Fall is around the corner and will come through Chicago in a blaze of red, yellow, orange and gold. In between apple picking and pumpkin patch hopping, color your family’s world and take a nature walk—maybe even turn it into a family bike ride. Whether you’re pushing a stroller, pumping those legs on a bike or lacing up little hiking boots, there are plenty of leafy paradises to explore in and around the city. Scroll through to find the best spots for fall family strolls.
Garden of the Phoenix at Jackson Park
Yet another reason to spend an afternoon on the South Side, The Garden of the Phoenix is modeled after traditional Japanese "stroll gardens," where each turn gives way to a photo-worthy panorama. The newly revamped garden symbolizes Japan and the U.S.'s complicated 160-year story of friendship, turmoil and prosperity. It's even home to Skylanding, Yoko Ono's first permanent art installation in the United States comprised of a dozen lotus-shaped petals. Take snaps of the fall colors, as well as the pagoda and curved walking ridges. The garden was originally designed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition by Frederick Law Olmsted, the mastermind behind New York City's Central Park. You'll find it at the south end of the Museum of Science and Industry.
6401 S. Stony Island Dr., Hyde Park; Online: gardenofthephoenix.org
Chicago Botanic Garden
This North Shore destination is 26 gardens in one—and each has a different feel and plenty of vibrant colors. Stroll the 385 acres of land and pause at the most photogenic sites. They include the Japanese Garden, where you can pose and play amidst striking bonsai plants. And don't miss the English Walled Garden, where you can make like you're in the Cotswalds. Through October 11 you can also experience the Model Railroad Garden, which features 18 garden-scale trains on 1,600 feet of track with vignettes of tiny people and animals that give it a storybook feel. Due to COVID, you'll need to reserve your timed-entry slot.
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe; Online chicagobotanic.org
Pilcher Park Nature Center
Trek to Joliet for a blaze of fall colors at this worth-the-drive oasis. You might already know it for its Fairy Fest, a kid-idolized dress-up extravaganza held every May. In autumn, it's a great place for leisurely walks on forested paths on 640 acres that's peppered with picnic grounds and playground areas.
2501 Highland Park Dr., Joliet; Online: jolietpark.org
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond
Hidden just north of Lincoln Park Zoo, this tree-spangled paradise has landscape architecture history that grownups appreciate; it was designed by Alfred Caldwell in the Prairie School style and named a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Kids go bananas for the rich fall colors and water lilies that float in the pool.
Entrance on the south side of Fullerton Pkwy., between Stockton and Cannon Drives. Open mid-April through mid-November. Online: lincolnparkconservancy.org
The 1,700 acres of verdant green space are the stuff dream backyards are made of. Wander the 16 miles of paved and wood-chipped walking paths, and romp around the Children's Garden; it has secret streams, huge wooden playground structures and photo opportunities so pretty you'll do backflips.
4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle; Online: mortonarb.org
North Park Village Nature Center
Give autumn a shout-out at one of the city's adored nature centers. Its trails wind through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna—and fall colors take hold everywhere. Drop by the birding area for peeks at rare birds. During non-COVID times, visit the Discovery Room, which has an area where you can touch and feel nature objects native to the area.
5801 N. Pulaski Rd., Chicago; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com
Promontory Point in Burnham Park
This man-made peninsula can be accessed by Chicago's Lakefront Trail and has excellent views of the skyline from afar. But you're more likely to be peeping the fall foliage. Blazing red and yellow leaves look at all more picturesque when set against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and skyscrapers. Of note to architecture buffs: The landscaping was designed by noted designer Alfred Caldwell and includes stone rings along the lakefront that are now used as fire pits.
Lake Shore Dr. & 55th St., Chicago; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com
Rock Cut State Park
Fall color clusters around two shimmering bodies of water—Pierce Lake and Olson Lake—at this destination located just outside Rockford. The restored prairie land looks not only painterly, but it's also a great place for bird watching. If you don't want to walk the trails, there are also opportunities for horseback riding.
7318 Harlem Rd., Loves Park; Online: dnr.state.il.us
Take a short road trip an hour and a half southwest of Chicago to explore land that was once home to Native American tribes. It has 13 miles of well-marked walking trails that cut down and around rugged rock formations. The trails jag in and out of canyons and are not stroller friendly. However, if you have older kids they're worth the trek, even if only for the beautiful waterfalls that dot the way. If you have a stroller, stick to the one-mile sidewalk that surrounds the observation deck behind Starved Rock Lodge, the park's onsite family friendly hotel.
2668 E. 875th Rd., Oglesby; Online: starvedrockstatepark.org
— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon