The 8 best outdoor dates in and around Chicago
A good hike can make for an awesome date. The problem is, well, the hiking part. Solving that, here are the eight best outdoor dates in and around Chi, which come with all of the good parts of hiking (awesome greenery, badass views), but none of the bad (sweat, medium-to-heavy breathing).
There’s more to Lincoln Park than annoying traffic and even more annoying several-beers-deep fraternity bros, and that "more" is the totally free North Pond Nature Sanctuary -- a Central Park-style oasis where you can chill out with more than 200 species of birds and the occasional red fox/coyote. Bonus date move: hit the Michelin-starred North Pond restaurant, where you can feed your date foie gras over cocktails while overlooking it all.
As Chicago’s closest thing to a national park, you can’t go wrong with a trip to this 1,700-acre sanctuary of 100,000 trees sprouting amidst 16 miles of trails that are maintained for "hiking, walking, or strolling". Pack a blanket, picnic, and a bottle of booze, then head to the less-crowded West Side of the park, and take the very stroll-able “Alternate Route” off the main road to discover a secluded lake.
Another classic date spot, what this park lacks in vast open spaces, it makes up for in immaculately manicured gardens scattered throughout the 385-acre “plant museum”. Check out butterflies and blue herons as you stroll (again with the strolling!) through trails and waterfalls, or just post up at the waterside deck patio where you can take in the sunset over the water.
An easy one-hour Metra ride from Downtown, a trip to Geneva checks every box on the date checklist. Bounce around the beautiful, open-air park along the Fox River (which continues into the Forest Preserve), then pop into the historic Downtown for dinner before grabbing a room at the Herrington Inn, where you can enjoy nature a different way: by drinking mojitos on an eye-arousing back patio overlooking the river.
As featured in The Dilemma, this lesser-known city treasure is the perfect place for some over-the-pants action buried deep within a massive scattering of plants, which looks like something out of the Jurassic Period. Lush green foliage and the peaceful sounds of flowing water soundtrack your journey inside one of the nation’s largest conservatories, while a few nice (and way easy) outdoor trails keep the vibe outside-y.
As one of the most overlooked parks in the area, you’ll find plenty of open space at this 135-acre prairie grove, where old log cabins and Native American teepees highlight nature walks through forest and wetlands. There’s also an interpretive center with all sorts of weird old turtles and snakes, and if things go really well, you can even get married (like we said, really well) in the historic 1929 Redfield Estate mansion located on-site.
Smack in the middle of the Northwest Side lies a 155-acre nature campus where sunbathing turtles and deer sipping water from lagoons provide the perfect escape from the city. Hold hands (or don't, it's your life) on your way down quiet boardwalks through open meadows, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, check out the nearby LaBagh Woods for a more “urban” nature experience featuring abandoned railroad tracks and graffiti-covered bridges.
This could be the most underrated lakeside park in the city, which translates to you having one of the best views of Downtown over Lake Michigan all to yourself. Do it up along the limestone blocks that line the park, or explore the vast Field House (where, coincidentally, you can also get married), before heading across the street to the Empty Bottle owner’s new upscale restaurant/music venue The Promontory to cap off the date in boozy style.
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Jay Gentile is the publisher of Chicago INNERVIEW Magazine and a Chicago-based freelance writer who would rather be outside than writing this. Follow him on Twitter.