Chicago is famous for its lakefront, and along with it comes one of the most heavily-utilized outdoor spaces in the city, Lincoln Park. Stretching seven miles from Ohio Street northward, the park provides a safe haven for bikers and joggers, includes recreational facilities and beaches, and serves as a wildlife sanctuary. Lincoln Park is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
The Chicago Park District manages the city’s 580 parks. Included is Grant Park – which encompasses 319 acres and features three museums (the Art Institute, the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium). A relatively recent addition is Millennium Park, which is easily accessible to the public, and offers free music and art displays. Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain, located in the downtown area, is another attraction that is easy to find.
Indian Boundary Prairies, a cluster of four prairies just south of Chicago, is owned by the Nature Conservancy; a portion has been named a National Natural Landmark – a site of premier importance as the largest and most diverse remaining grassland in Illinois. Prairie is a unique ecosystem that has been all but wiped out in the U.S.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, established on the former Joliet Arsenal, is the first national tallgrass prairie in the U.S. 20,000 acres of land are being restored to prairie. Today, 7,200 of these acres are open to the public.
Further afield is Indiana Dunes State Park, which features not only beautiful beaches but, more importantly, unique habitats for native plants and animals. The Dunes Nature Preserve is an example of ecological succession (the orderly and predictable changes that occur in ecological communities).
Starved Rock State Park, located in Utica, Illinois about 94 miles southwest of Chicago, is a lovely location with waterfalls, rock formations, forests and wildflowers.
Two of the most impressive botanical gardens in the Chicago area are also a bit out of the way – but well worth visiting.
The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois (north of the city) features extraordinarily beautiful displays of plants and four natural areas. Whether you enjoy Japanese gardens, English and heritage style gardens or water and waterfalls, this place has it all.
The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois (southwest of the city) contains one of the most comprehensive collections of woody plants in North America. There are also a number of gardens, and a wonderful prairie restoration. While there, visit the Sterling Morton Library, whose collections are devoted to the literature of botany and horticulture.
The Garfield Park Conservatory, located on the west side of Chicago, is easy to get to via public transportation. Six greenhouses and two grand exhibition halls contain the collections.
Oak Park Conservatory is a little further west. Visit its three display houses: Fern Room, Tropical Room and Desert Room. While in Oak Park, consider visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio or take a walking tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District.