Best Runs In Chicago
Let’s get our homer bias out of the way now: Chicago is great at everything. The music is world-class, the restaurants are destinations in their own rights, the Bulls and the Bears look like contenders this year, and the system of parks and boulevards are a runner’s paradise.
Below are our picks for the some of the best runs in the city. We reached out to a few local running coaches, as well, to find out where they go running themselves. Most of these runs are in the city proper, though the last two require that you head out into the suburbs. Most of these runs also leave room for you to add on extra distance or just make another circuit, in case you’re training for distance running.
Here are our suggestions for some great runs in Chicago. All the maps are taken from RunningMap.com.
Around Grant Park
3.59 miles, round trip from Michigan & Jackson to Soldier Field, via Shedd Aquarium
An old article in Runner’s World asked some local runners about their favorite spots, and the first one listed was a loop around Grant Park that clocks in at right around four miles, depending on your route. Our version of this run starts at Michigan and Jackson, just below the Art Institute of Chicago. It follows the outline of the park, wraps around the aquarium, traces Burnham Harbor down to Soldier Field and back up again, then reconnects with Michigan Ave. for the home stretch.
Lakefront Trail, north
3.5 miles, one way from Belmont to Ardmore
“It’s hard to beat running on Chicago’s Lakefront! The inspiration is amazing — the panoramic city skyline, the lake, the sunrises and sunsets … and the HILLS. Yes, the HILLS. Never pass a hill along the lakefront in Chicago without running up and down several times at varying speeds. And HAVE FUN!”
— Running coach Bill Leach
Lakefront Trail, south
6.2 miles, round trip from Navy Pier to Northerly Island
“One of my favorite places in Chicago to run is along the lakefront from the Lake Shore Drive overpass near Navy Pier, south to Northerly Island and the Adler Planetarium. This stretch runs parallel to the Chicago’s famous Lakefront Path, but is slightly closer to the water’s edge. Some of the best views of the city can be seen from here and can give you a round trip distance of 10K or 6.2 miles as well as some fresh air when you need a break from car exhaust. This is a route that I frequent at least 2 times per week.”
— Running coach Nick Larsen
North Shore Channel Trail
3.95 miles, one way from Francisco & Lawrence to Skokie
“Starting at Lawrence and Francisco, staying on the east side of the river, it winds it’s way north, and eventually it seems to end around Peterson. There is a stadium there called Thillens Stadium, and if you run around it, and take a left just past it there is a running trail that runs through the woods along the river all the way up into Skokie.
“I love running there because it truly feels like I’ve left the city. I’ve run all the way up into Skokie and back, though if you’re really adventurous and really want to get in some miles you could easily run all the way to Evanston towards the lake.”
— Running coach Blake Williams at City Running Tours Chicago
North Shore Channel Trail — Longer Run
14.5 miles, one way from Francisco & Argyle to the Botanic Gardens
“One of my favorite running paths is the North Shore Channel Trail. Everyone loves Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, but it can get packed, especially this time of year during marathon training season. The paved path starts at Lawrence Ave. and Francisco Ave., but I prefer to start near Argyle and Francisco at River Park.
“There is plenty of parking here and there is also a fantastic track on the other side of the Chicago River; perfect for doing speed work after a run. The path travels for a few miles and picks up with the Skokie Trail, which then connects to the Green Bay Trail. You could run this all the way up to the Botanical Gardens. It is perfect for a long run or bike ride.
“The North Shore Channel Trail is lined with trees, which helps tame some of Chicago’s gusty winds, and they create a perfect shade for hot summer days. Along the trail you will find parks, plenty of water fountains, and a large public pool you can dip in upon your return.”
— Running coach Sarah Dudek
1 mile per circuit
Just south of the Francisco and Rockwell Brown Line stops is Horner Park, which has a smooth path that goes around the whole park in a shape that looks like a bowling pin. Each lap is almost exactly one mile, and the eastern side of the park gives you glimpses of the river’s North Branch.
2.8 miles, round trip from the 59th Street Metra stop
Hyde Park and the University of Chicago offer some of the best running spots in the entire city, so it’s hard to settle on just one route. We went with a smaller one that takes you around the Museum of Science and Industry, along the lakeshore, by the driving range, then back up through Wooded Island. If you want to extend this run, either follow the lakeshore trail, or cross the railroad tracks and head west toward the university.
8.4 miles, round trip from the north entrance
Morton Arboretum in Lisle offers a leafy, tranquil route. Only the paved roads are available for runners, but there are more than enough. The eastern loop through the arboretum is about 5 miles, and the western loop is 3. We combined them into a single run that makes something like a figure 8 through the park.
Cook County Forest Preserve
5.7 miles, round trip starting at Wolf Road Woods
This route is based largely upon suggestions from iRunFar.com’s Ryan Lindemulder, who plotted out a 6.3-mile run along the Orange West Trail Loop. Note that this was his easy run, and the whole area around the forest preserve offers tons of more adventurous trails for running.
To get down to the forest preserve from the city, Lindemulder recommends taking the Stevenson Expressway south to Exit 279 A. With no traffic (ha!), this would be about a half-hour drive. There is also a Heritage Corridor Metra train that stops nearby at Willow Springs.
lead image by:
Chris Smith / Flickr