Have you been racing around all summer? Some people might tell you to stop and smell the roses. We’ll tell you to stop and hear the birds chirp. The perfect place to do it — and squeeze in some peace and quiet — is Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. This pretty and well preserved slice of nature is tucked out of sight along Lake Michigan. With wildflowers, rugged trails and surprises around every turn, it’s a stroll your family needs to take.
Shhh … Hidden Gem Ahead
There aren’t many signs indicating you’ve arrived at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, a Chicago Park District gem that’s cradled in a grove of trees and shrubs next to Montrose Beach. And that’s okay; the thrill of discovering this spot is part of the fun. You can access its trails from Montrose Avenue, just before you get to the bend in the road near Lake Michigan (look for the wooden panel on the north side of the road). Or, if you’re walking along the lakeshore path, there’s an unmarked eastern entrance that takes you across a sweep of sand dunes before you duck into the trees.
Listen — hear that? It’s either the lilt of birds chattering or the soft rush of waves lapping the shoreline. Either way, welcome to paradise.
Fun on the Trails
You can spend 15 minutes here, or a few hours, depending on your little explorer’s interest in nature and energy level. Wood chip and dirt trails lead in every direction and there are no arrows or panels to guide your way. Some paths ramble into thick woodlands, where you’ll see bunnies and squirrels dart in front of you; others cut through open prairie land, where you can feel the sun shine down and watch songbirds fly overhead. If you need to bring a stroller, you’ll have to stick to the central, wider paths, and make sure your wheels have good suspension because the paths can get bumpy.
There have been more than 300 bird species recorded as being spotted in the park. You’ll have the most luck getting an up-close look at the rarest ones in a special spot that’s been nicknamed “The Magic Hedge.” It’s a swath of honeysuckle shrubs and small trees on the west side. When the weather gets a little cooler and birds start to migrate, you’re likely to see the biggest and most colorful variety, including sparrows and more elusive species like the Blackburnian warbler. In summer, shore birds like plovers and sandpipers flock to Montrose Beach. Still, whether you spot birds or not, a walk along the trails will leave you feeling relaxed.
A Bit of Background
Back in the 1930s, the Chicago Park District created the area as part of a landfill expansion. It was all designed by famous landscape architect Alfred Caldwell, who is also known for his work on the picturesque Lily Pool near Lincoln Park Zoo. Montrose Point was used as a military base in the ’50s and ’60s and then returned to parkland. A few decades later the Magic Hedge was continuing to draw interest, so community groups and birdwatchers helped plant new flowering trees, shrubs and wildflowers here, making the park what it is today.
Nearby Attractions & How to Get There
From Lake Shore Drive, exit at Montrose Avenue and go east toward the lake. Along the way to the north you’ll pass Cricket Hill, the city’s best place to fly a kite. You can find free street parking, or go to the park-and-pay lot where Montrose Avenue meets Simonds Drive. To get closest to the bird sanctuary, look for parking spots on Montrose Avenue, along the east side of the boat harbor.
After your stroll, flag down an ice cream cart or truck (numerous vendors wheel by several times daily) and sit by the harbor to enjoy your cool treat. You can also take it to the wide concrete “steps” in front of Lake Michigan (oh, the views!) or head to Montrose Beach, which even has a special area for dogs to paddle around in.
Have a blast — and bring your binoculars!
Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary
at Montrose Avenue & Lake Michigan
Admission is free
Have you ever been to this secret spot? Let us know in the Comments!
— Kelly Aiglon
Photos: Chicago Park District & Kelly Aiglon