Every day during the summer, when I leave work around 5:30 p.m., the world is bustling. I love it. Kids are on bikes, couples are talking walks, families are in their front yards watching the afternoon stretch on. Long days and warm nights are a luxury, so naturally, I started wondering how I might take advantage of them to torture myself.
Enter outdoor stairs. Running up and down a loooong set of public stairs makes for one killer workout that boosts cardiovascular endurance and helps build muscle. Though it sucks while you’re actually doing it, the aftereffect is glorious—just collapse in a sweaty heap on some nearby grass and know you did an awesome job.
Running stairs is my new favorite thing. My second new favorite thing is making my 7-year-old son run them with me. Considering he competes with me on everything from steps per day to who gets to feed the fish, it’s no surprise that he talks a big game when it comes to the stairs. (I have to say, I’ve been pretty impressed with his effort. But for the record, I reign supreme.)
Here are three public spaces with epic outdoor stairs—and three ways to reward both you and your kiddo after a workout worth the sweat.
Wood Oaks Green Park
The work: A giant sled hill (no, for real, it’s giant) is one of my favorite parts of this 55-acre park. Try out the stairs or simply run up and down the hill … either before or after your jog on the mile-plus trail, right?
The reward: Enjoy the shimmering beauty of Lake Shermerville, a man-made lake that offers catch-and-release fishing (and a really pretty view).
1150 Sanders Rd., Northbrook
Techny Prairie Park and Fields
The work: Stairs border either side of this 28-foot hill that’s a local favorite for sledding in the winter. It’s also well lit after dusk, so you’ve really got no excuses.
The reward: Sit your tired self next to the park’s 22,000-square-foot skate park and watch BMXers, skateboarders and scooterists zip, zoom and curve.
1750 Techny Rd., Northbrook
Swallow Cliff Woods
The work: Well, I had to save the best (worst?) for last. These stairs are no joke, but hey, at least the surroundings are quite scenic. Made of limestone, the 125 steps were constructed in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and are a popular spot for the fitness-minded.
The reward: Swallow Cliff’s 800-acre preserve offers a wealth of natural beauty, including majestic oaks, glittering streams, wetlands and flocks of migratory birds.
11918 S. La Grange Rd., Palos Hills