Ultimate 2022 Guide to Getting Outdoors in Chicago and the North Shore

When summer finally arrives Chicago, it’s impossible to stay inside. We’re drawn from our cold-weather bunkers likes moths to a flame, desperate to soak up every last drop of vitamin D (slathered with plenty of sunscreen, of course), before we turn into pumpkins and it’s nine more months of winter. (We know — winter isn’t really nine months long but if you’re a lifelong Midwesterner, you likely know the feeling.) Now that summer is really, truly, gloriously here, we want to help you make the most of every last sun-filled moment. From ways to get active outdoors and the best spots eat and drink al fresco to expert tips for turning your home’s outdoor spaces into your summertime sanctuary, here’s your guide to getting outdoors in Chicago and on the North Shore.

Take a Hike — 8 Places to Hike Around Chicago, the North Shore and Beyond

starved rock
Photo courtesy of ©Adam Alexander Photography

Summer’s blue skies and sunshine past 7 p.m. allow us ample time to take in the natural beauty of the Midwest. There’s so much to explore, from lakeside walks and dog-friendly beaches to waterfalls and state parks. So, why not plan an afternoon or weekend getaway at some of the best hiking spots around Chicago? From The 606 and Montrose Harbor Trail in the city to Starved Rock and Devils Lake further afield, read about eight of our favorite hiking spots.

Transform Your Outdoor Living Space — How to Make It a Place You’ll Enjoy (Almost) All Year Long

Even in a place like Chicagoland where nearly half of the year is inclement, owners of upscale homes are investing in exterior living spaces that rival those indoors, with distinct and decked-out areas for living, dining, cooking, and leisure. “People are inundated with digital everything, so they want their homes to be very restful and an oasis away from their busy lives,” explains landscape architect Robert Milani of Chalet Landscape & Garden in Wilmette.

The shift began about 10 years ago when people began demanding outdoor kitchens and dining areas, says Carrie Woleben-Meade, the director of design at Mariani Landscape. Now those amenities have become “assumed,” she says, with people incorporating pizza ovens, pergolas with deluxe sound systems, and games galore (think foosball, ping-pong, and air hockey). “Parents want their teenagers there, so they can keep an ear open and know what’s going on,” Woleben-Meade says. “The backyard is not just green and pretty anymore.” Read on for five ways to transform your space.

Hop on Your Bike — Training Tips Plus Three Charity Rides to Try

Chicago Biking Lakefront

Not just an earth-friendly way to get from point A to B, biking is a great way to get some fresh air, take in the views and burn some calories while you’re at it. We talked to Tyler Spraul, a C.S.C.S.-certified head trainer at Exercise.com, and got his tips for conditioning yourself for the road and torching more calories once you hit the trails.

And, because giving back can make pedaling even more rewarding, we’ve also included three upcoming charity rides to try.

Head to a Festival or Concert

Jazzin at Shedd
Courtesy of Shedd Aquarium

From Ravinia Food Truck Thursdays and Highwood’s Evening Gourmet Market to Jazzin’ at the Shedd and the Chicago Blues Festival, there are countless ways to get outdoors and enjoy two of the things Chicago does best — food and music. Check out 30 of the best things to do this month, and sign up for the Better Letter to receive a new list in your inbox for every month of the year.

Fire Up the Grill — Ultimate Grilling Guide: Tips for a Better BBQ Season

After a very long winter, there’s no better way to celebrate summer in Chicago than lighting up the grill. We’ve rounded up some of our most sizzlin’ BBQ recipes, grilling tips, and best local spots for incredible barbecue to help you have the best grilling season yet.

Dine Outside With Your Dog at One of These Dog-Friendly Restaurants

9 Dog-Friendly Restaurants in Chicago: Murphy's Bleachers

Has your dog ever given you that look when you went to leave the house? A look that says, “Hey, can I come, too?” Now — with our wide-range of dog-friendly eateries around Chicago and the North Shore — you don’t have to decide between quality time with your furry friend and time out exploring the city and suburbs. So grab the leash, order a cocktail and soak up some long-awaited sunshine and one of these 16 dog-friendly spots.

Train for a Race of Any Distance With This Foolproof Running Method

Running is one of the most basic and effective forms of cardio out there — it’s inexpensive and accessible to everyone, can improve both your physical AND mental health, and — here’s the big one — it’s been proven to be better than any other exercise at making you live longer. But, running can be tough on your body and most hardcore runners have sustained more than a few injuries along the way. 

Here’s the good news: Running doesn’t have to hurt, and training for a marathon doesn’t have to land you in physical therapy. Olympian and official runDisney training consultant Jeff Galloway pioneered a groundbreaking training method that has made distance running accessible to nearly everyone. Galloway’s “Run-Walk-Run” method helps runners run further, finish faster, and avoid injuries. 

Whether you’re training for a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon, there’s a Run-Walk-Run training program that will work for you. Here’s how to get started.  

Plant More Pollinators

Garden landscaping: Salvia “Indigo Spires”

Imagine an all-you-can-eat buffet that offers only meat. No veggies. No fruit. Not even water. Would you go? Probably not. This is how pollinators see your landscape, particularly if it appeals to only one type of pollinator. Whether your yard is a work in progress or you have an established landscape, a few simple plant additions will have you laying out the welcome mat to a plethora of beneficial backyard creatures. You’ll also be giving Mother Earth a great big hug.

Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, recommends homeowners consider what creatures they want to attract. Butterflies and bees aren’t the only pollinators. Birds, including bats and hummingbirds, and all sorts of insects play a role in the backyard ecosystem. Once you’ve identified what it is that you want, pick plants that will satisfy that creature’s palate.

Well-chosen plants create a food chain that draws butterflies that will feed and lay their eggs, insects that will attract birds and bats, and bees that will produce gallons of honey. Read on to learn how to pick the perfect plants.

Hit the Links at Chicago and Wisconsin’s Best Public Golf Courses

Cantigny Golf Club
Cantigny Golf Club

Chicago, nicknamed “The Second City,” is the undisputed number one metropolitan golf mecca of the Midwest. It began in 1892 with the nation’s first 18-hole course, Chicago Golf Club, and continues 130 years later as over 200 courses grace the Chicagoland area. Over two-thirds of those layouts are public, giving players a bevy of brilliant options no matter what part of Chicago you call home. Here are 13 of the best public golf courses in Chicago and Wisconsin.

Make Your Landscape More Sustainable

5 Steps for Sustainable Landscaping

“Environmentally sustainable” is a tag slapped on just about anything these days in an effort to make it more appealing to a growing demographic of eco-conscious consumers. However, to be truly sustainable implies that certain practices can be continued indefinitely without damaging the environment. The American Society of Landscape Architects defines a sustainable landscape as one that “…sequesters carbon, cleans the air and water and restores habitats.”

So what can you do to make your outdoor spaces more environmentally friendly? A lot. Follow these five simple practices and pass them on to neighbors. A cumulative effort makes an even bigger impact. 

Plan an Active Family Getaway

Hyatt, Indian Wells

Summertime in Chicagoland is the best time to be in town, but part of what makes every blissfully warm day here so sweet is knowing those days are numbered. Take the edge of the unavoidable cold this winter by planning the perfect active getaway somewhere warm this winter. From South Carolina to Alaska and Hawaii and everywhere in between, these resorts and adventures cater to active, multigenerational families, offering something for everyone. And, if you’re eyeing a summer Midwestern road trip, there are some great close-to-home resorts on this list too!

Creat the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen

Welcome to the most popular summer gathering space: the outdoor kitchen. After all, why settle for a stand-alone grill and paper plates when you could have an entire kitchen in your backyard — refrigerator, oven, sink, countertop and cabinets included? We asked area experts for their top tips on creating the perfect outdoor kitchen. Here’s how to make yours happen in five easy steps.

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