The best fall foliage in Chicago
In October, make time to take a walk from the Botanic Garden's visitor center to the Conservation Science Center to see the many colorful perennials and fruit-bearing shrubs. Marvel at the Japanese maples as they turn red like fire and, if you're lucky, see the filigreed sumacs transform into a remarkable mix of orange, green and red. If you're here in November, an autumn walk in the Dixon Prairie is also a peaceful escape.
It might be a 30-minute drive to reach Morton Arboretum, but once you arrive, it'll feel like you're a world away (in a good way). Forget your troubles amid peaceful nature as you stand surrounded by more than 4,200 types of trees. Take a hike on one of the many trails or explore the gardens, wetlands and other natural areas. In the East Woods, Virginia creeper vines turn red and bur oaks drop their yellowing leaves. Be sure to check out the calendar for events throughout the year.
Leaf peeping in Lincoln Park is a no-brainer, as plenty of other amenities exist here, too. The kids can play on one of the many playgrounds in the area, or you can start the day with a date at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, pointing out all sorts of flora before strolling along the paths outdoors. Chicago's largest park has trees aplenty, with red maple, ash, birch and elm all standing tall, and you can walk, jog or bike by them.
The rooftop restaurant and bar at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel offers some of the best views of the city, with an expansive look at Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. During the fall, it also provides an unforgettable look at autumn in Chicago, as the leaves on the trees below change colors.
A Lincoln Square favorite, Winnemac Park has provided Chicago with nearly 40 acres of green space since 1910. Cruise through the breathtaking garden and nature trail, where you'll spot fall flowers, colorful leaves and woodland creatures. There are few better places to set up a seasonal picnic spread—you can even bring along pumpkin spice lattes!
Located around the banks of the Chicago River's North Branch, this forest preserve is packed with more than 35 miles of trails that visitors can use to traverse the sea of oaks, maples and cottonwoods. Take a long afternoon hike and soak up the seasonal colors or pack some food (and a thermos of hot cider) and head for one of the LaBagh Woods' many picnic areas.
When you're done admiring the fern room and palm house inside the conservatory, venture behind the gorgeous venue to admire the colorful trees in Garfield Park. The majority of the trees in the West Side park surround the lagoons, where visitors can follow winding pathways while gazing up at the bright leaves.
A 58-acre nature preserve and education center on what was once the site of a tree nursery established in the 19th century by Norwegian immigrant Pehr Samuel Petersen, this Chicago Park District facility has plenty for kids and adults with hands-on discovery tables and interactive displays. While there are wetlands, prairies and savannas present in the preserve, you'll want to stick to the woodland to see the vibrant foliage on trees that have been around for decades.
This two-and-a-half-acre landscape in the midst of Millennium Park (just south of the Pritzker Pavilion's Great Lawn) turns into a fiery prairie come September. The lush garden fills with with colorful fall blooms like balloon flowers, black-eyed Susans and Moonshine Yarrow. Before you leave, snap a photo from the footbridge, where you can see vibrant layers of foliage set against the city skyline.
Jackson Park is perhaps best known as the site of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Today, the nearly 600-acre park is a wonderland if you're looking for room to roam (and aren't we all sometimes?). If you want to admire fall foliage, the park's Wooded Island is a great place to start—make sure to stop by the Japanese-style Osaka Garden, the Bobolink Meadows and find Yoko Ono's Skylanding sculpture.
This historic cemetery (circa 1860) located between Wrigleyville and Uptown isn't just peaceful for the many Chicagoans (including quite a few famous names) who have been laid to rest there—it's a delight for visitors, too. Walk the quiet, lush grounds and take in the countless varieties of trees, including red oak, sycamore, black walnut, Norway spruce, Ohio buckeye and many, many more.
Get up close and personal with nature on this urban path that stretches through Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Wicker Park. Because the 2.7-mile walkway is elevated, you'll be able to see the tops of red and orange trees that line some of Chicago's most bustling 'hoods. Plus, you can hop off and explore parks, coffee shops and restaurants along the way.
This expansive North Lawndale park has all the amenities you could ask for—from gymnasiums and tennis courts to an outdoor pool and a mini golf course. Take a stroll through the green space (which hosts music festivals like Riot Fest and the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash) during autumn and you'll encounter plenty of vibrant foliage hanging from the trees that line the streets and thoroughfares of this South Side park.
Millennium Park may be a popular stop for tourists when Chicago's weather warms up, but it should also be on your list of places to visit in peak fall. The 20-plus acre beauty on the north end of Grant Park is home to elms, hawthorns and maples that show off their colors before winter arrives.
The U. of C.’s sprawling Hyde Park campus is a beautiful place to visit no matter what season it is, but we think it's the most stunning during autumn. Around the time when student return to class, you'll begin to see fall colors contrasting with the English Gothic architecture of the university’s stalwart structures. Even if it's been years since you've had to sit through a lecture, walking through the campus will probably give you that back-to-school feeling.
There's no more gator in Humboldt Park (that we know of), but the arrival of fall is a great reason to explore the 200 acres of nature in the expansive park. Hit the trails, stroll by the lagoons and take in a myriad of towering trees throughout the area. If you're pressed for time, just drive through the park on Humboldt Boulevard and look at the red and yellow leaves from the comfort of your car.
The garden to the south of the Art Institute’s main entrance is a tranquil retreat from the bustle of Michigan Avenue outside its gates. Anchored by Lorado Taft’s Fountain of the Great Lakes flowing into a central reflecting pool, the garden is populated with Chicago-native cockspur hawthorn trees, which turn a vibrant orange-red in the fall.
Take a stroll through Promontory Point Park—part of Burnham Park and accessible via the Lakefront Trail—and sit for a spell on the manmade peninsula. Come autumn, take in all of the color, juxtaposed beautifully against Lake Michigan. The park also boasts knockout views of the Chicago skyline and a field house that looks like a small castle.
Named for the 15th governor of Illinois, this seven-acre green space between Logan Square and Humboldt Park dates back to the creation of the boulevard system in the 1870s. Take the kids, who will appreciate a playground inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit, and have a picnic in the park under the changing leaves.
Because the Riverwalk is dotted with trees and green spaces, it's a great place to take in the city's changing hues. Our recommendation: Meander along the waterfront path and hunker down at City Winery with a glass of pinot noir. From there, you'll be able to enjoy the crisp breeze and check out some prime fall foliage.