9 Best Places to Workout Outside in Chicago

In this article I reveal the 9 best places to workout outside in Chicago!

Chicago gets a lot of street cred for its food scene— there’s a new restaurant popping up in the time it takes me to type this sentence! But most people don’t realize that Chicago is also a wonderful city to work off those delicious, calorie-laden meals. 

And I’m not talking about boring gym workouts.

No stale air, florescent lighting, or bro’s staring at themselves in the mirror while they grunt.

I’m talking about breaking a sweat in the great outdoors, the kind of setting so lovely that you forget you’re working out. So put on that ath-leisure outfit and check out the best places to workout outside in Chicago…

1. South Pond Nature Area

south pond chicago
South Pond provides a stunning backdrop for your outdoor workout!

Situated in lovely Lincoln Park, the South Pond Nature Area is an idyllic place to workout outside. In 2010 South Pond was converted from a dumpy urban pond into a gorgeous ecological habitat! 

In the spring and summer this place is as green as it gets. It’s a  true testament to Chicago’s sustainability initiatives.

You can walk, run, or lunge your way around the pond admiring the scenery along the way.

No need to rely on Spotify, in the warm weather months the pond is teeming with birds providing a serene soundtrack for your workout. Lose yourself in nature’s song and you’ll barely notice that you’re working out!

My favorite way to enjoy South Pond while working out is to go for a power walk or bike ride around the pond pausing at “educational zones” to learn about the different animals and plants that call this area home.

biking south pond chicago

Even though I’m not a runner (my body has to be tricked into doing cardio!), I’ve seen tons of runners looping the pond. My runner friends love coming here when training for half-marathons and marathons.

The full loop around the pond is about .6 miles so it’s easy to craft whatever length run you want by adding loops. And if you start feeling tired mid-run, you can do a shorter loop by taking the bridge that bisects the pond.

On the other hand, if you want to push yourself with a longer run, you can easily connect to the Chicago Lakefront Trail (more on that below).

south pond chicago
Ulysses S. Grant cheering on your workout atop his stallion!

Pro tip: Take post workout break to enjoy incredible skyline views plus a reflective view of the Ulysses S. Grant Monument! In the summer, you can take an outdoor yoga class at the South Pond Pavilion.

2. Chicago Lakefront Trail 

chicago bike path

The Chicago Lakefront Trail is a paved 18.6 mile path, ideal for outdoor workouts. The path starts at Ardmore Avenue on the north end and runs down to 71st Street on the south end.

The Lakefront Trail snakes its way past four major parks and several lovely beaches (yes, Chicago has beaches!).

Although you can do almost any form of exercise down the Lakefront Trail, I highly recommend biking it. In 2018 bikers rejoiced as the Lakefront Trail was separated into dedicated bike lanes and pedestrian lanes, making this one of the best areas to bike in the city!

If you’re visiting from out of town, you can rent a bike at a reputable shop like this one (or use Chicago’s local bike-share program, Divvy).

Lakeshore Path Chicago Workout
Two wheels or four, the Lakeshore Path is a gorgeous route for a workout outside in Chicago!

Most sections of the trail offer beautiful views, but my favorite is the 6.5 mile stretch between Belmont Harbor and the Shedd Aquarium. This route passes by South Pond, North Avenue Beach, Oak Street Beach, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and Grant Park.

Pro tip: If you end your workout at the Shedd Aquarium, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent skyline views looking north! And there are tons of grassy areas to stretch or catch your breath.

3. Chicago Beaches — Oak Street, North Avenue, Montrose, Ohio Street,  12th Street, 31st Street

oak street beach chicago
Beach workouts are made even better with a view of the Chicago skyline!

I already hinted at the fact that Chicago has beaches, but people don’t realize just how many we have here in the Windy City. And how perfect they are for an outdoor workout.

Chicagoans are sun-worshippers and love finding ways to do everything outside when the weather is cooperating.

Eating on a rooftop. Drinking on a patio. And working out on the beach. These simple pleasures are why we stick around through so many frigid winters!

Did you know that Chicago has over 20 beaches?! With so many options which beach should you choose?

My personal favorites for an outdoor workout are North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach.

Chicago beaches
Oak Street is at the bottom and North Avenue is further down; they may be deserted in the winter, but in the summer, they are the place to be!

North Avenue Beach offers a long, luscious stretch of sand with plenty of unique workout options like volleyball, paddle-boarding, and yoga classes.

Oak Street Beach offers dramatic skyscraper views to compliment your workout. Whether you’re swimming or playing volleyball, frisbee, or paddleball, your gaze is sure to wander.

Whichever workout you choose, the sand provides extra resistance so you’ll be burning more calories for every minute spent exercising on the beach (compared to exercising indoors).

If you’re a local or are visiting for an extended period of time, consider signing up for a volleyball league. It’s a fun way to get meet up with friends and make some new ones. Plus, sand volleyball is a hell of a workout!

For those that want to workout with their pooch, head to Belmont Harbor Dog Beach. It’s perfect for a beach-fetch session.

Pro tip: You can fill sand buckets and use them as weights, or BYO weights and really up your beach workout.

4. Chicago Riverwalk

Kayaking Chicago Workout Outside

If you love the beach but hate getting sand in all your crevices then you’ll want to get your sweat on at the Chicago Riverwalk instead.

This stretch along the Chicago River has undergone a beautiful transformation in recent years. According to the Chicago Architecture Center, the Riverwalk has become an “oasis in the Loop that celebrates the river as a major force that has helped shape Chicago.”

Starting at Wacker and Lake and ending at Lake Shore Drive, you can walk or run this scenic 3.4 mile path while taking in views of skyscrapers, bridges, and monuments.

Plus, the river level design of the pathway makes you feel like you’re flowing with the river!

Pro tip: The area by the Vietnam Memorial (near Wabash and Wacker) is wonderful for executing workout power moves like stair-running!

Chicago Riverwalk Kayaking Workout
You can see the Vietnam Memorial (and the stairs) just behind the kayaker.

Are you into yoga and looking for a new place to lay down your mat? Head to the western end of the Riverwalk near Lake Street. There you’ll find a beautiful stretch of grass welcoming you and your mat.

If you want a nice area to relax after your workout, check out the Chicago Riverwalk’s Jetty section with floating wetland gardens and plenty of seating.

Pro tip: The Jetty has interactive exhibits about the ecology of the river if you want to workout your brain as well as your body!

5. Chicago River

Flowing right along with the Riverwalk, the river itself offers one of my favorite ways to workout outside in Chicago — kayaking!

With views of Merchandise Mart, Marina City, Tribune Tower, and the famous Wrigley Building, you’ll be so busy scanning the skyline that you’ll barely notice that you’re working out (until next-day soreness kicks in!).

I loved my last kayaking adventure on the Chicago River so much that I’ve been seriously considering getting my own kayak!

If you don’t have a kayak, no worries, there are several companies that rent kayaks and organize kayaking tours on the river. Two local favorites are:

Urban Kayaks: rentals start at $35 per hour, and they have several tour options ranging from 1-1.5 hrs., including a Riverwalk Intro Paddle that’s perfect for beginners!

Wateriders: rentals start at $50 per 2 hours on weekdays, and they have several tour options ranging from 1.5-2 hrs., including private tours!

Chicago Kayaking Workout
Oh, heyyyy Sears Tower!

If you have prior kayaking skills, I recommend renting a kayak and going at your own pace rather than doing a tour. It’s really nice having the flexibility of stopping and enjoying the view when you want to.

Pro tip: Time your kayaking with Navy Pier’s biweekly summer fireworks!!

6. Millennium Park

Millennium Park Chicago workout

Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, you may find yourself dodging crowds of meandering sight-seers. But Millennium Park is popular for good reason. And I promise that if you come out here, you’ll find many options for an outdoor workout!

Located within 319 acre Grant Park, Millennium Park offers a summer series of FREE workouts that take place at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Classes include yoga, pilates, tai chi Zumba, and even salsa dancing!

Even if you’re not into group workouts, you can bring your mat and plop down on the soft grass at Pritzker Pavilion. I love doing my favorite YouTube workouts here like Yoga With Adriene and PopSugar Fitness!

Bean Chicago
Have you bean to Millennium Park yet?!

If you decide to go for a run at Millennium Park, don’t forget to stop for a selfie with Chicago’s iconic Bean (aka Cloudgate)!

Pro tip: If you need a quick cool down after your workout, splash around at Crown Fountain. It’s my favorite part about working out here on a hot summer day!

7. Maggie Daley Park 

Maggie Daley Chicago
Cross over BP Bridge and you’re in the outdoor workout mecca that is Maggie Daley Park!

Just to the east of Millennium Park (across winding BP Pedestrian Bridge) sits Maggie Daley Park. When Millennium Park is overtaken by tourists I head here for my outdoor workout.

If you really want to get your adrenaline pumping, test your mountaineering skills on the climbing wall! Or throw on your roller blades and take a spin around the Ribbon track.

I love doing yoga on the soft, freshly mowed grass at Maggie Daley.

Maggie Daley Park is also perfect for getting active as a family. If you have kids that need to be separated from their iPads and iPhones, take them here. The playground is incredible with pirate ships, giant towers, and tall slides!

You can get a workout just by running around with your little ones.

Most of the workouts I mentioned above are best suited for Chicago’s temperate months. But when the temperatures drop,  there is no cooler way to workout than the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon.

The  Ice Skating Ribbon is a long, smooth, icy track with  unparalleled skyline views.

According to the website, “[s]katers can experience ‘alpine in the city’ as they lace up their ice skates and follow a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink.”

Pro tip: Admission to the Ice Skating Ribbon is FREE! Just bring your ice skates and you’re good to go. If you need to rent skates you can do so for $13-15 depending on which day you come.

8. 606 Trail

606 Chicago Workout Outside Biking

If you like your outdoor workouts with a side of street art, head to The 606 (aka the Bloomingdale Trail). This former abandoned rail line has been converted into a gorgeous, elevated 2.7 mile recreational trail and green space!

Fun fact: the 606 is named for Chicago’s 606 zip code and connotes the trail’s ability to bring Chicagoans together!

The 606 starts at 1801 N. Ridgeway Ave. and ends at 1722 N. Ashland, but you can hop on and off the path at various access points along Bloomingdale Ave.

Once on the path, you can run, walk, bike, and rollerblade past art displays in the Graffiti Garden by artists like Jenny Kendler and Luftwerk.

The seamless integration of path, art, and nature makes The 606 one of the best places to workout in Chicago!

Pro tip: If you’ve worked up an appetite while working out on The 606, there are countless amazing restaurants just off the path. Some of my favorites include Native Foods for delicious vegan dishes and Giant for innovative Midwestern fare.

9. Garfield Park Conservatory 

Garfield Park Conservatory

I wanted to end this list of the best outdoor workout spaces in Chicago with a zen locale at Garfield Park Conservatory

This is a cheeky addition since it is farther from downtown and has both indoor and outdoor spaces. But when the weather looks iffy (as it often does in Chicago), having the option of ducking inside can be handy!

If your favorite form of working out is taking long walks in plant heaven, this is the place for you.

At Garfield Park Conservatory you can walk 10 acres of outdoor gardens, including City Garden, Demonstration Garden, Play & Grow Garden, Artist’s Garden and Sensory Garden. 

Chicago conservatory
Smashing your Fitbit or Apple watch steps is pure pleasure here!

The Artist’s Garden,showcasing flowers and plants beloved by famous artists, is my personal favorite. The City Garden with lily pools and aspen treesis a close second. 

Pro tip: Admission is FREE, though there is a donation box to help support the Conservatory. Also, check out the events calendar to see what flower shows are going on during your visit!

So there you have it, 9 of the most motivating and captivating places to workout outside in Chicago. When your workout routine gets boring, refer back to this list and head outdoors!

Did I hit on any of your favorites? Is there a new spot that you’re excited to try? Let me know in the comments below!


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13 thoughts on “9 Best Places to Workout Outside in Chicago”

  1. You’ve done a wonderful job of highlighting workout friendly places in Chicago. With all the available options for burning calories, I wouldn’t mind discovering a new favorite restaurant or two!

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    • Thank you Simon! I always say that it’s hard to be bored in Chicago; there’s just so much to do (especially in the summer!)

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    • It really does! Thanks Becky for taking the time to read this piece, and I hope you come one day and enjoy all these great activities!!

      Reply
  2. I never knew one could find all these beautiful outdoor spaces in and around Chicago! Chicago Lakefront Trails looks really cool,.. oh, love the roller skates here. Such an informative read Alana!

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    • Thank you Shannon for your kind comment! I can easily picture you making the most of outdoor time out here (there’s so much to see and do while exploring and being active)!!

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  3. So many similarities to NYC too with urban beaches, botanical gardens and river walks. I’d love to visit Lakefront as I’ve heard it’s fancy with its expensive condo views. Of course lol. Chicago in summer is beautiful. In winter? Chiberia! 😄❄❄

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  4. How lovely! I swear I see so many similarities with NYC: riverwalks, piers and even urban “beaches”. I ways pretend I’m on a foreign island and pretend not to see the skyline lol. Like I always say, Chiberia is beautiful in summer. You won’t catch me in winter, though, as I can barely stand NYC winter. 😄

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    • Lol, I’m the same way!! I just look down that stretch of sand and feel like I’m somewhere exotic!

      And I see tons of similarities w/ NYC too though I think I need a return trip to jog my memory! 😉

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  5. What a lovely post, Alana! I love all of these places! I used to do the millennium park Saturday workouts every weekend during the summer! The only place I’ve never been to is the 606, which I know came after I moved. Thanks for the nostalgia. Loved it!

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    • Thank you Lannie! So happy that this article brought back all these happy memories. I hope you come back one day and experience the 606!

      Reply

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