By Maria Boustead
The days are growing shorter, and Chicagoans know what that means. Cold is coming, and it won’t be pretty. Well, pretty perhaps, but pleasant? Definitely not. Before we transform into winter hermits, let’s enjoy these last few weeks of the season and head outside in the fresh, crisp autumn air. Here are four of my favorite outdoor activities for you to try before snowfall.
1. Cycle in the city
Of the many picturesque bike routes in Chicago, the lakefront path is the most iconic and scenic. I ride along the lake from my home in Uptown to my office in the Loop in all seasons, but fall is particularly enchanting with the changing colors of the leaves and the breeze off of the lake. Although the north side of the trail is more popular, some true jewels are on the South Side of Chicago. For breathtaking views of the Loop, head south from Museum Campus to Promontory Point. Continue to the South Shore Cultural Center (7059 S. Shore Dr.), where the Obamas held their wedding reception in 1992. The Center’s Parrot Cage restaurant was voted Diners’ Top Choice best brunch in Chicago in 2012 by Open Table. The Jazz Brunch is served buffet-style Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and features an omelette station, waffles and fried chicken wings.
2. Ride the trails
While I mainly bike in the city, at least once a year, I treat myself to some suburban trail riding. Paths are usually completely separated from traffic and therefore, more conducive to relaxing and enjoying the scenery. Trail riding in the fall means a less-crowded path, cooler weather and fewer bugs. Fox River Trail, 24.7 miles long and (mostly) paved, follows the River from St. Charles to Aurora. The long, green stretches and picturesque Fox River views are punctuated by charming commercial strips in Batavia and Geneva. Take a break to poke around antique shops and sip a hot chocolate at one of the old-timey restaurants. Of several landmarks gracing Fox River Trail, Fabyan Villa just south of Galena, is a must-see. The estate features Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Rest and collect your thoughts at the tranquil Japanese Gardens. The Fox River Trail is about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago and easily accessible by Metra’s Union Pacific West Line. You can bring your bike on board when it isn’t rush hour. By car, take Interstate 88 to Highway 59 and go north.
3. Canoe in Chicagoland rivers
Bikes and fall foliage aside, do not miss this last opportunity of 2013 to canoe or kayak in Chicagoland’s rivers. Savor fall’s radiant colors along Northern Illinois’s idyllic river valleys and footbridges. Head out to Fever River Outfitters in Galena for one of its popular canoe and kayak trips. The roughly two-hour trip launches four times daily through Oct. 31, from the outskirts of Galena to the Galena Boat Landing. Snacks are available to purchase at Fever River. Stop and browse in the shop (full disclosure: Fever River carries my Po Campo line of bags). For a river adventure closer to home, try Chicago River Canoe and Kayak’s guided Skyscraper Canyon tour. What a name. Experience our stunning architecture from river level. The 5.5-mile, round-trip tour starts at the edge of Chinatown and paddles north through Downtown, past River City, the Willis Tower and more.
4. Walk a maze
Located in the heart of Downtown, the St. James Cathedral Walking Labyrinth is nestled in a plaza just off Michigan Avenue at 65 E. Huron St. It’s free and open to the public 24 hours a day. The difference between walking a maze and taking a regular walk is that you won’t go far physically, but mentally you will arrive at a different place. Try walking the labyrinth until you forget where you are walking; by then, you will be calm and steady. After experiencing the maze, poke around the cathedral, the oldest Episcopal church in the city. Its walls and bell tower predate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. According to wcities.com, Abraham Lincoln visited the church the day after he was elected president in 1860.
Use these last crisp, cool days of fall to explore new vistas and scenic routes by bike, by boat and on foot. Not only will you enjoy the adventures now, but you will also create warm memories for the long winter months ahead.