Top 10 Best Things for Nature Lovers to Do in the City of Chicago

Written by: Kimberly Anne

 Michigan Avenue, mobsters, and more – There are many things for which Chicago is famous. However, the natural world is not considered one of them. Maybe I can change your mind! Some people may be unaware of the abundance of natural areas that are accessible within the city.  

Maybe some aren’t keen on the fact that there are more than 500 parks within the city limits alone. But the next time you are driving down the Kennedy Expressway in a fit of monstrous fury and about to flip off some jerk in a Jeep; try channeling that energy and finding inner peace at one of these 10 sites for a wilderness escape instead! 

Trust me, I know how terrible road rage can be in the city. Luckily, there are so many beautiful places that we can go and see to experience a nice and quiet moment away from the dreaded rush hour traffic. Here’s a list of the Top 10 Best Nature Spots in Chicago. 

  1. Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary 
  2. The 606 
  3. The Emerald Necklace
  4. Lincoln Park 
  5. The Garfield Park Conservatory 
  6. Maggie Daley Park 
  7. The Garden of the Phoenix
  8. North Park Village Nature Center 
  9. Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park
  10. Humboldt Park  

1. Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary 

The first on the list is my favorite because this was my go-to as a teen! The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary serves as a stopover for several hundred different species of birds!

You will have the opportunity to see these birds as they travel through the area throughout the year. This majestic sanctuary home to wildlife, birds, and butterflies is a spot that you won’t want to miss. 

This portion of Montrose Beach is known for its laid-back atmosphere. Montrose Bird Sanctuary is home to a dune habitat as well. This is one of the best sites in the city for trail trekking. 

Therefore, you will also experience breathtaking views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan. And in addition to that, there’s a really great beach bar nearby. 

2. The 606 

What is The 606? The 606 is an old train track turned nature trail. The path, once forgotten – then nature took over. In the space between the train tracks, new vegetation and flowers sprouted, and animals settled back into their former homes. The narrative of the 606 picks up shortly after the devastating Great Chicago Fire.

As a part of its efforts to restore the city, the Chicago City Council authorized the Chicago & Pacific Railroad to lay tracks down the center of Bloomingdale Avenue (1800 North) on Chicago’s Northwest side. 

Almost a century ago, a railroad line offered service to a small manufacturing sector on the northwest side of the city. Trains passed overhead until the 1980s when activity dropped to a trickle. After that, they stopped.

By the middle of the 1990s, the rerouting of the few trains that still used the corridor and the entire cessation of freight operations had both taken place.

Above, the ancient rail line was recovered by nature, while below, the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square predominantly turned to residential use.

It was only a question of time before the neighboring communities found out about the location once more.

And in the early 2000s, people went up there informally and constructed an impromptu nature walk. They found a natural habitat with unrivaled views of the city.

3. The Emerald Necklace (Yes, the Boulevards!) 

It is quite well known that Chicago is home to epic parks including Grant Park and Millennium Park. Chicago is also home to an unprecedented network of eight parks. The Emerland Necklace area in Chicago is connected by a 26-mile boulevard system. 

Between the years 1869 and 1890, the city’s park system—also known as the Emerald Necklace—was built. The Emerald Necklace in Chicago continues to be regarded as a pioneering example of urban park architecture in the United States.

Large parks and green boulevards that presented naturalistic and formal landscapes provided residents with a place to get away from the rough edges of the city without actually leaving it. 

This allowed residents to find solace in the urban environment without having to leave the city. Within the boulevards, you will find plenty of streets and parks lined with trees. 

Starting at Logan Square, head south through a number of the city’s most beautiful parks, including Washington, Humboldt, Douglas, Garfield, and Jackson Parks.

After that, you should slap anyone who says Chicago isn’t a lovely city. It’s just not true.

4. Lincoln Park 

Let’s just start by featuring what kind of nature-y things you will find in, near, and around Lincoln Park in Chicago. By the way, these are all free of charge. 

  • The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo 
  • Alfred Lily Caldwell Pool 
  • Lincoln Park Conservatory (Right next to the zoo!) 
  • Lincoln Park Zoo (Yes – it’s really free to get in still) 
  • Oz Park (Oz yes, like The Wizard of Oz!) 
  • Northpond Natural Area 
  • Lincoln Park (the ACTUAL park) 

The world-famous Lincoln Park Zoo is located in Lincoln Park, which is also home to the renowned Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Chicago History Museum, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. 

Don’t forget the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond, the North Pond Nature Sanctuary, and North Avenue Beach. Of course, there are also the important statues of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton. 

My favorite has to be Oz Park though. It’s really great for kids! In the 1890s, the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Lyman Frank Baum, who penned stories for children, resided in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.

An annual Oz Festival was held at the park for the purpose of commemorating the former occupant of the park as well as paying homage to the groundbreaking book, film, and author who created The Wizard of Oz. Why are you still reading? Go and see the statues at Oz Park! 

5. The Garfield Park Conservatory 

The Garfield Park Conservatory is widely considered to be among the nation’s finest and most impressive examples of its kind.  I’m not an expert, but my guesstimate is that the Garfield Park Conservatory is around 30,000 plus square feet.

The amazing edifice known as the conservatory is often referred to as “landscape art under glass.” This one-of-a-kind massive indoor greenhouse is a place that houses hundreds of different plant species. 

There are eight rooms and the interior area is almost two acres in size. The conservatory may be explored in around one to two hours at a leisurely pace.

6. Maggie Daley Park 

The Chicago Park District is in charge of maintaining the 20 acres of land that makeup Maggie Daley Park. The Maggie Daley park is located in the Loop neighborhood of Chicago.

Scott Fishman Photography

It sits in the northeastern part of Grant Park, close to the water’s edge of Lake Michigan. Previously, however, it was once known as Daley Bicentennial Plaza.

This park is home to so many gardens, playgrounds, and epic spots that you will most likely not be able to see them all in one day! Here’s a list of what is there: 

The long-serving first lady of Chicago, Maggie Daley was passionate about enhancing children’s lives. She was working to give the entire population of the city access to vibrant cultural life.

Gallery 37, a summer arts program for teenagers, was co-founded by Maggie Daley.

Likewise, After School Matters was founded. This is a nonprofit offering Chicago kids cutting-edge programs. Subjects include the humanities, communications, sciences, sports, and technology.

It is currently the biggest after-school program of its sort for teenagers in the country. So, it kind of makes sense that Maggie Daley Park is so incredibly massive (it matches her heart!). 

7. The Garden of the Phoenix 

On March 31, 1893, the United States of America and Japan collaborated to establish the Garden of the Phoenix as a symbol of their friendship. The garden also is symbolic of a permanent venue where tourists might learn about and experience the culture of Japan.

The area has endured the ups and downs of the relationship over the past 120 years, and it is today considered one of the most prominent spots in America that serve as a symbol of the relationship between the United States and Japan.

One of the most significant and intricate historic landscapes in Chicago and the whole of the country is Jackson Park which is home to The Garden of the Phoenix. This is also the location of the 1893 World’s Fair. 

One of the most beautiful features of the garden is when the cherry trees are in full bloom in the spring.

These trees have also been planted outside the garden, and during the latter half of April or the first week of May, you can typically see them in full bloom. They are close to the Columbia Basin in Jackson Park.

The traditional Japanese practice of appreciating the aesthetic value of flowers is known as hanami.

During the springtime, the blossoming trees in Jackson Park reach their peak blooming phase, which typically lasts between six and ten days.

Visit the park at this time of year to have your very own hanami experience; the timing couldn’t be better.

8. North Park Village Nature Center 

The 155-acre North Park Village location, which is located on the northwest side of Chicago, is where the Nature Center and the 46-acre nature preserve are situated.

Pathways can be found throughout and they can take you through savannas, prairies, wetlands, and forests. There is a discovery room, an interactive exhibit area, and a table with natural objects within the North Park Village Nature Center. 

These are the highlights of the Nature Center. In addition to the Nature Center and the preserve, guests have the opportunity to explore Walking Stick Woods, a wooded area that spans 12 acres and features Nature Play-themed pathways and nodes. 

9. Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park

A fishing pond, interpretive wetlands, preserved quarry walls, pathways, an athletic field, a running track, and a hill that gives dramatic views may all be found in this dynamic park. Palmisano Park was previously a quarry called Stearns Quarry. It is located on the southwest side of Chicago, in the middle of the Bridgeport neighborhood.

It has been everything from coral reefs to a quarry to a landfill to a park over the course of its history, therefore its story is one of progression.

It should not come as a surprise that each incarnation had a significant part in the creation of the next.

The park is traversed by over 1.7 miles of routes, some of which are recycled lumber boardwalks, others are concrete walks, yet others are crushed stone running paths, and still, others are metal grating walkways.

Along the quarry wall, down to the pond, and through the terracing wetlands, these pathways provide access to a variety of different environments and activities.

In addition to the breathtaking views of the city that can be seen from the mound, the scenic overlooks provide dramatic views of the pond and the marshes.

10. Humboldt Park 

The 197-acre park has a lot to offer tourists, even if swimming isn’t their thing. There are playgrounds, natural areas, walking and biking routes, and community gardens. There is even “Little Cubs Field,” a miniature recreation of Wrigley Field.

If you want to spend the day at the water’s edge, you don’t have to restrict yourself to the lakefront of Chicago. Instead, you can go to the lagoon in Humboldt Park, which has its very own inland beach.

During the warmer months, the grassy areas surrounding this well-known neighborhood park are filled with people having picnics, using grills, and purchasing food from vendors.

The Puerto Rican Festival and the Latin Jazz Festival of Chicago are two more annual events that take place in Humboldt Park.

And if you’re lucky you just might see a crocodile in the lagoon. Just kidding. But that was a thing once. But please, don’t put your pet croc in the lagoon. It gets way cold here in the winter! 

Have you been to any of these amazing nature spots in Chicago? If so, let me know in the comments below!

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