Aside from walking, biking around Chicago is the best way to see the city, whether you’re gearing up in spandex and hammering south on the 18-mile Lakefront Path or planning a progressive meal through Chicago’s neighborhoods. The city is bike-friendly (although you’ll need to follow the rules of traffic and be aware of drivers and pedestrians) and the terrain is flat, making for an easy and scenic ride. Don’t feel limited by the trails below. Many Chicago residents rely on cycling as their primary form of transportation, so jump into the fray and hit the nearest bike lane. It’s about as fast as taking the El—and a much better workout.
1. Lakefront Trail. The paved, 18-mile path that traces the shores of Lake Michigan is one of the things that active locals love most about Chicago—and it shows. If the weather is nice, the trail is packed with cyclists, walkers, strollers, in-line skaters, and more. The trail runs from Hollywood Beach in the north (the neighborhood of Edgewater) to the Museum of Science and Industry (Hyde Park) in the south, connecting the waterfront access points. It passes by Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, Grant Park, and the Museum Campus, along with plenty of beaches. Please note that regular users treat the path as you would a street, keeping to the right side in either direction. Be aware of your surroundings at all times to avoid cyclist-on-cyclist and cyclist-on-pedestrian collisions. From Ardmore Street (5800 N. Sheridan Rd.) to the north to 71st Street (7100 S. South Shore Dr.) to the south. www.chicagoparkdistrict.com.
2. The 606. It’s frequently compared to New York’s High Line. And while it is, indeed, a former railroad track (called the Bloomingdale Line) that’s been converted to an elevated walking path, it’s different in that it’s not in an area that’s highly trafficked by tourists. With that said, if you’re looking for a neighborhood adventure, consider the box checked. The landscaped, 3-mile trail runs through the west-side neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. You can access the easternmost part of the trail at Walsh Park, 1722 N. Ashland, and take it west to its terminus at Ridgeway and Lawndale. Then head back the way you came.
3. If you want to include some local eats in your cycling tour, hop off the trail at Damen Avenue (Churchill Park) and grab pizza at Piece Pizza (1927 W. North Ave.; tel. 773/772-4422; www.piecechicago.com; $) or hop off at Humboldt Blvd. and bike over to Parson’s Chicken & Fish (2952 W. Armitage Ave.; tel. 773/384-3333; www.parsonschickenandfish.com) for fried chicken on a bustling patio. www.the606.org.
4. The North Branch Trail. If you’re feeling ambitious, this peaceful 20-mile path winds through Chicago parks and forest preserves, passing through McDonald Woods and Turnbull Woods before ending up at Chicago Botanical Garden, north of the city. That glorious garden is pay dirt for your efforts. It’s 385 acres of sheer natural beauty, with islands, bridges and every kind of flower and plant you could possibly imagine. Parking here is usually $25–$30, so you’re saving money by biking. The trail starts at the Caldwell Forest Preserve (Devon and Caldwell avenues) and ends in Glencoe at Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd. tel. 847/835-6801. www.chicagobotanic.org.
5. The North Shore Channel Trail. This is one of my favorite bike paths in the city, in part because of the ever-changing views as you ride along the North Shore Channel, which is a drainage canal, but mostly because you won’t encounter the traffic of the Lakefront Trail. The 7-mile paved trail starts at River Park, at Francisco and Lawrence avenues on the city’s North Side. It winds through green parkland alongside the water and then past nearly 60 sculptures, which range from brightly colored horses to abstract works at the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park. It ends at Green Bay Road in Skokie.
6. For fuel along the North Channel Trail, hit Dengeo’s. Known for its delicious gyros, it’s located just across from the trail at McCormick Boulevard and Main Street, and you won’t be judged if you show up in workout gear. Order at the counter and then take it back to the park for an impromptu picnic. 3301 Main St., Skokie. tel. 847/677-7911. www.dengeos.com. $.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.