How to Bike the Lakefront in Chicago

There are few better ways to fall instantly in love with Chicago than by touring its lakefront path. You could do it on foot or by Rollerblade, but the best way to take in the sights is by bicycle. You'll cover the most ground, get in some decent exercise, and—if you're lucky—get a nice tailwind to help you along courtesy of Lake Michigan.

First Things First: Getting a Bike

The entire lakefront path is just over 18 miles long. Your best bet is to start in the middle, at Navy Pier, where you can rent some wheels from Bike and Roll Chicago ( 600 E. Grand Ave. 312/729–1000; the company has additional locations at Millennium Park, the Riverwalk, and the 53rd Street Bike Center in Hyde Park. Bobby's Bike Hike ( 465 N. McClurg Ct. 312/915–0995 is another option. Bobby's also books guided tours, including a kids' cycle and a historic Hyde Park tour.

North or South?

Either direction you head from Navy Pier will not disappoint. The north part of the trail hugs Lincoln Park and affords beautiful views, but it can be heavy with runners and skaters, and it might prove hard to navigate the traffic. Instead opt to head south. Addresses are painted on the pavement—"500S" for 500 South—so you can keep tabs on where you are.

Downtown Chicago

After five minutes or so, you'll be pedaling past downtown and the big and small boats bobbing in the bay at Chicago Yacht Club, which hosts the famous Race to Mackinac each July. At Randolph Street you can take a detour to check out Millennium Park, including the show-stopping Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate (Bean) sculpture. Just a few blocks south is Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. If you're here between April and October, wait to see the water show that happens every hour on the hour for 20 minutes starting at 9 am, with the final display ending at 11 pm; evening shows are set to lights and music.

Museum Campus

Less than a mile away is Museum Campus, a 57-acre lakefront park that's home to the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium. Solidarity Drive is a quiet, pretty detour with a promenade and access to Northerly Island. Actually a peninsula, it was home to Meigs Field airport until 2003, but is now a nature area with a small beach (12th Street Beach, a little-known downtown gem) and a concert venue.

Soldier Field, Chinatown, and Beyond

Back on the path, you'll pass Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears football team, and Burnham Skate Park, a 20,000-square-foot expanse of ramps, rails, and straightaways for aspiring skateboarders, then McCormick Place, a massive exhibition center and trade show hall. Continue south on a much more serene trail. Stop for a quick dip at Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago and the massive Museum of Science and Industry, or continue to the larger 63rd Street Beach in Jackson Park, where you'll find the city's oldest beach house. The trail ends at 71st Street.

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