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A Beginner’s Guide To The Best Running in Chicago

Chicago, known as the Windy City, is not only famous for its stunning architecture, deep-dish pizza, and vibrant cultural scene but also for its thriving running community. With its picturesque lakefront, numerous parks, and diverse neighborhoods, running in Chicago offers abundant running routes and trails for both beginners and seasoned runners. Whether you are a local or visiting the city, lacing up your running shoes and exploring the streets and paths of Chicago can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience.

city running in chicago

Chicago offers a plethora of running routes that cater to a wide range of preferences and abilities. Whether you prefer scenic lakefront views, exploring urban trails, or immersing yourself in the city’s vibrant neighborhoods, there is a running route in Chicago that is sure to captivate you. In this section, we will explore some of the most popular and iconic running routes in the city, providing you with detailed information about each route’s distance, location, highlights, safety considerations, and more.

Lakefront Trail

Distance and Location: The Lakefront Trail is a beloved running route that spans approximately 18 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan, stretching from Ardmore Avenue on the North Side to 71st Street on the South Side. It provides runners with a scenic pathway that winds through some of Chicago’s most picturesque neighborhoods and parks.

Highlights and Attractions: Running along the Lakefront Trail offers breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, with the city’s skyline serving as a stunning backdrop. The trail takes you past iconic landmarks like Navy Pier, Grant Park, and the Museum Campus, offering plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and exploration. You can also enjoy the serenity of the beaches, lush green spaces, and numerous recreational amenities along the route.

Safety Tips and Considerations: While the Lakefront Trail is a popular and well-maintained running path, it can get crowded, especially during peak hours and weekends. It’s important to be mindful of other trail users, including cyclists and pedestrians, and practice proper trail etiquette. Additionally, ensure you have proper lighting and reflective gear if running during early morning or evening hours. Being aware of your surroundings and following basic safety precautions will help ensure a pleasant and safe running experience on the Lakefront Trail.

The 606 Trail

Description and Location: The 606 Trail, also known as the Bloomingdale Trail, is a unique running route built on a former elevated railway line. This 2.7-mile long trail runs through several vibrant neighborhoods, including Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Logan Square. The elevated pathway provides runners with an urban oasis, offering a different perspective of the city as they traverse above street level.

Points of Interest and Amenities: The 606 Trail features beautifully landscaped gardens, art installations, and recreational spaces along its route. Runners can enjoy the vibrant street art that adorns the trail’s bridges and viaducts, adding a touch of creativity to their running experience. The trail also incorporates access points to parks and playgrounds, providing opportunities for rest and relaxation during your run.

Tips for Running on The 606 Trail: The 606 Trail can be busy, especially during peak hours, so it’s important to be mindful of other trail users. The trail is cyclist-friendly, so be aware of bikes sharing the path and give them ample space. Since the trail is elevated, it offers a unique perspective of the city, but it’s also exposed to the elements, so be prepared for varying weather conditions. Additionally, take advantage of the water fountains and rest areas along the trail to stay hydrated and take breaks if needed.

Grant Park and Millennium Park

park running in chicago

Exploring the Parks and Their Running Paths: Grant Park and Millennium Park are two iconic green spaces located in the heart of downtown Chicago. Grant Park stretches along the lakefront and offers picturesque views of Lake Michigan, while Millennium Park is known for its famous Cloud Gate sculpture, affectionately referred to as “The Bean.” Both parks have paved paths that are popular among runners, providing a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Noteworthy Landmarks and Attractions: Running in Grant Park allows you to enjoy the beauty of Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum Campus, home to the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium. Millennium Park offers the opportunity to run past the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Crown Fountain, and the Lurie Garden. These landmarks and attractions add a touch of culture and art to your running experience.

Best Times to Visit and Important Considerations: Grant Park and Millennium Park can get crowded, especially during summer festivals and events. To avoid large crowds, consider running early in the morning or during weekdays if possible. Also, keep in mind that some areas may be closed off for events or maintenance, so it’s always a good idea to check for any updates or closures before heading out for your run.

Lincoln Park

Overview of the Park’s Running Trails: Lincoln Park is one of Chicago’s largest and most popular parks, offering runners a variety of trails to explore. The park features paved paths that wind through lush greenery and alongside the picturesque North Pond Nature Sanctuary. Runners can choose to run along the lakefront, explore the zoo, or venture deeper into the park to enjoy the tranquility of the surrounding nature.

Key Features and Scenic Spots: Lincoln Park boasts several scenic spots that make for enjoyable running experiences. The South Pond Pavilion, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, and the North Avenue Beach are just a few of the beautiful areas within the park that runners can incorporate into their routes. These spots offer opportunities for rest, taking in the scenery, and even snapping some memorable photos along the way.

Safety Precautions and Running Tips: While Lincoln Park is generally considered safe, it’s always important to remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings, especially when running alone or during off-peak hours. Stick to well-lit areas, avoid isolated sections of the park, and consider running with a buddy or joining a running group for added safety. Additionally, be prepared for varying terrain within the park, as some trails may be uneven or have gravel sections.

Chicago Riverwalk

Running Options and Routes along the Riverfront: The Chicago Riverwalk offers a unique running experience, allowing you to soak in the city’s architectural marvels while enjoying the tranquil beauty of the Chicago River. The Riverwalk spans 1.25 miles along the south bank of the Chicago River, offering runners a scenic route that showcases the city’s stunning skyline and iconic bridges.

Sightseeing Opportunities and Dining Options: Running along the Chicago Riverwalk provides an opportunity to admire architectural gems like the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower, and the Marina City towers. The Riverwalk is also lined with various dining establishments, cafes, and bars, making it a great spot to refuel after your run or even plan a post-run brunch with friends.

Weather Considerations and Recommended Gear: Chicago experiences distinct seasons, so it’s important to be prepared for varying weather conditions when running along the Riverwalk. Dress appropriately for the season and consider wearing moisture-wicking clothing to stay comfortable during warmer months. During colder months, layer your clothing and wear reflective gear to ensure visibility, especially when running in low-light conditions.

Running Events and Races in Chicago

lakefront running in chicago

Chicago is well-known for its vibrant running scene, offering a wide array of events and races throughout the year. Whether you are a competitive runner looking to challenge yourself or a casual runner seeking a fun and inclusive atmosphere, Chicago has something for everyone. In this section, we will explore some of the most notable running events and races in the city, providing you with an overview of their history, course details, training tips, and registration information.

Chicago Marathon

History and Significance of the Chicago Marathon: The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of the most prestigious marathons in the world, attracting elite runners and participants from all walks of life. Established in 1977, the Chicago Marathon has grown to become one of the six World Marathon Majors, alongside races in New York, Boston, London, Berlin, and Tokyo. Known for its flat and fast course, the Chicago Marathon offers runners the opportunity to achieve personal bests and experience the incredible support of the cheering crowds.

Course Details and Highlights: The Chicago Marathon course takes participants on a scenic tour of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, starting and finishing in Grant Park. Runners pass iconic landmarks such as Millennium Park, the Willis Tower, and the vibrant neighborhoods of Lincoln Park and Pilsen. The course showcases the city’s rich cultural heritage and offers a truly unique and unforgettable marathon experience.

Training Tips and Registration Information: Training for a marathon requires dedication, discipline, and a well-structured plan. Whether you are a seasoned marathoner or a first-time participant, it’s important to follow a training program that suits your fitness level and goals. The Chicago Marathon website provides comprehensive training resources, including sample training plans, expert advice, and tips on injury prevention. Registration for the Chicago Marathon typically opens several months before the race, and it’s important to secure your spot early, as the event tends to sell out quickly.

Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K

Overview of the Race and Its Route: The Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K is a popular springtime event that attracts runners of all abilities. Held in May, this race offers participants the opportunity to embrace the beauty of the city while enjoying a flat and fast course. The race starts and finishes in the iconic Maggie Daley Park, taking runners through the scenic lakefront paths and showcasing the city’s stunning skyline.

Training Plans and Preparation Tips: Whether you are aiming to complete your first half marathon or looking to set a personal record, proper training is essential. The Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K website provides training plans tailored to different fitness levels, helping you gradually increase your mileage and build endurance. Additionally, incorporating cross-training and strength exercises into your training routine can help improve your overall performance and prevent injuries.

Registration Process and Important Dates: Registration for the Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K typically opens several months before the race. It’s important to check the race website for specific dates and registration instructions. Early registration often comes with discounted fees, so it’s advisable to secure your spot as soon as possible. Stay updated with the race’s social media channels and newsletters to ensure you don’t miss any important deadlines or announcements.

Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K/5K

Description of the Event and Its Charitable Aspect: The Hot Chocolate 15K/5K is a unique racing experience that combines a love for running with a love for chocolate. Held annually in October, this event offers participants the chance to indulge in hot chocolate and sweet treats at various aid stations along the course. The Hot Chocolate 15K/5K also partners with local charities, making it a race that combines fitness, fun, and philanthropy.

Course Details and Famous Chocolate Aid Stations: The race starts and finishes in Grant Park, taking participants on a scenic route through downtown Chicago. Runners pass notable landmarks such as Buckingham Fountain and the Museum Campus while enjoying the energetic atmosphere created by cheering spectators. One of the highlights of the race is the famous chocolate aid stations, where participants can refuel with marshmallows, chocolate chips, and of course, hot chocolate.

How to Register and Participate: Registration for the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K can be done online through the race website. Participants have the option to register for either the 15K or 5K distance. It’s important to register early to secure your spot, as this event tends to sell out quickly. Check the race website for specific registration dates, fees, and any additional information you may need.

Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K

History and Significance of the Event: The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K is an annual race held in March that marks the official start of the running season in Chicago. With its festive St. Patrick’s Day theme, this race attracts thousands of participants, creating a sea of green as runners take to the streets of downtown Chicago. The Shamrock Shuffle is not only a race but also a celebration of Irish heritage and community spirit.

Course Overview and Iconic Landmarks: The Shamrock Shuffle course takes runners on a scenic tour of downtown Chicago, passing iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Loop. The festive atmosphere, live music, and enthusiastic crowd support create an electric atmosphere that propels runners forward. The race finishes in Grant Park, where participants can celebrate their accomplishment at the post-race party.

Training Advice and Registration Details: Training for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K requires a combination of speed and endurance. Incorporating interval training and tempo runs into your training plan can help improve your race performance. The race registration typically opens a few months before the event, and it’s important to check the race website for specific dates and registration details. Remember to register early to secure your spot and take advantage of early bird discounts if available.

Other Notable Running Events and Races in Chicago

In addition to the aforementioned races, Chicago hosts a wide variety of running events throughout the year. From shorter distances like 5Ks and 10Ks to longer races such as half marathons and marathons, there is no shortage of opportunities to lace up your running shoes and participate in the vibrant running community. Some notable events include the Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K, the BTN Big 10K, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon, and the Chicago Triathlon, among many others. Stay updated with race calendars and websites to discover the full range of races available in the city.

Running Clubs and Groups in Chicago

lakeside running in chicago

Chicago’s running community is vibrant and diverse, offering numerous opportunities for runners to connect, train together, and find support and motivation. Whether you are a beginner looking to join a group for accountability or a seasoned runner seeking competitive training, Chicago has a wide range of running clubs and groups to suit your needs. In this section, we will explore some of the prominent running clubs and groups in Chicago, highlighting their missions, benefits of joining, membership details, and how to get involved.

Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA)

Introduction to CARA and Its Mission: The Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the running community in Chicago. CARA’s mission is to provide opportunities for runners of all levels to train, race, and connect with fellow enthusiasts. With over 10,000 members, CARA is one of the largest running clubs in the city.

Benefits of Joining CARA: Joining CARA comes with a multitude of benefits. Members gain access to CARA’s extensive network of group runs, training programs, and educational resources. CARA also offers exclusive discounts on races, running gear, and other fitness-related products and services. Additionally, CARA provides a sense of community and camaraderie, allowing runners to connect with like-minded individuals and participate in social events and volunteer opportunities.

Membership Information and Resources: To become a CARA member, individuals can sign up through the CARA website. Membership options include individual, family, and student memberships, with varying benefits and fees. CARA members gain access to exclusive resources such as training plans, coaching advice, injury prevention tips, and access to CARA’s online community and forums. The organization also offers various workshops, clinics, and seminars throughout the year to help runners improve their skills and knowledge.

Chicago Running Meetup Groups

Overview of Popular Meetup Groups: is a platform that brings people together based on shared interests, and Chicago has a thriving running meetup scene. There are numerous running meetup groups in the city catering to different interests and abilities. From beginner-friendly groups focusing on social runs to more competitive groups offering speed workouts and training sessions, there is a meetup group for every runner.

Description of Group Activities and Events: Running meetup groups typically organize regular group runs and workouts at various locations throughout the city. These events may include short fun runs, long-distance training runs, interval workouts, hill repeats, and more. Meetup groups also provide an opportunity to connect with fellow runners, share advice, and discover new routes and races.

How to Find and Join Running Meetup Groups: Finding running meetup groups in Chicago is as simple as visiting the website or app and searching for running-related groups in the area. From there, you can explore different groups, read reviews, and join the ones that align with your interests and goals. Most meetup groups have a simple registration process, and membership is usually free or involves a nominal fee to cover administrative costs.

Nike Running Club Chicago

Information about the Nike Running Club: Nike Running Club (NRC) is a global initiative by Nike that aims to inspire and motivate runners of all levels. The NRC Chicago chapter offers a range of group runs and training sessions led by experienced coaches and pacers. NRC focuses on creating a supportive and inclusive environment to help runners achieve their goals and push their boundaries.

Schedule and Locations of Club Runs: NRC Chicago hosts regular group runs at various locations throughout the city, including popular running paths, parks, and iconic landmarks. The club offers different types of runs, catering to various fitness levels and goals. These runs may include easy recovery runs, speed workouts, long runs, and even special themed runs. The NRC Chicago website or app provides up-to-date information on the schedule and locations of group runs.

Benefits and Perks of Joining the Club: Joining NRC Chicago comes with numerous benefits and perks. Participants gain access to expert coaching and guidance, as well as the opportunity to connect with a supportive community of runners. NRC also offers exclusive access to Nike products, special events, and workshops. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned runner, NRC Chicago provides a platform for growth, improvement, and connections within the running community.

Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago

Introduction to LGBTQ+ Running and Walking Group: Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago is an inclusive running and walking group that welcomes individuals of all genders, ages, and abilities. Founded in 1983, the group aims to provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies to enjoy running and walking together. Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago fosters a sense of community, acceptance, and empowerment.

Activities, Social Events, and Inclusivity: Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago organizes regular group runs and walks at various locations throughout the city. These events are designed to accommodate different paces and distances, ensuring that everyone feels welcome and included. In addition to the physical activities, the group also hosts social events, fundraisers, and volunteer activities, providing opportunities for members to connect and give back to the community.

Membership Details and How to Get Involved: Becoming a member of Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago is easy and open to all. Simply visit their website or attend one of their runs or events to get started. Membership benefits include access to group runs, social events, and the opportunity to connect with a diverse and supportive community. Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago welcomes runners and walkers of all abilities, whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting your fitness journey.

Other Notable Running Clubs and Groups in Chicago

In addition to the aforementioned running clubs and groups, Chicago offers a variety of other notable organizations that cater to runners of all levels and interests. Some of these include the Chicago Endurance Sports, Chicago Track Club, and Chicago Athlete. These groups provide additional opportunities for training, socializing, and participating in races and events. To find a running club or group that aligns with your preferences, interests, and goals, consider exploring local running stores, social media platforms, and online forums for recommendations and information.

Safety and Tips for Running in Chicago

Safety should always be a top priority when it comes to running, regardless of where you are. Chicago, like any major city, has its own considerations and precautions that runners should be aware of to ensure a safe and enjoyable running experience. In this section, we will provide you with general safety precautions for running in the city, tips for running in different weather conditions, strategies for staying motivated and connected within the running community, and resources and tools to track progress and improve performance.

When running in Chicago, it’s important to follow some basic safety precautions to minimize risks and ensure a safe experience. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Be aware of your surroundings: Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. Stay alert and be mindful of traffic, cyclists, pedestrians, and potential hazards along your route. Avoid running with headphones or keep the volume low to remain aware of your surroundings.
  • Run during daylight hours: Whenever possible, choose well-lit routes and run during daylight hours. If you must run before sunrise or after sunset, wear reflective clothing and use a headlamp or other lighting devices to enhance your visibility.
  • Tell someone your route: Let a friend or family member know your planned running route and estimated return time. This way, someone will be aware of your whereabouts in case of an emergency.
  • Carry identification and a phone: Always carry identification, such as an ID card or a wristband with emergency contact information. It’s also a good idea to bring a cell phone with you in case you need to call for assistance.

  • Vary your routes: Avoid running the same route at the same time every day. Varying your routes and schedules can help prevent patterns that may make you a target for potential threats.

  • Trust your instincts: If something feels off or unsafe, trust your instincts and make necessary adjustments to your running plan. It’s better to err on the side of caution and choose a different route or postpone your run if necessary.

Running in Different Weather Conditions

Chicago experiences distinct seasons, with hot and humid summers and cold winters. It’s important to be prepared for varying weather conditions to ensure a comfortable and safe run. Here are some tips for running in different weather conditions:

  • Hot weather: During hot and humid summer months, it’s crucial to stay hydrated. Carry water or plan your route around water fountains or stores where you can refill. Wear lightweight and breathable clothing, apply sunscreen, and consider running early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the hottest part of the day.
  • Cold weather: In winter, dress in layers to stay warm and protect yourself from the cold. Wear moisture-wicking base layers to keep sweat away from your body, insulating mid-layers to trap heat, and a windproof outer layer to block cold air. Don’t forget to cover your extremities with hats, gloves, and warm socks. Be cautious of icy or slippery surfaces, and consider wearing traction devices on your shoes for added grip.

  • Rainy weather: Embrace the rain by wearing moisture-wicking clothing and a waterproof or water-resistant outer layer. Choose running shoes with good traction to prevent slipping. Be cautious of puddles and slippery surfaces, and adjust your pace and running technique accordingly.
  • Extreme weather conditions: In cases of extreme weather conditions, such as thunderstorms, heavy snowfall, or extreme heat advisories, it’s best to prioritize safety and consider alternative forms of exercise indoors. Listen to weather advisories and use your judgment to determine if it’s safe to run.

Where Else Will You Run?

After running in Chicago’s Windy City, you’ll be ready for your next running adventure. Check out our state-by-state guide to find other run travel fun throughout the US.

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