9 Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors in Chicago

After being stuck inside all winter (and, let’s face it, most of spring), are you ready to enjoy the great outdoors? We know we are! Whether you are a self-proclaimed survivalist looking for a backwoods adventure or a city slicker wanting to reconnect with nature, here are nine ways to take advantage of the summer weather in Chicago and get your outdoor fix while you still can!

1. Kayak the Chicago Waterways

Kayaking may seem intimidating at first, but if you can row a boat, then you can paddle a kayak. The city and suburbs offer a variety of locations and options, depending on whether you’re looking for a full day on the water or just an hour or two to unwind. Kayaking down the Chicago River should be on everyone’s summer bucket list—you can spend time in the fresh air and get a totally different view of the stunning Chicago skyline. Kayak Chicago offers a variety of tours and rental options as well. The North Shore has some scenic kayaking locations, too. Kayak the lagoons in Winnetka and Lake Michigan in Wilmette. Kayak Chicago, 1220 W. Le Moyne St., Chicago, 312-852-9258, pricing varies; Winnetka Lagoons Rentals, Tower Road, west of Forest Way, 847-414-5883, $15/hour; Northwest Passage Lessons, 101 Lake Ave., Wilmette, 847-256-4409, $79 for three-hour class

2. Lincoln Park Conservatory

If you’ve been to Lincoln Park Zoo, then you’ve probably seen the conservatory while walking by the rhinoceroses. Once inside this Victorian Era greenhouse, it’s easy to forget where you are. Four display houses hold everything from exotic orchids to towering palms. 2391 N. Stockton Drive, Chicago, free

3. Sailing Charter

Photo courtesy of Chicago Sailboat Charters.
Photo courtesy of Chicago Sailboat Charters.

We are lucky enough to live on a Great Lake, so why not take advantage of it? Taking a sailing charter is a fun way to get out on the water and relax while enjoying the amazing Chicago skyline. While sailing excursions are great for groups, might we suggest a romantic summer date night? 400 W. Belmont Harbor Drive, Chicago, 773-236-7245, pricing varies

4. Outdoor Fitness Classes

Keep up that beach bod you worked so hard for with an outdoor workout. There are a variety of outdoor fitness classes around the city and the North Shore, from yoga on the beach to free classes at Millennium Park.  No matter your workout style or preferences, there is sure to be an outdoor class to fit your needs. Sun & Moon Beach Yoga, 773-669-6422, $15 for single class; Millennium Park, Great Lawn, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago, free

5. Outdoor Shows

Photo courtesy of Ravinia.
Photo courtesy of Ravinia.

What do Ravinia, Wilmette’s Wallace Bowl and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion all have in common? They’re outdoor entertainment at its finest. Getting outside doesn’t always have to mean doing something active. Whether you’re with friends, family or a date, any of these outdoor theaters are perfect spots to enjoy the summer weather and take in a show. Another fun option is “Movies in the Parks” through the Chicago Park District. Throughout the summer, more than 240 movies of different genres will be shown in parks across the city. Why stay in and watch a movie on the couch when you can catch a flick under the stars? Ravinia, 200 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park, pricing varies; Wallace Bowl, 800 Gilson Park Drive, Wilmette, free; Pritzker Pavilion, 201 East Randolph St., Chicago, pricing varies

6. Forest Preserve Trails

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Gardens.
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Chicago isn’t just another concrete jungle. The city and surrounding areas have more than 68,000 acres of forest preserves. Many have picnic areas and camping options, and several have picturesque trails for biking. The North Branch Trail winds through the forest along the Skokie Lagoons. This 13-mile trail is connected to the Chicago Botanic Garden at one point, offering you the best of two outdoor worlds: natural wilderness combined with a beautiful manicured garden. Horseback riding is also available on the trails. Check out Forest Preserves of Cook County for more information and activity ideas. Blue Star Memorial Woods, 699 E. Lake Ave., Glenview, free

7. Beach Volleyball

We may not be on one of the coasts, but we’ve got some pretty spectacular beaches here in Chicago and the North Shore. There are so many different activities to take part in besides swimming and lounging in the sand. Beach volleyball is a fun and active way to get a little competitive with friends and family while soaking up some rays. A lot of beaches have nets where you can start a pickup game, or you can join one of the many leagues and tournaments across the city. Volleywood Beach Bash at North Avenue Beach is a great way to get involved. North Avenue Beach Volleyball Courts, Chicago

8. The Northwest Passage

Need a little inspiration for an outdoorsy adventure? Let The Northwest Passage be your guide. Based in Wilmette, The Northwest Passage organizes a variety of expert-guided excursions to places around Chicagoland, the Midwest and the world. Their trips can be anything from a kayaking excursion to a yoga-based getaway. Not only do they have fantastic trips, but they also offer kayaking and stand-up paddle classes and professional training for taking on the outdoors. 1130 Greenleaf Ave., Wilmette, 847-256-4409, pricing varies

9. Drivable Destinations

Photo courtesy of Lake Geneva Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Photo courtesy of Lake Geneva Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Sometimes, in the end, the only way to really feel like you’ve gotten your fix of the outdoors is to get out of town. Fortunately, there are some prime options that are within a couple of hours of the city. The Indiana Dunes State Park and Campgrounds is only an hour outside of Chicago, but feels like a whole new world. Rustic accommodations like camping and cabins and are perfect for a weekend getaway. Other nearby destinations are Twin LakesLake GenevaNew Buffalo and other quaint towns in Michigan’s Harbor Country.

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