If you've never visited Chicago, you may be pleasantly surprised that this landlocked Midwestern city has 26 miles of beautiful lakefront and beaches along Lake Michigan. A flat bike and pedestrian trail runs 18 miles of that length, stretching from the south side of the city up to the north. Our frog family thinks it’s a ribbeting good way to spend a day bicycling! Also, it's an easy way to get around without dealing with city traffic or parking. You can rent bikes to take in the scenery and sightsee, stopping at several iconic spots (including parks and beaches that the tadpoles will toadally love) along the way. Plus, this is a perfect way to work off some of that deep-dish pizza Chicago is known for!
Renting Bikes for a Family Bike Ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail
Well, the obvious first step in taking a family bike ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail is locating bikes. There are a number of bike rental shops in Chicago, and they can provide you with kid equipment such as children’s bikes, tandem bikes, bike wagons (pull the kids behind you), cargo bikes (put the kids in front so they can enjoy the view), baby seats, tagalongs (pedal trailers for kids who are newer to riding but whose legs might get tired) and even surreys. Bikes can be rented by the hour or full day. Some family-friendly bike rental places include Bobby’s Bike Hike (where you can also rent single and double jog strollers) or Bike and Roll. The bike rental shops can be of great service to families, offering maps, tips, helmets and bike locks.
Places to See When Taking a Family Bike Ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail
Once you've got your bikes, get ready to roll! There is so much to see and do along the Chicago Lakefront Trail, from world-class museums, to parks and playgrounds to beaches and more. The bike trail runs from the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and Cultural Center up to Lane Beach in the north. You can easily take yourself on a self-guided tour, go at your own pace and see the attractions that interest you. If you prefer other trails that go into local neighborhoods, you can take a bike tour and learn about architecture and other sights beyond the main tourist areas.
We have a few recommended stops for families, where you can hop off your bike and have some new adventures along the trail or in parks slightly off the path. Parks, beaches and some locations are free, but some activities or museums have a fee. The good news is that you can save money on parking (which can be quite pricey) by arriving on bike and save more if you purchase through us! Our favorite, kid-approved locations include:
- Museum of Science and Industry
- Shedd Aquarium
- Adler Planetarium
- Field Museum of Natural History (for dinosaur lovers)
- Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park
- Millennium Park (interactive art such as “The Bean” for reflection and a new perspective on the city, as well as free classical music concerts)
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Maggie Daley park (amazing playground, climbing wall, mini golf and skate ribbon for roller skates or ice skating, depending on weather)
- Navy Pier (Chicago Children’s Museum, tours, cruises, maze, restaurants, and rides)
- Lincoln Park Zoo (free zoo)
- Beaches (there are many public beaches along the path for swimming, volleyball, building sandcastles, paddle boarding and more. Montrose Beach has jet ski and kayak rentals, and its south end has a native dune ecosystem all with a view of a major city)
There are certainly more things to do and see along the bike path, but these are just a few of our favorites when we take a family bike ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail. You certainly cannot do it all in one day (and should not attempt to visit more than one museum per day), but you can hit a few highlights along the way, while getting some fresh air and giving the froglets a chance to stretch their legs and play. It’s much easier to stop and explore a new playground or nature area by hopping off a bike than by parking a car. Some of the parks — Grant Park, Millennium Park and Maggie Daley (which are all near each other) — are massive. On a map it may look like a short walk, but these parks and the attractions within are very spread out.
Short Bike Trip Options on the Chicago Lakefront Trail
Another bike rental option for shorter, under 30-minute trips is a bike share system called Divvy. However this is designed more for local riders, rather than visitors. It is an option that works only if you have older children, age 16 and up who can ride a full-size bike. Bike helmets are not required in Chicago, so bring your own if you'd like to protect your noggins (highly recommended). If planning to ride to destinations, exit the bike for a while and then ride again to new places, then Divvy might work for you. You can purchase a pass at any Divvy kiosk. A 24-hour pass costs $9.95 plus tax and includes unlimited 30-minute rides. Longer rides will accrue some additional fees. There are kiosks all over the city, so just return the bike to a kiosk when you need to a park. When ready to move on or return to your original location, simply take another bike.
Some of the hotels close to the Lakefront Trail also offer bike rentals, and sometimes they are free for guests. This is a convenient way to have a short hop on the trail.
Riding a bike does require some precautions and safety warnings. We recommend avoiding streets and traffic and sticking to the bike path as much as possible. Wear helmets and dress in comfortable and bright clothing. Do not ride at night. Many of the trails share space with walkers and runners, so keep an eye out. Do not ride on sidewalks, stay to the right, avoid swerving, let faster cyclists pass you, and pull over if you need to use your phone.
One of the most fun ways to tour Chicago is on a bike. You can take in the gorgeous scenery of the city and lake. In warmer months, the city is bursting with flowers and plants, and taking a family bike ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail allows you take in all that beauty even closer. If you have more family-friendly ideas for enjoying the Windy City, let us know!
Related: Tips for Visiting Chicago with Kids