Chicago Lakefront Path: 36 Miles of Stunning Lake and Skyline Views
I have always wanted to spend the day riding along Chicago’s magnificent 18 mile long Lakefront Path. Despite living in the city for years, I never managed the opportunity. Most of my visits have taken place during the snowy winter months. There are plenty of fantastic things to do in Chicago; a ride along the Lakefront Path enables you to visit all these great attractions in a single day!
Mike and I decided to finally plan a fall visit to the area, primarily to finally bike the trail. We have walked portions of it in the past, but never got to truly experience the entire length. In my opinion, September is the perfect time to take a cruise along Lake Michigan.
The weather is not too hot, nor too cold. It is also not overly crowded with tourists, as typically is the case during the summer months. Too much foot and bike traffic can make it hard to enjoy the ride. The path is pretty narrow; I can see the crowds being a problem.
You have the option of bringing with your own bike or renting one for the day. Bike rentals are very affordable: only $16 for the entire day. Find out more information on rental locations at Divvy Bikes.
Where to begin your ride
We parked in a garage around Millennium Park, which is around the halfway point (8.5 miles) of the path. We decided to park here as there was a restaurant we wanted to try in the area. Read my review of Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe – a great pre-cycling breakfast choice!
This is a great starting location because there are a lot of restaurants and attractions in this area. You can easily find restaurants on Randolph Street or N. Michigan Ave. Another benefit is the convenient location; just a short walk from the Magnificent Mile, home to some of the best shopping and restaurants in Chicago.
Check the weather forecast!
We left around 6:30am to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and desolate path. Unfortunately, halfway through the path, the weather became incredibly windy! The return route was much rougher than the first 18 miles. Make sure to check the weather forecast. The path is normally pretty flat and fast, as long as you do not go out on a windy day. The beginning of the ride was incredibly smooth and easy. We barely had to pedal. The way back was a different story!
Despite the strenuous ride through the wind, we still enjoyed the magnificent views of Lake Michigan and the skyline. This clean, well maintained path is your best opportunity to take in all the city has to offer.
Check out these cool tree sculptures we spotted near the southern end of the path
On the path, you will find cyclists, runners, skaters, and walkers. I prefer to bike as it enables you to see more of the city in a shorter period of time. Taking a guided segway tour is another option to look into. I have heard that these tours are worth every penny. Check out Bike and Roll Chicago for information on upcoming tours and prices.
Along the Chicago Lakefront Path, you will pass many of The Windy City’s top attractions, including: top rated museums, Soldier Field, Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, and more!
Top 10 attractions along the Chicago Lakefront Path
There’s lots to see and do along the way. Take a lot of breaks and enjoy some of the city’s many attractions! Riding your bike is a great way to bypass the hassle of driving to each attraction separately!
The Field Museum
In my opinion, The Field Museum is the must-see museum in Chicago’s famous Museum Campus; the name for the 3 well renowned museums located near the lake. If I only had time for one museum, I would definitely pick the Field. The Field Museum featuring “Sue,” the most complete dinosaur fossil, is highly regarded as one of the best museums in the world.
In fact, CNN Travel recently rated it number 2 among their list of the top 10 dinosaur museums. I haven’t visited in a few years, however, the Ancient Egypt mummy exhibit is also outstanding. There is also a really cool dinosaur sculpture outside, which makes for an excellent photo opportunity. The Field Museum would be an ideal spot for a relaxing break after miles of exercise.
The Shedd Aquarium
Another highlight along the path is The Shedd Aquarium. Like The Field Museum, the Shedd is also located in Chicago’s Museum Campus. Frequently regarded as one of the best aquariums in the country, The Shedd also is one of the most popular, perhaps due to its’ ideal location, excellent exhibits, and spectacular shows. I have been to several other aquariums and they do not even come close in terms of exhibits. I particularly like the sea horse; such a unique looking fish. Also, be sure to explore the Wild Reef exhibit, which features a variety of sharks.
The 3rd member of the Museum Campus is the Adler Planetarium, which features excellent space exhibits and amazing shows in its’ dome theaters (The Grainger Sky Theater is the most technologically advanced in the world!).
Exhibits aside, the real highlight of the planetarium is the amazing location. The panoramic views of the Chicago skyline can’t be matched. Even if you are not planning a trip to the planetarium itself, make sure to stop by for some amazing skyline photos.
You will pass right by Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears, on your journey along the Lakefront Path. Soldier Field is also located on Chicago’s Museum Campus. Visit the Chicago Bears website for information on purchasing tickets to a game. I have never been to an NFL game, however, it is definitely on my bucket list! I have heard many people say it is better to stay home and watch the game, but I still want to experience watching a game outdoors on a crisp Chicago fall day!
Grant Park is a large public park in Chicago that is home to many festivals and events, especially during the summer months. Inside Grant Park, you will find the Museum Campus (The Field, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium), Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Buckingham Fountain. Many popular annual events such as The Taste of Chicago and the Chicago Marathon are held here.
This beautiful fountain, which stands as one of the largest in the world, is an absolute must-see during your ride. Located conveniently just across the street around the mid-point of the path, the fountain is easily accessible and worth the small break. Be sure to come back at night for the amazing music and light show!
The most notable feature of this section of Grant Park is the amazing Cloud Gate Sculpture. Plenty of unique photo opportunities ()taking pics of your own reflection) are available by “the bean.” In the summer and fall months, you can take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the sculptures, gardens, and Crown Fountain. During the winter months, make sure to plan an ice skating date at the McCormick Tribune Ice rink!
Oak Street & North Avenue Beach
You will pass by 2 large beaches on the route. I have only visited Oak Street. Both beaches feature fabulous views of the city. Oak Street offers big waves, clean sand, volleyball nets, and even a few palm trees! Where else can you find palm trees in Chicago?! This popular Gold coast beach is the hip spot for taking a break on a warm summer’s afternoon.
Navy Pier, located along scenic Lake Michigan, really stands out when riding along the path. Great pictures can be taken at several different points. Stop by one of the many restaurants for a food break or partake in fun attractions such as a Ferris Wheel and miniature golf. The Ferris wheel is an affordable way to take in spectacular views of the city and lake. I highly recommend the ride as a budget friendly photo opportunity!
Lincoln Park Zoo
Don’t miss out on your chance to visit one of the 3 remaining free zoos in the US. While not as grand as Brookfield (located in the Chicago suburbs), LPZ still offers an amazing setting with fantastic skyline views. This zoo is easily accessible from the path, making it the perfect place to take a North End break after completing over 20 miles! Great place to relax before embarking on the long trek back. If visiting during the winter months, be sure to check out Zoo Lights, a free event where the zoo is lit up in over a million lights. You will also get to see ice carving demonstrations and a neat choreographed music and lights show.
Worthwhile Path Detours
In addition to these top attractions, there are several other detours to make along the way. Some of these will require a bit more riding to get to, but will be worth the extra time. The John Hancock Observatory and Willis Tower both feature overlooks which provide outstanding views of the city. The Signature Room on the 95th (located in the John Hancock) offers fine dining with floor-ceiling window views.
The famous Mag Mile
Make sure to plan a walk down the famous Magnificent Mile, an upscale shopping district which runs for a mile along N. Michigan Avenue. You will find many famous Chicago landmarks such as the Tribune Tower, the John Hancock building, and the Drake Hotel. Water Tower Place and 900 N. Michigan Ave. are both fantastic shopping malls located along the Mag Mile. There are plenty of great restaurants and specialty shops here including: Rosebud on Rush, Giordano’s, Mike Ditka’s, Hershey’s, and Godiva.
How long will it take to ride the entire length?
We completed the entire path in about 5 hours. We took plenty of breaks and stopped for dozens of pictures. If you plan on stopping at restaurants and taking a break shopping along the Mag Mile, then you should definitely expect a full day out. Make sure to give yourself enough time, especially during the fall and winter months. I recommend starting your ride as early as possible to fully take advantage of everything the path has to offer without rushing.
Why you should add the Chicago Lakefront Path to your itinerary
I definitely recommend a ride along the Chicago Lakefront Path during your trip to the city. Whether you are a tourist or local, you are bound to see the city in a new light. There are so many attractions and photo opportunities along the way that would be difficult to cover all in a single day. You can conveniently access them all in a single day along this beautiful trail.
This is one of the nicest bike paths I have ever experienced, and I have completed over 20. It definitely ranks in the top amongst every factor: scenery, ease of trail, and things to do and see along the way. The Chicago Lakefront Path is one of the nicest city attractions you will ever find. What better way to spend the day: exercising and having fun at the same time?!
Not only will you leave with spectacular photos and memories, you will leave will a feeling of accomplishment after completing the 36 mile workout! Definitely not a small feat! I know my hamstrings and quads got a fab workout! Luckily, the fabulous views will keep you going! Every turn will have you looking for the next fantastic photo opportunity.
Tips for a great ride along the Lakefront Path
*Wear a camelbak (water backpack). It’s a long ride! Having water on hand is more convenient, not to mention affordable than stopping several times to purchase water. I didn’t notice many drinking fountains along the path. It’s always better to have you own bottle conveniently available; after-all, you want to be hydrated for any long bout of exercise.
*Check the weather forecast and plan your visit on a non-windy day. Riding a bike in the wind adds unnecessary resistance and stress and makes an easy, enjoyable workout that much harder.
*Bring with a few snacks. During the fall, there aren’t as many food stands open. There will be plenty of restaurant options along Navy Pier. I recommend eating breakfast beforehand, putting a few small snacks like granola bars or trail mix in your bag, and stopping to eat when you are finished with the ride.
*Bring with your camera. There are dozens of amazing photo opportunities along the way, especially of the skyline and lakefront. This is one bike path where you can’t afford to leave your camera at home. Bring with a small camera or phone which you can easily fit into a pocket or backpack.
Starting Address: 5800 North
Ending Address: E. 71st Street
Address & Additional Info
The Field Museum: 1400 S. Lakeshore Drive Chicago, IL 60605
The Field Museum Website
The Shedd Aquarium: 1200 S. Lakeshore Drive Chicago, IL 60605
The Shedd Aquarium Website
Adler Planetarium: 1300 S. Lakeshore Drive Chicago, IL 60605
Adler Planetarium Website
Soldier Field: 1410 Museum Campus Drive Chicago, IL 60605
Soldier Field Website
Grant Park: 337 E. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60602
Grant Park Website
Buckingham Fountain: 301 South Columbus Dr. Chicago, IL 60605
Buckingham Fountain Website
Millennium Park: 201 E. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60602
Millennium Park Website
Oak Street Beach: 1000 N. Lakeshore Dr. Chicago, IL 60611
Oak Street Beach Website
North Avenue Beach: W Lasalle Dr. Chicago, IL 60614
North Avenue Beach Website
Navy Pier: 600 E. Grand Ave. Chicago, IL 60611
Navy Pier Website
Lincoln Park Zoo: 2001 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60614
Lincoln Park Zoo Website
John Hancock Observatory: 875 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60611
John Hancock Website
Willis Tower: 233 S. Wacker Dr. Chicago, IL 60606
Willis Tower Website