Cycling the Chicago Lakefront Trail

The Chicago Lakefront Trail is a paradise for active people. Popular with cyclists and joggers, the 18-mile course runs alongside the shores of Lake Michigan and is a fantastic way to experience some of the Windy City’s highlights. I cycled it on my recent trip (twice, no less!) and here’s why it’s a must-do on any Chicago itinerary!

Chicago Lakefront Trail – The Basics

What: The Lakefront Trail brings Chicagoans and visitors together – people use it for commuting, exercising, sightseeing or just strolling around. It’s a fantastic way to keep active with dedicated jogging and cycling paths and great scenery to keep you company. It’s even used as a Chicago Marathon training route! The trail is well signposted (with markers at every half mile) and there are plenty of restrooms and places to stop for refreshments.

Where: Chicago Lakefront Trail runs from Ardmore Avenue in the north to 71st Street in the south. You can join the trail anywhere along the route but my favourite access point is Ohio St, not far from the Navy Pier – it’s Downtown, easy to get to and you aren’t far from the halfway point of the whole thing, making it possible to split the trail into smaller chunks.

How: You can explore Chicago Lakefront Trail on foot but the best way to see everything it has to offer is by bike.

Chicago Lakefront Trail
The trail is undergoing works to ensure the entire trail has dedicated cycling and pedestrian paths

Bike rental

I recommend Bobby’s Bike Hike Chicago who have rental bikes in their store a stone’s throw from the trail. They also do fun bike tours that allow you to explore the city with a local guide. Bikes start from $10 per hour’s rental or from $25/34 for half/full day.

Alternatively, Chicago’s bike share system– Divvy – is a simple and affordable way to explore the trail. There are stations all around Chicago and 24 hour passes are available for just $9.95 (£7.50/€8.50)

Divvy bike - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Divvy bikes are a popular way to get around Chicago

Chicago Lakefront Trail

The Chicago Lakefront Trail can be roughly split into two halves – North and South. Both have plenty to keep visitors occupied along their length. I cycled the entire trail twice (to see everything it has to offer) and here are my picks for things to see and do!

Chicago Lakefront Trail North

Tackle the northern half of the Lakefront Trail to check out the city’s best beaches, affluent neighbourhoods and the famous Lincoln Park.

See the incredible Chicago skyline

Head north and round the corner past Oak Street Beach and then stop and turn around. The view of the Chicago skyline, dominated by the iconic John Hancock Center with its twin antennas, is simply awesome.

Chicago skyline - Chicago Lakefront Trail
One of the views of the Chicago skyline

It runs past some of Chicago’s best beaches                        

Beaches are probably not the first thing that comes to mind when picturing Chicago. However, summer months bring the crowds to the shores of Lake Michigan who enjoy sunbathing, dips in the lake and spontaneous volleyball games. The most famous of them is Oak Street Beach but there are many others, especially the further north you go along the trail. North Avenue Beach is always popular, Montrose Beach has an adjacent bird sanctuary and Osterman Beach is a great place to take a break at the Northern end of the trail.

North Avenue Beach - Chicago Lakefront Trail
North Avenue Beach is packed in the summer months
Osterman Beach - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Osterman Beach marks the north end of the trail

Lincoln Park

The Lakefront Trail passes some of Chicago’s most affluent areas, including Gold Coast and Lincoln Park. You can continue along the trail, cycling through Lincoln Park past Belmont Harbor or walk along some of the park’s trails and check out its famous zoo.

Belmont Harbor - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Belmont Harbor

Great for people watching

The north part of the trail is busier and presents some great opportunities for people watching – joggers going for their morning runs around a track, golfers teeing off next to a historic clock tower and dog walkers strolling by the lake.

Cricket Hill - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Morning exercise at the multi-purpose fields at Cricket Hill

Cool art along the trail

There is a LOT of art pieces along the Chicago Lakefront Trail – so it pays to keep your eyes open to see if you can spot them all (try not to crash at the same time too!). The views of the city from next to the Chevron sculpture (it looks like a blue windmill) are great, while I also came across a circle of Buddha heads, a totem pole and a massive walking figure

Sculptures - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Some of the sculptures that can be seen along the Chicago Lakefront Trail

Chicago Lakefront Trail South

The southern half of the trail takes in some of Chicago’s best sights while also being less busy once you pass the main attractions.

It runs past some of Chicago’s top sights

The Lakefront Trail runs past 100 year-old Navy Pier, Grant Park, Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field football stadium among others. It’s possible to break up tackling the trail with visits to these and many other attractions.

Navy Pier - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s most famous attractions
Soldier Field - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Soldier FIeld is home to the Chicago Bears American football team

It’s great for getting away from it all

In contrast with the northern part, the southern half of the trail is a lot quieter. There are beautiful views of the city and the lake and there is a lot less bike and people traffic to contend with. While the stretch around Navy Pier, Grant Park and the Museum Campus is pretty busy, once you continue a bit further, the crowds disappear.  Oh, and the beaches are quieter too! Check out 31st Street Beach with its adjacent marina.

31st Street Beach - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Looking towards Downtown Chicago from 31st Street Beach

There is a lot of cool art along its route

Not to be outdone by the Northern half of the trail, the Southern part also has cool art along its route.

Museum of Science and Industry

One of Chicago’s most popular attractions, the Museum of Science and Industry is a must visit for anyone exploring the Windy City with kids in tow. While accessible by bus and train from the Loop area, getting here by bike is way more fun and adds to the adventure. You can glimpse the impressive building, the only one remaining from the 1893 World’s Fair on your right as you pass the 15 mile marker south/3 mile marker north.

Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Some of the exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry

Burnham Wildlife Corridor initiative

The Burnham Wildlife Corridor runs alongside Lake Shore Drive and is an important initiative which provides migratory birds and local animals with a safe haven. Trees and shrubs have been planted in place of invasive species and the area is thriving. There are also a series of “Gathering Spaces”, designed to bring people together. One of the greener and calmer parts of the trail.

Chicago Lakefront Trail
The trail plays an important environmental and conservational role

The views of the city skyline are amazing

I mean…seriously!

Chicago skyline - Chicago Lakefront Trail
Chicago skyline as seen from near the Shedd Aquarium
Chicago Lakefront Trail
Cycling along S Lake Shore Drive and Grant Park

Have you explored the Chicago Lakefront Trail? Do you have any other favourite cycling destinations?

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20 thoughts on “Cycling the Chicago Lakefront Trail

  1. California Globetrotter says:

    OMGosh, I would totally do this! I’ve been looking for a city that had such a relaxing atmosphere and Chicago is climbing higher on my list, maybe not even just for a visit but for moving! We’ve been talking about cities on the east coast we may enjoy! Love, love, LOVE this! #FeetDoTravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thank you! Chicago is a fantastic place to visit and feels so much more chilled out than NYC. Definitely somewhere I recommend and if you do go – give me a shout and I can help with recommendations!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Ah you guys will absolutely love it! So many cool places to explore by bike and then plenty to keep you occupied elsewhere!

  2. Kreete says:

    I was waiting for that post! I enjoyed your Instagram story as you were cycling there-truly a beautiful place to take it all in! I definitely love the fact it helps keep fit when you travelling and well the skyline is totally worth it! Good on you for doing it twice!

  3. Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) says:

    Ashamed to say that we haven’t cycled the Lakefront Trail. We did walk along from the Navy Pier to Jackson Park, and then on to Shedd Aquarium. You’re right about the views! We love looking back at the city from Millennium Park. Great stuff, Lexx! #FeetDoTravel

  4. James says:

    Keeping fit is one of the biggest challenges whilst traveling. In Chicago, going for a run or cycling on the lakefront trail looks perfect for keeping fit. It’s a bonus that it passes so many of Chicago’s points of interest as well.

  5. Shona says:

    I like it. It’s too far for the feet, my usual form of city discovery transport, so grabbing a bike sounds ideal. With all there is to see, I’d probably do it in the 2 chunks, north & south. Bobby’s Bikes look worth the extra $$ for their quality. I’ll pinning this to remind me when I finally get to the Windy City. 🙂

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Shona – yeah two chunks would be perfect. Doing it in one day was a bit tiring, especially because of the sun but I am still glad I did it!

  6. Samantha says:

    I have never visited or heard much about Chicago before so it was really lovely to learn more about it. You were lucky with the weather, the skies look so beautifully blue!

  7. Ruth says:

    This is exactly how I would love to spend one day in Chicago. I like to walk but I know a bike allows you to cover more ground (and you get less tired). The views and the art along the trail are incredible! I would not like to bump into the geese. I would be terrified if they run into me! #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      The geese definitely weren’t moving for anyone! You are right, without the bike I wouldn’t have been able to see anywhere near as much of the trail so it was a great decision!

  8. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    Quick Q: Did you hire your bike for an hour to encourage you to race around the trail faster? I know you like a challenge 😀 Absolutely gorgeous scenery along the way, I would have had to have stopped at the beaches and that skyline is gorgeous! I would be happy to do this … but not all 18 miles, not when there is a beach involved 😀 Pinned for when I get to Chicago. #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Close, it was half a day! I think I may have gone over a bit but they didn’t charge me extra!Yeah the beaches look inviting – I would definitely have stopped for a dip in the summer!

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