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The City of Chicago Park System

A Yearlong Treasure of Free Activities

by Janet Paszkowski

The Chicago Park District is the oldest park district in the United States. It includes 7300 acres of parkland comprised of 552 diverse parks, 24 miles of lakefront, 33 beaches, 16 historic lagoons, and numerous bird, wildlife, and botanical gardens.

Formed in 1934—during the Great Depression—the Chicago Park District is now a leading provider of green and recreational space for residents and visitors alike, hosting thousands of free seasonal events and year-round sports and recreational programs which are enjoyed by serious athletes and fun seekers of all ages.

Here is a sampling of free events and activities…

Year-round Activities

Walking/Biking Trails: for a list of popular year-round walking and biking trails, see the 18-mile Lakefront Trail Map & Chicago Area Walking Trails.
North Park Village Nature Center Wet WalkNorth Park Village Nature Center features an educational center on forty-six acres of natural preserves.
Playgrounds: for a list of Chicago’s hundreds of playgrounds see Playground Locations (scroll down).
Lagoons: Enjoy fishing, turtle and bird watching, or a variety of aquatic life observations at dawn or dusk at one of 16 historic lagoons, featuring scenic boardwalks, piers, bridges, and limestone fishing pads.
Skate Parks: “Land a trick” at one of Chicago’s rad Skate Park Locations (scroll down).
Tennis Courts: Get “in the zone” at one of 618 tennis courts located throughout the Chicago metropolitan area Tennis Court Locations. You can also search here for parks with facilities ranging from Archery Ranges to Zoos, or search by other criteria including community or Zip code.

Summer Activities

The Chicago Lakefront (May-Sept) features 26 miles of recreation with 31 beaches, and 15 accessible beach walks, in addition to swimming, walking, jogging, biking, rollerblading, sunbathing, volleyball, or relaxing.
Water Playgrounds & Spray Pools: Let the kids “chill out” at one of Chicago’s Water Playground Locations or Spraypools.
Milton L. Olive III ParkMovies in the Parks (June-Aug View classic and current movies at more than 130 Chicago parks.
Chicago’s Performances in the Parks Series (June Sept) Take pleasure in live music concerts and dance performances for all ages at several Chicago parks.
Chicago SummerDance (June-Sept) Dance the night away with a one hour dance lesson and two hours of live music and dancing—Chicago SummerDance Event Schedule.
Birding in Chicago is exceptional due to the regions climate and topography, and summer mornings are particularly rewarding. See The Chicago Region Birding Trail Guide for premier Chicago bird watching sites.
Venetian Night (July) Chicago’s longest running event, featuring a waterfront parade of lighted boats and fireworks.
Enjoying the sun in Millennium ParkFourth of July: Both Navy Pier and Grant Park are the main locations for Chicago’s annual fireworks extravaganzas.

Autumn Activities

The Chicago Air & Water Show (Aug) is the largest spectator event in the United States and the longest ongoing air show in North America. Air & Water Show Info
Annual Lincoln Park Art Faire (Sept) In addition to an on-site open air art studio faire goers can view a large array of original artwork from over 100 vendors.
Annual Harvest Festival (Oct) This fall celebration features scarecrow building contests, live music, storytelling, seasonal foods, and a farmers market.
Halloween Activities: include several haunted houses and pumpkin patches at several neighborhood park locations.

Winter Activities

Ice skating, sledding, and snowshoeing (Nov –Feb).can be enjoyed at various park locations, including downtown Daley Bicentennial Park. Bring your own equipment or rent.
A windy day at the beachHoliday festivities (Nov-Feb) include arts & crafts, decorative light displays, an evening Skate with Santa and Mrs. Clause, and breakfasts, brunches/lunches, and storytelling with Santa at various parks throughout December. Call 312.742.7648 for more information.
Polar Adventure Days on Northerly Island (Nov–Jan) Enjoy ice-carving demonstrations, nature-inspired crafts, and live animal encounters.
Winter Flower and Train Show (Dec-Jan) Take pleasure in several model train and floral displays, in addition to a miniature village featuring famous Chicago-style homes and buildings.
Holiday Sportsfest (Dec) Chicago’s largest indoor playground is presented in a million square feet of fun at McCormick Place… with wrestling, tumbling, table tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, floor hockey etc.

Spring Activities

Bike riding at Promontory PointMaple Syrup Festival (March): Sample freshly tapped maple syrup at this two day festival featuring music, storytelling, a farmers market, and an array of vendors selling home-made soap, jams, jellies etc.
Egg-Stravaganza (April) This annual event—held at Soldier Field—is dubbed the largest free-admission candy grab in Chicago.
Spring Flower Show at the Garfield and Lincoln Park Conservatories
For information regarding Chicago Park District facilities, events, and seasonal/yearlong activities call 312 712-7529, or visit the Chicago Park District website.
For public transportation information visit the Chicago Transit Authority website.
Slideshow—all photos on this page

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