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 over 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 all yearlong.
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 through the wonders outside the doors. Chicago's largest park has trees aplenty, with red maple, ash, birch and elm all standing tall. Take in the colors while on a jog or bike ride.
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. This fall, it's also bound to provide an unforgettable look at autumn in Chicago, as the city below changes 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's no better place to set up a seasonal picnic spread—just don't forget the pumpkin spice lattes!
When you're done admiring the 120,000 plants representing some 600 species inside the conservatory, venture behind the gorgeous venue to admire the colorful trees on this great property, too. The conservatory itself is one of the largest in the world, with revolutionary architecture, and the flower shows change four times a year to reflect the seasons.
A 46-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. It also offer workshops and camps throughout the year. The annual Harvest Festival, taking place this year on October 14 and 15, is the perfect opportunity for a first visit.
This two-and-a-half-acre landscape 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 go, 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?). Plus, you'll find plenty of colorful leaves to admire. Nature abounds at the park's Wooded Island, which includes the Japanese-style Osaka Garden, Bobolink Meadows and vegetable and flower garden.
This historic cemetery (circa 1860) isn't just peaceful for the many Chicagoans (including quite a few famous names) who have been laid to rest there—it's peaceful for visitors, too. Walk the quiet, lush grounds and take in the countless varieties of tree, 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 hippest '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 small golf putting range. At the entrance to the garden, the area closest to the busy intersection, you'll find a monumental garden shelter and a formal reflecting pool, too. East of the building, the garden becomes more naturalistic and include perennial beds, a lily pool and Prairie-style benches.
You're surely no stranger to Millennium Park, and while it's a popular stop in peak tourist season, it should also be on your list of places to visit in peak fall. The 20-plus acre beauty within Grant Park includes elms, hawthorns and maples. Don't miss their changing leaves against the city skyline.
When you think leaf-peeping, hotels may not leap to mind, but the view from Lincoln Park's Hotel Lincoln offers up a great opportunity to take in the trees. The 12-story hotel looks out over Lincoln Park and is a great spot to see the skyline, too.
The U. of C.’s sprawling Hyde Park campus features its fair share of foliage. With the fall colors contrasting against the Hogwarts-y English Gothic architecture of the university’s stalwart structures, strolling the campus in the autumn could well put you in a back-to-school mood.
The vast Humboldt Park offers up more than 200 acres of nature, complete with walking trails, a lagoon and a myriad of towering trees. In fall, a quick drive or a meandering walk through the park is worth it, as the red and yellow leaves reflect in the water.
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 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.