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Garden of the Phoenix
Photograph: Shutterstock

12 secret parks and gardens in Chicago

Escape to these tucked-away green spaces located within our city in a garden.

Emma Krupp
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Emma Krupp
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One of the best parts of living in a city like Chicago is getting to mix and mingle with the millions of other people who call this place home. But sometimes it's nice to get away from the urban bustle and spend some time in the peace and quiet of nature. Luckily, with more than 8,800 acres of green space and upwards of 600 parks sprinkled throughout Chicago, you're bound to find some unexplored corridors—from gorgeous garden spaces tucked within famous Chicago parks to a former industrial site located alongside the shores of Lake Michigan. We won't swear that these secret parks and gardens in Chicago will be completely devoid of people, of course, but we're pretty sure you'll have fun exploring them either way.

RECOMMENDED: Our favorite gardens in Chicago

The best secret gardens and parks in Chicago

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Hyde Park

When it opened ahead of the World's Columbian Exhibition in 1893, the Garden of the Phoenix—a tidy park nestled between two lagoons on Jackson Park's Wooded Island—served as an important symbol of U.S. and Japanese relations. That legacy continues today via the garden's restored pavilion and elegant Japanese-inspired landscaping, which you can see in full splendor every spring as its cherry blossom trees burst into pale pink bloom.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Loop

Itching for a quiet place to get away from the elements? Venture up to the ninth floor of the Harold Washington Library Center to find this winter oasis, a glass-roofed atrium that lets you soak up some vitamin D no matter what season you visit. Pick a spot beneath some potted trees and take advantage of library WiFi to work or read in peace for as long as you need. 

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  • Attractions
  • Millennium Park

Though it's just a short walk from some of the Loop's most bustling attractions, the Cancer Survivors' Garden always offers a sense of calm; in fact, the park was designed to embody the metaphorical process of healing through acceptance, support and celebration. Visit by entering Maggie Daley Park and heading east, where you'll be greeted by a set of 40-foot granite columns, a towering metal pavilion and rows of blooming flowers (when weather allows).

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Hyde Park

According to campus lore (or at the very least, the erstwhile University of Chicago Admissions Tumblr page), you'll be destined to marry any person you kiss on the bridge above Botany Pond, located near the center of the university's quad. We can't speak to the pond's powers of romance, but its peaceful waters make for an excellent place to watch ducks float by each spring.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Lincoln Park

The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is closed for the season and will reopen in mid-April.

Escape to scenery straight out of a Monet painting at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, a tranquil garden space located at the north end of Lincoln Park Zoo. Designed to mimic the sights and sounds of Midwestern rivers, the 3.14-acre garden features a babbling waterfall and lush native vegetation, plus a pavilion area perfect for stopping to admire the views.

Chicago's boulevard system
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Chicago's boulevard system

Chicago's boulevards are so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget their initial purpose when the city began construction back in the 1870s: to serve as easily-accessible green spaces for recreation and leisure along the outer fringes of the city. Nowadays, these broad strips of parkland are ideal for outdoor hangouts or posting up to gaze at the massive Victorian-era homes thronging the streets—and with more than 25 miles of boulevards along the South and West Sides of the city, you don't have to go far to find them.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Gold Coast

If you're a fan of the Art Institute's secluded South Garden, you'll love the slightly more out-of-the-way Olive Park, which was also designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley. Located near Ohio Street Beach on a man-made peninsula, the park features canopying rows of honey locust trees draping over a path next to Lake Michigan, offering sweeping lake views and plenty of dappled shade. Grab a seat on one of the park's black granite benches and linger awhile, or set up your hammock in between the trees.

  • Things to do
  • South Chicago

This spacious park near the Calumet River and Lake Michigan once housed part of the US Steel complex South Works. Now, it's a jaw-dropping monument to Chicago's industrial past, with massive sections of the factory's former ore walls incorporated into the surrounding green space. Walk or bike through the park's paths or bring climbing gear to try your hand at scaling the ore walls, which are outfitted with holds from Memorial Day through Thanksgiving (beginners should check out the park district's community climbing events).  

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  • Things to do

Looking to get a taste of Midwest landscape within city limits? Enter Burnham Park to access this 100-acre network of urban wildlife running alongside Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive. Inside, you'll find three central areas of wilderness—the Burnham Centennial Prairie, Burham Nature Sanctuary and McCormick Bird Sanctuary—that feel worlds away from the surrounding cityscape. Birders, bring your binoculars to catch glimpses of migratory species passing through! 

  • Things to do
  • Avondale

Blink and you'll miss this 1.24-acre Avondale park, which packs a ton of amenities into its relatively small space tucked beside the Kennedy Expressway—everything from an outdoor swimming pool to soccer and volleyball facilities. Grab some picnicking supplies from nearby Joong Boo Market, some headphones to tune out the cars zooming by overhead and prepare for a relaxing afternoon.

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  • Things to do
  • Washington Park

A treasure awaits you in Washington Park during late summer's humid peak. Once August rolls around, an empty lot next to the Green Line transforms into a field of sunflowers called Sunflower City, an urban agricultural project designed to help beautify an otherwise unused plot of land. FYI: The blooms are subject to the elements and other growing issues throughout the season, so keep up with the org's social media pages to plan the best time for a visit. 

 

  • Things to do
  • East Garfield Park

There's plenty to explore within Grant Park, but if you want a  place to pause for a rest, you can stop and smell the roses at this lovely garden situated near Buckingham Fountain. The white archways and pillowy flowers offer an especially quaint atmosphere—sit back and pretend you're in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden.

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