Weekend Wheeling in Chicago

Chicago's Lakefront
By Michael Roeser
  |  Gorp.com

Of all of Chicago's attractions—including its world-class museums, architectural giants, and neighborhood charms—its greatest asset is its lakefront. Shouldering up to Lake Michigan, Chicago's skyline glistens, reflecting the cold glinting waves at dawn and casting a warm glow over the vast waters at sunset. The city's best view is from its long winding lakefront, and the best way to see it is by bicycle.

Starting in Evanston
Begin your tour (approximately 24 miles one-way, 48 miles total) north of the city's border at Northwestern University's beautiful lakefront campus in Evanston. A paved path following the rock-bordered shore connects the campus and its adjacent park to points farther south.

The path ends temporarily at Evanston's southernmost point along the lake as Sheridan Avenue, a four-lane thoroughfare, curves dramatically around the shoreline. Most bikers opt for the sidewalk around the Sheridan curve, but some pedalers choose speed over safety and take chances with the heavy traffic.

On the far side of the curve, a well-marked bicycle route links the Evanston trails to the Lakefront Path. To find the route, turn right on Rogers Avenue just past the curve and pedal west to Ashland Avenue. Follow the green "Bicycle Route" signs along through low-traffic, neighborhood streets: east on Granville, south on Winthrop, and east again on Ardmore. The route then ducks under Lake Shore Drive, ending at the Lakefront Bicycle Path.

Lakefront Path
The Lakefront Path stretches along a network of Chicago's open parks, soccer fields, beaches, and picnic areas. Lake Michigan splashes against the concrete shore on the left. Across Lake Shore Drive, high-rise condos curve in an endless chain. The shoreline squiggles along the lake, and the path follows every turn. At every jutting point, commanding views open onto Chicago's impressive cityscape.

At first, the path is open and passable. The farther you go, though, the more crowded it becomes until you are part of a gridlock of biker packs, strolling couples, and arm-flailing inline skaters. Though the diverse traffic can slow to a crawl, you are in one of the best people-watching spots in Chicago and will appreciate the slow pace as your eyes scan the brightly colored crowds.

In the central area of the city's lakefront, you are treated to the views of Oak Street Beach, Navy Pier (with a 15-story Ferris wheel stamped against the skyline), and Grant Park, which is host to Chicago's many summertime festivals. Farther on, you will pass the glass walls of the Shedd Aquarium's Oceanarium, the dome of the Adler Planetarium, the many columns of Soldier Field, and the architecturally bold and bizarre McCormick Place Convention Center.

South Side
South of McCormick Place, the crowds suddenly drop off and the trip becomes a real bike ride again. You're on the legendary South Side, where rumors rise of bike-jacking kids who hide by the trailside and single out loners. I personally have never heard of it happening, but some rumors die hard. As a result, I sometimes catch myself pedaling faster along this stretch.

The trail runs smooth and fast past stately high-rises and the old-growth trees of the historic park. You'll pass a few beaches and Burnham Harbor, where many Chicagoans moor their pleasure boats. Soon, you're in Hyde Park, home of the prestigious University of Chicago. Even farther south, you are treated to the beauty of Jackson Park and the adjacent 67th Street Beach. At the end of the route is the beautifully restored South Shore Country Club.

The true magic of the Lakefront Bicycle Path is that the return trip awards breathtaking views of the city from a different perspective.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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