Among its many accolades, Chicago is frequently cited as one of the best running cities in America. And after running on any part of the eighteen-mile stretch of paths that make up the Lakefront Trail, it’s pretty easy to see why. Whether you’ve been hitting the trail for decades or this is your first summer, here’s a quick north-to-south guide to getting the most out of a summer run on Chicago’s iconic Lakefront Trail.
Montrose Harbor: Just south of Montrose Harbor, there’s a path on the east side of the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course that may not be part of the official Lakefront Trail, but its partly shaded and mostly isolated tour of the lakefront makes it worth exploring. A small number of fishermen and sunbathers provide the majority of the company, and you may find the occasional golf ball at your feet. This gravel path also takes you to the end of Belmont Harbor. (This trail is currently blocked with a chain-link fence due to extensive damage/erosion, however you can still traverse the damaged area if you’re interested in obstacle-course running).
North Avenue Beach: If you’re looking to practice for a potentially crowded race (such as the sold-out Bank of America Chicago Marathon), head to the sandy stretches of North Avenue Beach between Fullerton and North. On pretty much any sunny summer day, and especially during big events like the Air & Water Show in August, this section of the trail is packed with picnickers, partiers, volleyball players and any number of quick-footed runners practicing the delicate art of crowd navigation.
Oak Street Beach: Jumping into Lake Michigan can be a chilling experience, but for an ideal post-run recovery the lake can easily serve as a gigantic (free) ice bath. There are a number of great places to hop in the water, but the north end of Oak Street Beach, where cement and sand collide, offers the easiest sandless transition from shoes and socks to bare feet. And if you’re not ready to dive in right away, there’s room to sit on the concrete ledge and dangle your toes into the splashing waves.
Northerly Island: For those who view running as an individual activity, more for meditation than conversation, a solo run on the quiet, winding paths of Northerly Island is a perfect escape. Running by native prairie grasses and Dessa Kirk’s mesmerizing Daphne Garden sculptures, a jaunt around Northerly Island offers otherworldly calm, especially on a busy summer weekend.
47th Street Hill: Looking for a hill to challenge you in this flat Midwestern city? Look no further than 47th Street, where one of the very few (and possibly the longest) inclines on the Lakefront Trail is waiting for a brave runner like you.
Promontory Point Park: Just a bit further south, Promontory Point juts out into the lake at 55th Street, offering a picturesque view of the city to the north as well as a tree-lined circular path that leads you past plenty of grassy BBQ areas and around a field house built in the 1930s. It’s the perfect place to sit for a while and think about the run you just completed (or the one you’re about to start).
While Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is always an ideal place for a good run (long or short), catching a cool breeze off the lake during a hot summertime run is a sublime experience. So, what are you waiting for? Lace up those shoes and hit the trail! (Zach Freeman)