By Olivia Polony
The other day I packed my camera and went for a walk around Chicago to discover the best spots to take in the fall scenery. Slipping into a warm coat and a pair of comfy old gym shoes, I headed out the door into the crisp afternoon air. Outside, the trees were shedding their summer-kissed attire as green was being replaced with leafy waves of red, orange, yellow and magenta. Lucky for us, the foliage hasn’t quite reached its peak yet, so grab a friend and your portable camera and check out some of these views this season.
Right in the middle of the incessant hustle and bustle of the loop, Millennium park is a no-brainer when it comes to sightseeing. So whether you are a tourist or a Chicago native pretending to be a tourist, it should be on your list of places to stop by for the changing of leaves. The 20-plus acre area is dotted with hawthorns, elms and maples that onlookers can see reflected back at them through the Bean or set up against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the city skyline.
If you’re looking for foliage, it’s obviously best to go where the trees are, and Lincoln Park has no shortage of red maple, birch and elm. The winding paths which run through Chicago’s largest park are scattered with quiet benches and hidden corners that offer themselves up to those in need of a breather. Be sure to take in the many colors as leaves fall from trees and sprinkle the grassy fields. After you’ve worked up an appetite from all the exploring, don’t forget to check out the surrounding area, which is a hub for local coffee shops and eateries.
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
Located in the Lincoln Park Conservatory, this historic Chicago landmark is a tranquil pause from the everyday. Designed by the late American architect, Alfred Caldwell, the pond is surrounded by curving walkways and meandering limestone paths that step down close to the water’s edge. Visitors can sit in the peaceful enclosure and enjoy vibrant scenes of fall leaves floating amongst the lily pads and dangling from the branches of trees. It’s the perfect place to go to contemplate life for a while.
Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo
While you are saying hello to all the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo, it’s the perfect time for a leaf-peeping stroll around the preserved ecosystem at the Nature Boardwalk. Gaze out across the pond as it reflects back bright, crystal-clear images of all the surrounding birch, maple and elm trees. Along the way, you can also brush up on some facts displayed on field guides about the many varieties of insects, birds and plants that populate the area.
Art Institute Gardens
Just a step apart from all the noise and commotion on Michigan Avenue, the Art Institute Gardens, located to the south and north end of the museum’s main entrance, offer a serene retreat from the cityscape. If you are enjoying a short break from work or looking for a spot to eat your lunch in solitude, take a seat at one of the many benches that line the walkways and watch fall unfold around you.
Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum
Silently tucked away behind a giant red brick gate on the North Side of Chicago, Graceland Cemetery is a historic treasure that dates back to 1860. The 119 acres of lush, fertile grounds are the final resting place for some of Chicago’s most prominent figures and a peaceful setting to enjoy the fall trees as they morph into vibrant shades of orange and red. So grab your favorite book or a picnic and sit in the hush of a tall sycamore or Ohio buckeye. A working arboretum to this day, the cemetery is home to a countless variety of trees to appreciate on your visit.
Although hotels may not pop into mind when thinking of where to enjoy fall colors, the top floor of this 12-story building offers sweeping views of Lincoln Park and the urban skyline. Be sure to stop by one evening this fall with your 21-plus friends and enjoy a few drinks in the lounge as you watch the sun set over the vast abundance of foliage the neighborhood has to offer.
The lakefront trail
Spanning 19 miles from north to south, the iconic trail along Chicago’s lakeshore offers unique views to runners, walkers and cyclists alike during the fall. An aesthetic blend of golden autumn trees juxtaposed against Lake Michigan is a must-see. If you have extra time, you may even want to check out the Promontory Point on the south side for some grand panoramic views of the city.