In this article I reveal the 9 best places to workout outside in Chicago!
Chicago gets a lot of street cred for its vast, varied food scene. Often 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 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 pump iron.
I’m talking about breaking a sweat in a beautiful outdoor space; the kind of setting that makes it pleasurable to workout.
Dig into the options below and start looking forward to your next workout!
NOTE: All of the below spaces, aside from the beaches, are now open (Garfield Park Conservatory has a reservation system), but they are still subject to social-distancing and other rules aimed at preventing large crowds. Please take care of yourself and others and wear a mask if you are in an area where you can’t observe social-distancing. Also, please stay home if you are feeling unwell, and get tested if you have symptoms of coronavirus!
1. South Pond Nature Area
Situated in lovely Lincoln Park, the South Pond Nature Area is an idyllic place to workout outside.
In 2010 South Pond was revamped from an 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 beautiful 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. Just immerse in nature’s song and you’ll barely notice that you’re working out!
My favorite way to see this area 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.
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 desire just by adding loops. But if you find yourself feeling fatigued, you can do a shortened loop by taking the bridge that bisects the pond.
On the other hand, if you’re desiring an extra-long run, you can easily connect to the Chicago Lakefront Trail (more on that below).
Pro tip: 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 stunning South Pond Pavilion.
2. Chicago Lakefront Trail
The Chicago Lakefront Trail is a paved 18.6 mile path, ideal for outdoor workout enthusiasts. 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 seeing it via bike. In 2018 bikers rejoiced as the Lakefront Trail was separated into a dedicated bike lane and a pedestrian lane.
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)!
Most sections of the trail are stunning 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.
Any of the above are a wonderful rest stop if you need a workout break.
Pro tip: I probably shouldn’t tell you this, since this is an article about working out but… there may or may not be a Nutella Cafe just off the route at 189 Michigan Ave. Also, if you end your workout at the Shedd Aquarium, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent skyline views looking north!
3. Beaches — Oak Street, North Avenue, Montrose, Ohio Street, 12th Street, 31st Street
I hinted at the fact that Chicago has several beaches, and they are fantastic for those that want to workout outside on a lovely summer day.
Chicagoans are sun-worshippers and love finding ways to do everything outside when the weather is right.
Eating on a rooftop. Drinking on a patio. And working out at the beach. These simple pleasures are why we stick around through so many frigid winters!
Did you know that Chicago has over 20 beaches?!
So which beach should you choose?
My personal favorites for an outdoor workout are North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach.
North Avenue offers a long, luscious stretch of sand with plenty of unique workout options like paddle-boarding and yoga classes.
Oak Street 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’re likely to burn more calories for every minute spent exercising on the beach relative 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 old friends and make some new ones. Plus, sand volleyball is a hell of a workout!
For those that want to workout with their pooch, check out Belmont Harbor Dog Beach. It’s perfect for a beach-fetch session!
Pro tip: You can steal your kid’s (or a kid’s) sand buckets and use them as weights! Or BYO weights and really amp up your beach workout.
4. Chicago Riverwalk
If you love the beach but hate getting sand in all your crevices then you may want to get your sweat on at the Chicago Riverwalk.
I have seen this stretch along the Chicago River undergo 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, the 3.4 mile path has ample workout options for you to enjoy.
Skyscrapers, bridges, and the mighty Chicago River keep walkers and runners entertained and engaged. Plus the river-level design of the pathway makes you feel like you’re flowing with the river!
I’ll also let you in a gem of a spot that I personally love — the area by the Vietnam Memorial (near Wabash and Wacker) is wonderful for executing workout power moves like stair-running!
Are you into yoga and looking for a new place to lay down your mat? Well the Riverwalk has you covered. 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 need a post-workout break, check out the Riverwalk’s verdant 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!
When the weather allows, you can’t beat a few glorious hours kayaking on the Chicago River. With views of Merchandise Mart, Marina City, Tribune Tower, and the famed Wrigley Building, you’ll be so busy scanning the skyline that you’ll barely notice that you’re getting an awesome workout.
If you’d rather go with a group, you can opt to do a kayak tour here. Two local favorites are:
Urban Kayaks – offering several tour options ranging from 1-1.5 hrs., including a Riverwalk Intro Paddle that’s perfect for beginners!
Wateriders – offering several tour options ranging from 1.5-2 hrs., including private tour options!
If you’d rather DIY, you can rent a kayak from either of the above outfits and go at your own pace.
Pro tip: Time your kayaking with Navy Pier’s biweekly summer fireworks and see this stunning spectacle from a truly unique vantage point!
6. Millennium Park
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 venture out here, you’ll find several spots that are perfect 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! You really can’t beat the price tag and the skyline setting.
Even if you’re not into group workouts, you can bring your mat and plop down on the soft, freshly-cut grass at Pritzker Pavilion. I love doing my favorite YouTube workouts here, like Yoga With Adriene and PopSugar Fitness!
If you decide to go for a run here, don’t forget to stop for a selfie with the iconic “Bean” (aka Cloudgate), Chicago’s most famous, reflective public art installation!
Pro tip: If you’re feeling particularly hot post-workout, splash around at Crown Fountain for an instant cool down! This is my favorite part about working out here on a hot summer day 🙂
7. Maggie Daley Park
Just to the east of Millennium Park (across beautiful, winding BP Pedestrian Bridge) sits Maggie Daley Park. When Millennium Park is overtaken by tourists I head here for my outdoor workout.
I love doing yoga in the soft, freshly mowed grass. But you can also run, power-walk, bike, or roller blade here. Post-workout, I recommend a stroll in the Cancer Survivors Garden.
If you really want to get your adrenaline pumping, test your mountaineering skills on the climbing wall!
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 winding slides!
Plus, you can get a workout just by running around with your little ones here.
Full disclosure: the playground here is so cool that I (without any kids) couldn’t help but to partake in a slide or two!
Most of the workouts I’ve mentioned above are best suited for Chicago’s temperate months. But when the temperatures drop, there is no cooler way to workout than to head to the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon.
The Ice Skating Ribbon is a long, smooth, winding ice-path with unparalleled skyline views.
“Skaters 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 on-site for $13-15 depending on which day you come.
8. 606 Trail
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 the 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 and art installations by featured artists like Jenny Kendler and Luftwerk.
The seamless integration of path, art, and nature makes The 606 one of the best places to workout outside 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 affordable, delicious vegan dishes and Giant for innovative Midwestern fare.
9. Garfield Park Conservatory
I wanted to end this list of outdoor workout options with a zen respite 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 quite handy!
And if you’re seeking a more relaxed pace for your workout, Garfield Park Conservatory is for you. Here, you can walk 10 acres of outdoor gardens, including City Garden, Demonstration Garden, Play & Grow Garden, Artist’s Garden and Sensory Garden.
The Artist’s Garden is my personal favorite as it showcases many of the flowers and plants beloved by famous artists. The City Garden is a close second with lily pools and aspen trees.
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 find someplace new to inspire you to get outside and get the blood pumping.
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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