7 Top Spots to Swim Outside around Chicago

The Chicago Triathlon offers swim clinics at the Ohio Street Beach, one of the best options for open-water swimming in the city.
The Chicago Triathlon offers swim clinics at the Ohio Street Beach, one of the best options for open-water swimming in the city. Chicago Triathlon
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If you ask someone where you can enjoy outdoor swimming around Chicago, they may just point to the east. After all, with one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the world in our own backyard, there are literally dozens of entry beaches to choose from to enjoy a nice dip.

But what if you don’t want to just splash around? Let’s say you actually want to swim in the open water. You may be training for this year’s Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 30, or simply would like a change from following the black line at the indoor pool in your gym. You’re not alone. While the Chicago Park District offers swimming at most of its beaches, they aren’t necessarily the most conducive to, say, a mile swim.

Whether you’re training for a triathlon this summer or not, these outdoor swimming destinations give you a chance to put in some good distance under the sun. From Lake Michigan to former quarries to some manmade 50-yard outdoor pools, you have several options when it comes to enjoying a cool water workout.

1. Ohio Street Beach

Swimming along the seawall at Ohio Street Beach provides an easy way to put in the open-water miles.
Swimming along the seawall at Ohio Street Beach provides an easy way to put in the open-water miles. Marc Buehler

This is where the city triathletes go to train—and you really can’t beat it. The beach at Ohio Street , just before you get to Navy Pier, actually faces north. You can swim parallel to the seawall, heading north, and swim long distances without ever traveling too far from shore. There are buoys that mark a quarter mile and half mile from the beach, so it’s easy to mark your progress.

The Chicago Triathlon holds a series of very popular open-water swim clinics on Tuesday nights at Ohio Street Beach. Fleet Feet Sports also offers wetsuit rentals every Saturday morning through Sept. 26 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for $10, which can later be applied to a purchase at the store.

2. Oak Street Beach

Oak Street Beach offers another seawall that makes for convenient swimming.
Oak Street Beach offers another seawall that makes for convenient swimming. David Wilson

Just north of Ohio Street Beach, Oak Street Beach has a similar arrangement, with swimming available parallel to the seawall. You can go from Division Street to the Chess Pavilion, with lifeguards along the seawall.

3. Centennial Beach

Centennial Beach is home to the Naperville Sprint Triathlon.
Centennial Beach is home to the Naperville Sprint Triathlon. Naperville Sprint Triathlon

This former stone quarry in the heart of downtown Naperville is about as family-friendly as you’d expect for the suburb. There’s big, zero-depth entry sand beach at one end of the giant “pool” for the kids. But this 6.2-million gallon behemoth stretches to a depth of 15 feet, with a group of lap-swimming lanes separating the shallow end from the deep end.

While the water is chlorinated, it is not filtered like the usual swimming pool, giving you the feeling of a natural body of water. After doing your workout in the lap lanes you can have fun swimming (and diving) in the deep section of the pool. Admission is $10 for a nonresident, although it drops to just $3 after 5 p.m., which makes it a great spot for an after-work dip.

Centennial Beach is also home to the Naperville Sprint Triathlon on Aug. 2 and the annual Life Time Esprit de She women’s triathlon.

4. Harold Hall Quarry Beach

The home of the Batavia Triathlon each June, the Harold Hall Quarry Beach in Batavia is another unusual swimming facility that’s great for training. The former quarry features 60,000 square feet of swimming space, including lap lanes, islands, slides and a diving area. Admission is $11 for nonresidents.

5. Holstein Park Pool

Holstein Park Pool offers one of the best outdoor lap experiences in Chicago.
Holstein Park Pool offers one of the best outdoor lap experiences in Chicago. Matt M

This 50-yard outdoor Chicago Park District pool at 2200 N. Oakley is a great option for swimmers in Bucktown and Wicker Park looking to put in their miles. It offers lap swimming from 7 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., 12 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. from Monday to Friday, with additional weekend hours. A month-long lap membership fee is only $25 at Chicago Park District pools, while you can get the full summer for $40.

6. Union Park

On the near west side, Union Park Pool features 50-yard lap swimming.
On the near west side, Union Park Pool features 50-yard lap swimming. Chicago Park District

This 50-yard outdoor pool on the near west side doesn’t have quite the same lap schedule as Holstein—in fact, there are usually only a few slots a week. But if you’re lucky enough to live or work in the area, it’s a nice big pool in an area where you don’t find many.

7. Washington Park Pool

On the south side, the Washington Park Pool features an Olympic-size 50-meters for lap swimming—but only in the mornings, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. during the week.

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