4 free ways to enjoy the outdoors in Chicagoland this fall

The days of trees changing colors, cool weather and an unlimited license to wear cute boots and sip cinnamon scented beverages are numbered; winter doesn’t officially begin until December 21 but Chicagoans know it can feel as though it has arrived at any time. There are plenty of ways to make the most of the season without your bank account taking a blow. 

Take a low-key family bike ride

Cooler fall days are ideal to pack up your little spinners and go for a family ride without worrying about the dangers of summer heat. If your crew includes a baby in a trailer or a kiddo with training wheels, the short Valley Line Trail could be just the right speed. The trail runs from Bryn Mawr to Devon in the Sauganash neighborhood of Chicago. A round trip spin on this trail would only be about two miles and could include wiggle time and a bathroom break at Sauganash Park, which is just off of the path. The area has plenty of trees, so I bet you’d see some fiery fall colors and maybe even spot a deer grazing along the way.   

Take in a lake view

The lakefront is always bustling when the weather is warm, but I was thrilled to find a less crowded and downright serene scene at a beach in Rogers Park recently. Located where Pratt St. meets the lake, Tobey Prinz Beach Park offered an amazing view framed by a weeping willow tree and small garden that buzzed with birds and dragonflies. I had some coveted #mamatime there, but if you bring your little bugs along, I bet they would have fun exploring the Windform sprawling sculpture (Yes, it’s okay to climb this one!), crunching leaves beneath their shoes and spotting sailboats along the pier. 

Take a stroll at an arboretum

The pint-sized Ladd Arboretum, nestled between McCormick Boulevard and the North Shore Channel in Evanston, is a little slice of nature in an urban setting. Families can bundle up and take in changing tree colors on the paths between Greenbay Road and Golf Road. There is an asphalt path closer to McCormick and a crushed granite path that will give you more of a quiet nature walk feel. Highlights of this natural gem include a bird sanctuary, where you might spot a majestic great blue heron; the Evanston Rotary Club’s Friendship Garden with its silver globe; and a gazebo, perfect for a snack break. Speaking of breaks, you can use the bathrooms at the Evanston Ecology Center (2024 McCormick Blvd), but it is only open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. M-F, so be sure to keep that in mind after hours and on weekends. A round trip stroll of everything the Ladd Arboretum has to offer should be just less than two miles, so it could be a great way to get some fresh air without overdoing it with an extensive family trek. 

Take in the sights at a sculpture park

The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park is actually located just south of the Ladd Arboretum. It is one of the first outdoor places that we took our son Isaiah during his newborn days and he seemed to love the hilly paths. The park stretches along McCormick between Dempster St. and Touhy Ave. There are three different places for parking, which allows you to choose the length of your stroll. We enjoy walking the paths as opposed to biking to really take in the sculptures along the way. There are so many interesting pieces of art and the Family Guide could be an ideal way to get your crew engaged with the sculptures. Bring the camera, because your little cuties, stunning art and the fall season sound like a recipe for incredible family photos! 

Fall will be over in a flash, so take time to savor the season with some good ol’ fashioned family fun.

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