenty of other athletes for safety and company.
There are few trails in the country that can match the Lakefront Path’s blend of beauty and functionality. It’s hard not to be energized on a morning ride when you get that view of the city’s skyline. The surface is a mix of asphalt and crushed limestone sections, with a little bit of concrete thrown in here and there.
If you’re driving, there’s generally good parking at Montrose Harbor, around the 1.5-mile mark, which offers a nice view of the skyline. Get a view of Belmont Harbor at mile 3, and the Lincoln Park Zoo at mile 5. Check out the bronze bodies playing volleyball at North Avenue Beach at mile 5.5, followed by the state’s biggest tourist attraction, Navy Pier around mile 7.5. Enjoy Monroe Harbor and Buckingham Fountain near the path’s halfway point at mile 9. Between mile 9.5 and 10.5 you get a tour of the city’s museums, including the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. Soldier Field and the McCormick Place Convention Center follow down to mile 11.
South McCormick Place is generally a bit less crowded, and good spot to pick up the pace with amazing views of the skyline. The beach at 57th street (mile 15.5) draws big summer crowds and is opposite the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago. The South Shore Cultural Center (mile 18) is another historic gem with beautiful grounds—and a great place to start or end a ride.
The downside of such a gem is that it gets crowded—especially during good weather days during the summer. You’ll have to keep your eyes out for runners, inline skaters, walkers, young children and picnickers crossing the path. The area between Lincoln Park and downtown can get particularly congested. You may not be able to go as fast as you’d like (although that doesn’t stop some daredevils), but you can’t beat the uninterrupted riding.
Who is Going to Love It
If you’re traveling to Chicago, the Lakefront Path provides you with the signature way to see the city. For locals, it’s like your neighborhood joint, familiar and comforting.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Access to the trail is available all along the Lakefront, and parking is available nearly the entire route—just at various costs. Montrose Harbor (at mile 1.5, which is at Montrose Drive) is a popular place to meet because of the ample parking, a rarity in the city.