18 miles of smooth lakefront cycling.
It’s not what you might expect from the landlocked capital of the American midwest, until you remember that Lake Michigan is a miniature ocean unto itself. And with Chicago named as Bicycling.com’s #1 city to ride in 2016, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise at all.
Find the Perfect Ride for Cycling the Chicago Lakefront Trail: See Bikes in Chicago
But now that you’ve made it here, rental bike and all, what should you expect? Well for starters, let’s look at the basics:
- You’re going to encounter people. Lots of them. On a typical summer weekday, the Chicago Lakefront Trail sees around 60,000 – 70,000 visitors. That number only goes up on weekends.
- Runners, walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers are all currently confined to the same stretch of asphalt. While a recent donation has sped up the planning of a proposed separated pedestrian trail, it most likely won’t be completed until sometime in 2018.
- The trail runs from Lane Beach in the north all the way to the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and Cultural Center. With so much to see in between those two destinations, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to explore.
Needless to say, in light of this often-incendiary mixture of myriad people, minimal space, and many things to see, your best bet is to err on the side of caution. If you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, keep to the right. If you’re passing, keep to the left. Don’t be shy about announcing your presence, and never take for granted that someone has heard/seen your approach.
Now that we’ve gotten the nitty-gritty details out of the way, it’s time to look at just why the Chicago Lakefront Trail is such a mighty draw in the first place. From north to south, here are just a few of the sights, sounds, and experiences that await you.
Located in the well-to-do community of Uptown Chicago, Montrose Beach is one of the city’s most popular stretches of sand and surf. This affinity is felt by both bipeds and quadrupeds alike, thanks to its dog-friendly western section. With beautiful natural surroundings, available restrooms, concessions, and even free wifi, the beach makes for a relaxing start or end to your ride.
Surrounded by parks and the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Belmont is one of Chicago’s biggest and most scenic harbors. It’s situated at the heart of the Lincoln Park neighborhood, far enough north to avoid the bulk of the trail’s pedestrian traffic.
LINCOLN PARK AND ZOO
Chicago’s massive Lincoln Park takes up more than 1,000 acres of waterfront real estate. Needless to say, there’s plenty to discover within its borders. From a lily pond and 1,200-animal zoo to the Chicago History and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museums, you could easily spend an afternoon appreciating all the sights this park has to offer. We’re just giving you fair warning, should you be pressed for time.
Chicago’s 3,300 ft Navy Pier is undoubtedly one of the main draws of the city. Celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2016, the pier houses countless attractions like restaurants, beer gardens, an IMax theater, and the recently upgraded Centennial Ferris Wheel. Come during the summer and you’ll likely be lost among innumerable throngs of selfie-snapping tourists. Still, it’s an impressive sight, even if only viewed in passing.
Although Millennium Park isn’t located directly on the Chicago Lakefront Trail, it’s proximity makes it a tantalizing side trip. Between Frank Gehry’s Pavilion, Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (colloquially known as “the bean”) , it’s hard to pinpoint the star of the show. Luckily, you don’t have to. You’ll just want to find a safe place to lock up your ride while you admire them all.
At the heart of Grant Park you’ll find what is considered by many to be one of the most impressive fountains in the US. It’s not hard to see why. The Buckingham Fountain was dedicated in 1927, a memorial from “Chicago’s Grandest Spinster” Kate Buckingham to her brother Clarence. For meteorological reasons, it only operates between April and October, which means you’ll have to plan your ride accordingly if you’re interested in catching a show.
As its name would imply, Chicago’s Museum Campus is a pedestrian-friendly collection of museums and other public facilities located on the banks of Lake Michigan. Conveniently, the Lakefront Trail gives riders an easy-access corridor to all the sights. Science buffs will have a field day here, between the renowned Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Natural History Museum. You’ll also find Soldier Field located on the grounds, home to the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is located within the former Palace of Fine Arts, one of the few remaining structures left standing after the city’s dazzling 1893 World’s Fair. Filled with interactive exhibits, the museum spans a wide range of themes from transportation to genetics. Among its most notable displays are the Apollo 8 lunar module and a captured German U-boat from WWII.