The days are quickly shortening, and Chicagoans know what that means: Cold is coming, and it won’t be pretty. Well, pretty perhaps, but pleasant? Definitely, not! Before we transform into winter hermits, savor these last few weeks of fall. Spend time outside in the pleasant, fresh, crisp autumn air.
Note: This is a longer version of a piece I wrote for Illumine Chicago magazine.
Here are five of my favorite outdoor activities for you to try before the snowfall:
1. Cycle in the City
Of the many picturesque bike routes in Chicago, the Lakefront path is the most scenic—and iconic. I ride along the Lake from my home in Uptown down to the Loop for work in all seasons, but fall is particularly enchanting with the changing colors of leaves and crispness of the breeze coming off the lake.
The north side of the trail is more popular, but explore some true jewels on the South Side. For some of the best views of the Loop, head south from Museum Campus to Promontory Point. Continue on to the South Shore Cultural Center (7059 S. Shore Dr.), where the Obamas held their wedding reception in 1992. If you get an earlier enough start, be sure to enjoy the Center’s Parrot Cage restaurant, voted Diners’ Top Choice best brunch in Chicago in 2012 by Open Table. Their Jazz Brunch is served Sundays from 11 am to 3 pm and is buffet-style, featuring an omelet station and impeccable fried chicken wings and waffles.
2. Ride the Trails
While I do most of my bicycling in the City, at least once a year, I treat myself to some suburban trail riding. Paths are usually completely separated from traffic and therefore, more conducive to relaxing and enjoying the scenery. Fall is the perfect time to enjoy trail riding because the path is less crowded, the weather is cooler, and there are fewer bugs.
One of my favorites is the Fox River Trail. The 24.7-mile-long and (mostly) paved trail follows the River from St. Charles to Aurora. The long, green stretches and picturesque Fox River views are punctuated by charming commercial strips in Batavia and Geneva. Take a break to poke around antique shops and get a hot chocolate at old-timey restaurants.
Of several landmarks gracing Fox River Trail, Fabyan Villa just south of Galena, is not to be missed. The estate features Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and the tranquil Japanese Gardens, where you can rest and collect your thoughts.
The Fox River Trail is about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago and easily accessible by Metra’s Union Pacific West Line. You can bring your bike on board when it isn’t rush hour. By car, take Interstate 88 to Highway 59 and go north.
3. Amble in the Winter Farmers’ Market at the Chicago Botanic Garden
I know what you’re thinking, “It’s not winter yet.” But don’t let the misleading name deter you from visiting this bountiful farmers’ market. Held inside the tranquil Garden View Room on every other Sunday beginning November 3 and through December 15, the market features organically grown vegetables, herbs, and honey from the Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest, and other small farms in the vicinity and handmade pottery and gifts by local artisans.
While there, take in the fall beauty during a pleasant stroll from the main Visitor Center to the newly opened Daniel F. and Ada L. Plant Conservation Science Center. The path takes you past explosions of color in the McDonald Woods and the Garden’s lakes, including the Horaijima Island of Everlasting Happiness.
And, yes, you can bike to the Gardens, too. The North Branch Trail is a scenic, 24-mile path that starts at Caldwell Woods at the intersection of Devon and Milwaukee Avenues and ends at the Botanic Garden. Just make sure you save enough energy for the return trip!
4. Canoe and Kayak in Chicagoland Rivers
Bikes and fall foliage aside, do not miss this last opportunity of 2013 to take advantage of canoeing or kayaking in Chicagoland’s rivers. Savor fall’s radiant colors along Northern Illinois’ idyllic river valleys and footbridges. Head out to Fever River Outfitters in Galena, and sign up for one of their popular canoe and kayak trips. I recommend their roughly two-hour trip that takes you from the outskirts of Galena to Galena Boat Landing. The trip launches four times daily through October 31. You can purchase a snack at Fever River. Don’t forget to stop in the shop to browse their wares (full disclosure: Fever River is one of my customers and carries my Po Campo).
For a river adventure closer to the City, try Chicago River Canoe and Kayak’s guided Skyscraper Canyon tour. The name evokes a sense of awe! Experience our stunning architecture from River level. The 5.5 mile roundtrip tour starts at the edge of Chinatown and paddles north through Downtown, past River City, the Sears Tower, and more. $40/paddler in canoe or tandem kayak, $50/paddler in single kayak. Ages 10 or above.
5. Walk a Maze
Located in the heart of downtown at 65 E. Huron, the St. James Cathedral Walking Labyrinth is nestled in a plaza just of Michigan Avenue. It’s free and open to the public 24 hrs a day. The difference with walking the maze and a regular walk is that you don’t go very far physically, but mentally you will go to a whole new place. Try walking the labyrinth until you forget that you are walking the labyrinth, and by that time you will be calm and steady.
After experiencing the maze, I suggest poking around the cathedral too. It’s the oldest Episcopal church in the city and the walls and bell tower of the cathedral date back to before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. According to wcities.com, Abraham Lincoln visited the church the day after he was elected president in 1860.
Use these last crisp, cool days of fall to explore new vistas and scenic routes on foot, by bike, and by boat. Not only will you enjoy the adventures now but you also create plenty of memories to warm you during our long winter months ahead.