Life in most major metropolitan areas is all concrete and noise. The combination of these two irritants can, over time, weigh heavily on a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Even without realizing it, we yearn for open areas filled with life and color to combat the drab gray we are faced with each day. This inner turmoil is exactly why city parks were incorporated into the framework of cities like Chicago. Their greenways and trails allow citizens to forget the hustle and bustle of living among millions of others. People can stretch their legs, breathe the fresh air, and get the exercise they need to live a healthy life.
Parks are the ideal place for seniors to get the exercise they need to keep themselves in tip-top shape. The Chicago Park System is constantly striving to improve the facilities and grounds at all of the city’s many parks, so any one you visit will have the trails and grounds you would expect to find. The parks we selected for this article are, in our opinion, the best the city has to offer. Each has its own unique personality and may appeal to different people, but all are worth visiting at least once.
Paralleling Wild Meadows Trace [View Map]
The Illinois Prairie Path, completed in the 1960s, was America’s first ever “rail-to-rail” conversion. Named for the segments of trail that span 1,000-year-old prairies, including the Great Western Prairie located in Elmhurst, the Prairie Path consists of 62 miles of bike paths, walking and hiking trails, and equestrian and nature trails. Approximately five miles of the Path make their way through the city of Elmhurst, so the great outdoors is only minutes away.
The Prairie Path is mostly crushed limestone with some sections being paved so walking here is a breeze. There are a few busy intersections to cross if you’re walking long distances, but never fear – there are crosswalks and signals to assist you. The Path is well-lit for much of its length so if you enjoy walks in the evening you’ll never be lost in shadows, and it’s also a favorite of walking and jogging groups so you’ll always have company on the trail. The Prairie Path really is a jewel hidden right in the middle of Elmhurst!
5801 N. Pulaski Road [View Map]
The North Park Village Nature Center is a 46-acre preserve and educational facility situated within the North Park Village campus. This park is a wonder to explore and offers walking trails that make their way through woodlands, wetlands, prairie, and savanna. No two walks through the grounds are ever the same as the seasons change and the wildlife comes and goes. Deer, possums, raccoons, and birds of all kinds are regular sightings along the trails, so be prepared to forget you are in a city at all.
The North Park Village Nature Center is designed to deliver an incredibly natural experience in the heart of an urban area. It does this amazingly well. The lush grounds muffle the sounds of the surrounding motorways, and offer vistas full of greenery instead machinery. The trails are also scaled back as to accommodate all visitors, so even someone beginning to get out and walk should have no problem making their way around the trails. This makes it the perfect place to start your walking regimen.
201 E. Randolph Street [View Map]
Millennium Park is one of the most famous landmarks in Chicago. It is full of so many things to see and do, but more importantly, it has miles and miles of open, well-maintained walkways to use and enjoy. Of course you could direct your walks to pass by some of the impressive architecture, landscape design, and art installations strategically placed all over the park. With so much to see during your walks, you could walk here every day and never get bored with the scenery. First-time visitors should definitely stop by the Welcome Center to speak with a visitor specialist to get all of your questions answered. If you ask, they will even offer some excellent advice on the best paths for you to take to get the most from your stroll.
At the southern end of Millennium Park you can find the Lurie Gardens; one of Chicago’s real treasures. The Garden’s motto, “Urbs in Horto”, means city in a garden, and represents Chicago’s transformation from marshland to concrete. The gardens provide an extensive walking trail through the exhibits during the warmer months, and a completely different experience walking those same paths in the winter. The differences between the growing season and the winter are drastic and beautiful.
The Lurie Gardens also offer a wonderful take on the afternoon stroll. The Free Lurie Gardener’s Plant Walks take place throughout the year, and offer seniors an excellent way to get some exercise, learn some really interesting facts about gardening in Chicago, and meet some extraordinary people working hard to make the city a better place to live. You will be led through the gardens on your walk by Laura Ekasetya. She is the Lurie Gardens Horticulturalist, and a fabulous resource to spend some time with if you are in any way passionate about gardening and plant life. These walks are also a great way to begin the day as they usually begin around 8AM and last for 45 minutes to an hour.
Ridgeway Avenue to Marshfield Avenue [View Map]
The 606 – Bloomingdale Trail is one of the most recent additions to this wonderful city. Once a rail line through the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square, the 606 today is a 2.7 mile elevated trail on Chicago’s northwest side. It runs from Ridgeway Avenue to Marshfield Avenue, and has bridges that span each of the city’s streets that it crosses. The 606 was created with input from the citizens in the neighborhoods it crosses, and the full support of the city government and The Trust for Public Lands. Every feature of the trail has been thought out and implemented in such a way as to give every trail user the exact experience they were looking for.
With more than a dozen points of entry along its course, most connecting to the neighborhood parks along the route or the intersections of the major streets, the 606 is one of Chicago’s easiest to reach walking trails. Multiple CTA buses and train routes can bring you to the trail. The 606 – Bloomingdale Trail was built to cater to all visitors, so you will find a wide concrete path where wheeled vehicles like baby strollers and roller skates can travel without issue and cushioned pathways to the sides for walkers and runners. Every stretch of the trail incorporates elevation changes or gentle curves to keep you engaged in the experience, and keep you coming back again and again to see what you may have missed. The neighborhoods along the trail also commission art installations which are placed in their sections of the trail to add a little of their own personality to the trail. There really is nothing like it in the city.
337 E. Randolph Street [View Map]
Located right on the downtown lakefront, adjacent to Millennium Park, is Grant Park; one of Chicago’s greatest treasures. It was difficult deciding which of the two centerpiece parks to include here, so we included them both. Everything that Millennium Park is Grant Park is as well, but without all the extra activity found around the millennial exhibits in Millennium Park. That means that Grant Park feels more like a park and less like a town square.
Covering almost 320 acres just outside of the Loop, Grant Park is the center of a 24 mile uninterrupted piece of Lake Michigan’s shoreline dedicated to public parkland. The history of Chicago is written in the stones of the park, and walking through its many miles of pathways and trails you will be amazed at how close you are to the beating heart of the city. The skyline is the only giveaway that you are indeed in one of the nation’s largest cities. There are peaceful spots all along the walkways to take a moment to rest and reflect, and plenty of areas to get refreshments and a bite to eat as well. You can even walk to Soldier Field to see the home of the Monsters of the Midway. This park really does have everything, and it has it all in ample measure.
1400 N. Sacramento Avenue [View Map]
Right in the heart of the Humboldt Park community you will find the recently renovated Humboldt Park. Spanning 219 acres, the park boasts miles and miles of connected walking trails with beautiful vistas and plenty of open spaces. As part of Mayor Emanuel’s Chicago Plays! Program, the city has spent millions of dollars bringing the park into the 21st century, and the efforts really show up when you visit. There are numerous resting areas with fountains and comfortable benches, and each is situated in a lovely spot for watching the world go by.
There are countless things to see as you stroll through the park on your walk. The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture is located here, and is the only museum of its kind in all of North America. You can even visit Little Cubs Field, an exact replica (in miniature) of Wrigley Field, where the city’s youth come out and show their talents. The park is an active, thriving part of the community, so be prepared to make new friends and see new sights each time you visit.
1000 Lake Cook Road [View Map]
The Chicago Botanical Gardens would not seem to fit into this list of great walking parks. Botanical gardens are not parks in the common sense of the word, but this one is most definitely a place to go walking. The trail is ADA-accessible so you will never find yourself in a place you find difficult to maneuver in, and with an asphalt path 10 feet wide you will have plenty of room on the trail for others to pass freely. This makes it much easier to walk with bicyclists using the path too.
The North Branch Trail is connected by path to the Green Bay Trail at the Braeside Metra station. It meanders through Turnbull Woods and the mysterious McDonald Woods before reaching the botanical gardens and its grounds. Once there, the trail measures exactly one mile through the gardens and displays. Signs along the pathways describe in detail the surrounding vegetation and animal life while keeping you safely moving along the trail’s course. It is easily on of the most beautiful walks in the city, and always full of friendly Chicagoans with smiles on their faces. It is unlike any other park you can find, and absolutely free to enjoy.
All of the parks we have discussed here are exceptionally well-maintained and completely safe for seniors. The city has spent a great deal on bettering the neighborhoods we live in through upgrading and beautifying our park system. It would be a shame to not benefit from such a large expenditure. After all, the investment was not in the parks themselves, but in you, the citizen. So get out there and enjoy your walks no matter where they are. And remember, monotony is the enemy of consistency, so mix up your walking trails to keep the experience new and exciting.
Chicago Parks District Paths & Trails – Searchable by Park