Summer fun in the sun in Chicago: Water sports, camping, boat tours and more
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
After being cooped up in our homes all winter (and, let’s be honest, there really wasn’t a “spring” this year), we’re finally at a point where we can head outside for some fun without bringing a scarf and hand warmers with us.
So now’s the time to get out and do something — something active or maybe even not so active. All that matters is that we take advantage of the brief window we’ll have before winter comes a calling again.
Here are some suggestions:
Chicago SUP offers stand-up paddleboarding at North Avenue Beach and Diversey Harbor. The company offers individual rentals, group expeditions — even yoga. Not sure you know how to paddleboard standing up? Relax, there are lessons too. chicagosup.com
A little farther south, Chicago Watersports Rentals offers kayak, banana boat, jet ski and paddleboard rentals at 31st Street Harbor. (And yes, there’s paddleboard yoga too.) Plus you can try out one of those space-age contraptions that shoot you up into the sky like a rocket man using jets of water. They’re called Flyboards, and you can rent them at 31st Street Harbor too. chicagowatersportrentals.com
Head back up north to Montrose Beach and Windy City Watersports will also rent you a jet ski. windycitywatersports.com/location
Despite the bad rap it gets, the Chicago River is still an amazing natural resource. Take a kayak tour along on the river and you’ll be amazed at how peaceful it feels as you cruise right through the busiest part of our city. A number of outfits will set you up with rentals and guided safaris, including Urban Kayaks (urbankayaks.com), Chicago River Canoe and Kayak (chicagoriverpaddle.com), Kayak Chicago (kayakchicago.com) and Wateriders (wateriders.com).
Want to go a little deeper? Like, literally? Underwater Safaris on North Lincoln Avenue rents snorkeling and scuba gear and can arrange for private guided tours of the many wrecks and cool diving sites up and down the lakefront. uwsafaris.com
And while it’s not exactly Hawaii’s North Shore, our lakefront still can some gnarly waves when the wind is blowing just right. So wax up your board because surfing is allowed year round at Montrose and Osterman beaches on the North Side and 57th and Rainbow beaches on the South Side.
Chicagoans looking to spend the night under the stars have plenty of high-quality options within just a few hours of the city.
But you don’t necessarily have to drive to a state park or campground Downstate or in Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan to enjoy extended stays in the great outdoors. In fact, you don’t even have to leave Cook County.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County offers overnight camping at five locations around the area: Shabbona Woods in South Holland, Camp Sullivan in Oak Forest, Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs, Camp Reinberg in Palatine and Camp Dan Beard in Palatine.
Depending on the site you can rent a heated cabin or bunkhouse, or you can pull up your RV to a campsite with electricity. And there are plenty of sites where you pitch a tent and make a night (or several out of it).
The campsites are perfect launching pads for hiking, water sports (canoe rentals and more), fishing, picnicking and more. Plus you get to drift off to sleep to a lullabye from Mother Nature, all just a short drive from home. fpdcc.com/camping/
Want to try a little urban camping? The Chicago Parks Foundation will once again hold its Camp Northerly event on Northerly Island on the lakefront.
The 2017 event drew 150 adult campers, who enjoyed everything from campfires, glow-in-the-dark sports, s’mores (duh!) and more. This year’s event is scheduled August. chicagoparksfoundation.org/campnortherly/
The Midwest is home to thousands of places to drop a line, and any good fisherman knows you don’t go around telling people where the fish are biting.
But in addition to all the forest preserves, nature areas and state parks that ring the Chicago region, the city itself boasts plenty of places you can spend a day playing your own little version of “The Old Man and the Sea.”
There are 19 man-made lagoons in Chicago’s parks, 11 of which are stocked with fish. chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/fishing-areas/.
Then there are the thousands of spots along the Chicago and Calumet rivers. Plus, our ancestors had the foresight to set up shop on the banks of one of the greatest commercial fishing areas in the world, so any visit to the lakefront in the summer will find scores of men and women casting away.
Just make sure you follow all the rules — and get your fishing license first. Henry’s Sports and Bait (henryssports.com) on the South Side can set you up with one, along with all the bait and equipment you’ll need.
Boat tours and cruises
As a Chicagoan you’re practically bound by law to take friends from out of town out on a boat tour when they come to visit. (OK, maybe there’s no official ordinance on the books yet, but give the City Council time.)
But even the most jaded, grizzled longtime resident can get their breath taken away (and maybe even a little misty-eyed) seeing the skyline from out on the lake. Then there are the dinner cruises and river tours that can literally give you a different perspective on our fair city.
Some of the more popular providers:
• Wendella Boats, wendellaboats.com
• Shoreline Sightseeing, shorelinesightseeing.com
• Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, cruisechicago.com
• Seadog Cruises, seadogcruises.com
• Chicago Line Cruises, chicagoline.com
• Tall Ship Windy Chicago, tallshipwindy.com
• Mercury Cruises, mercurycruises.com
• Spirit of Chicago Cruises, spiritcruises.com
• Odyssey Cruises, odysseycruises.com
• Chicago Electric Boat Company, chicagoelectricboats.com
Additionally, a number of smaller providers up and down the lakefront offer charter cruises, fishing trips and more on smaller vessels. Find some at getmyboat.com/boat-rentals/chicago–illinois
Why let someone else captain the ship when you can do it yourself?
Sail Chicago (sailchicago.org) will teach you everything you need to pilot a sailboat with its fleet of boats at Monroe and Belmont harbors. Chicago Sailing (chicagosailing.com) offers lessons in addition to charters.
Hit the beach
The Chicago Park District’s beaches stretch from one end of the lakefront to the other, drawing swimmers, sunbathers and fitness enthusiasts from Rogers Park on the border with Evanston to East Side on the board with Indiana. Heck, there’s even an inland beach in Humboldt Park.
Each beach has its own flavor, reflecting the character of the greater neighborhood surrounding it. All of them are free and open to the public starting May 25. And many offer food and drink options, ranging from snack bars to full-service dining and drinks. chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/beaches.
Chicago running enthusiasts are so hard-core that it’s a year-round sport: Marathon training can’t wait for the weather to get warm you know.
Still, summer’s arrival brings the running scene alive, with organized runs just about every day. And be prepared to see runners in bibs taking part in big-time runs just about every weekend, particularly along the lakefront and in Grant Park.
There are too many events to list here, but if you’re interested in sliding on your running shoes and going for a jog, check out the Chicago Area Runners Association’s calendar at cararuns.org.
The Chicago area is home to hundreds of golf courses, everything from the duffer’s equivalent of a corner to bar to world-class facilities that have hosted major PGA and LPGA events.
The city could eventually be home to a championship-caliber course designed by Tiger Woods along the south lakefront. For now, though, the city boasts seven public courses and a Lincoln Park driving range run by the Chicago Park District (cpdgolf.com).
The acclaimed Harborside International Golf Center (harborsidegolf.com) on the far Southeast Side has been rated among the best public golf courses in the area by the PGA. And the Forest Preserves of Cook County (forestpreservegolf.com) has its own network of courses throughout the area.
Check out more from Golf Digest, which suggests Chicago might be “the public golf capital” of the United States: golfdigest.com/gallery/where-to-play-golf-in-chicago.
With all of the trails, paths, bike lanes and city efforts to boost cycling in general, talking biking in Chicago probably could fill an entire summer guide by itself.
Separately here we talk about both some of the most popular and some of the off-the-beaten-path options for a bike rides. But there are plenty of other ways to enjoy summer in the city on two wheels.
Take the ubiquitous Divvy bike-sharing program: In addition to all of the membership options, Divvy is now offering more deals in hopes of enticing you to take a ride.
New to the program is a deal that allows you a single ride of up to 30 minutes for just $3. And a new Explorer pass for $15 allows unlimited rides of up to three hours over a 24-hour period.
There are plenty of other options in the bike rental game, including:
• Bike and Roll Chicago, bikeandroll.com/chicago
• Bobby’s Bike Hike, bobbysbikehike.com
• Bike Chicago, bikechicago.com
• McDonald’s Cycle Center, chicagobikestation.com
• Chicago Bicycle Rentals, chicagobicyclerental.com
• Wheel Fun Rentals, wheelfunrentals.com/il/chicago/foster-beach/
And if you want to take a rolling tour of the city but don’t want to break a sweat (it’s OK, we’re not judging …) there are more than a few Segway tour options, including Segway Experience Chicago (mysegwayexperience.com), Bike and Roll (bikeandroll.com/chicago), Chicago Segway Tour (chicagosegwaytour.com), Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours (chicagosegways.com) and City Segway Tours Chicago (citysegwaytours.com/chicago).