Top Chicago nature spots

A few surprising urban spots to hike trails and spot wildlife.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy of Chicago Park District

    McCormick Bird Sanctuary in Burnham Park draws swarms of migrating birds with lush greenery and an oversized birdbath.

Photograph: Courtesy of Chicago Park District

McCormick Bird Sanctuary in Burnham Park draws swarms of migrating birds with lush greenery and an oversized birdbath.


Green with envy? Not so much. With urban options for fishing, birding, deer spotting, trail hikes, wetlands and prairie, Chicago hardly resembles a concrete jungle. These impressive pockets of nature keep city families in the green.

McCormick Bird Sanctuary in Burnham Park
Chicago’s lakefront is already a hotbed for spotting migrating birds, but the Chicago Park District has made it even more hospitable with four bird sanctuaries, including this six-acre site in Burnham Park. Developed in 2003 to cover the roof of McCormick Place’s parking garage, the nature area draws travel-weary birds with a prairie, woodland and shrubs, plus a freshwater stone birdbath. A wood-chip walk and interpretive plaques help kids spot different species. East of 2301 S Lake Shore Dr (312-742-7529, explorechicago.org).

Wolf Lake at William W. Powers State Recreation Area
On the Illinois-Indiana border, just before the sci-fi moonscape of abandoned lakefront steel mills, sits beautiful Wolf Lake, a 160-acre rec area that draws picnicking families, hikers and fishing enthusiasts. Bring poles and let the kids try for bass, northern pike, walleye and yellow perch. 12949 S Avenue O (773-646-3270, dnr.state.il.us)

North Park Village Nature Center
Deer sightings are almost guaranteed at this 46-acre Northwest Side nature preserve that once functioned as a tuberculosis sanitarium. After hiking through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna—and admiring Chicago’s only waterfall—be sure to stop in the education center for kid-geared interactive displays and family programming. 5801 N Pulaski Rd (312-744-5472, chicagoparkdistrict.com).

Northerly Island
Besides offering hiking and birding around the 91-acre peninsula (the former site of Meigs Field), the Park District checks out free kites for kids to fly in the meadow, and offers free family yoga classes in the prairie on Saturdays through September 1. 1400 S Linn White Dr (312-745-0280, chicagoparkdistrict.com).

North Branch Trail at Roman Pucinski Reserve
Families can hike, bike or canoe through the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s Northwest Side. The paved North Branch Trail starts at Devon and Caldwell Avenues and follows the river 20 miles northwest into Lake County. For canoe rentals, check out Chicagoland Canoe Base (4019 N Narragansett Ave, 773-777-1489, chicagolandcanoebase.com/rental.html; $50, additional day $35).


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