Contrary to what doomsday fearmongers might have you believe, Illinois’s shelter-in-place ordinance doesn’t mean you have to literally stay locked up inside your apartment or house, anxiously obsessing over the news. On the contrary, health professionals recommend getting outside for some fresh air and exercise, since it's proven to be a huge boost for both mental and physical wellness. And as long as you’re maintaining a minimum six-foot distance from others while you’re outside, you’re fully allowed and encouraged to embrace nature, of which there is plenty in and around Chicago. From the 606 to a national park in the city’s backyard, here are some of the best outlets for outdoor recreation during the pandemic.
Lakefront Trail / Photo by Bradley Kirouac
It's hard to believe, but 11 miles northwest of downtown Chicago lies a forest preserve so lush and rural that city noise is replaced by the scampering of deer. Filled with streams and hiking trails, Labagh is a welcome escape, with a surprisingly expansive trail system.
For 18 miles, this continuous path runs alongside Chicago's star attraction: Lake Michigan. Walkers, joggers, and cyclists frequent this popular route (though nowadays it's a lot less crowded than usual), as it weaves through various parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
Photo by Adam Alexander/Courtesy of the 606
One of the most popular outdoor destinations in Chicago, this elevated park spans 2.7 miles of former railroad tracks, from Bucktown through Humboldt Park, featuring meticulously landscaped green spaces and public art. Cyclists, joggers, walkers, and in-line skaters all share the pavement.
Two hundred seven acres of green space anchor the neighborhood by the same name on the West Side of Chicago, where locals walk their dogs, play tennis, swim, fish in the pond, and watch their kids play baseball and soccer.
Northerly Island / Photo by Matt Kirouac
Although the skyline glimmers in the background, you'll feel worlds away strolling along this 91-acre peninsula in Lake Michigan. Anchored by a massive loop path, the landscaped "island" feels immersed in nature. There's also a tranquil beach and annual summer festivals (which will hopefully not get canceled).
Picnic views don't come any finer than those at this Hyde Park peninsula. With a sweeping cityscape to the north, Promontory Point is a prime locale for swimming and boating. The meadowlike park is a great spot to watch summer fireworks, too—fingers crossed.
Photo by Christine Livingston/Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism
Indiana Dunes National Park
Not a lot of Chicagoans realize this, but there's a national park less than an hour away. For 15 sandy miles along Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes provides unique hiking, swimming, and bird-watching opportunities so close to Chicago you can see the skyline. Camping and boating are also popular, while trails weave from beaches through marshes and forests. As an added bonus, the National Park Service has waived entrance fees for all its parks during the pandemic, as a way to encourage safe social distancing in nature.