The options for us really come down to how much driving we are willing to endure. We actually like a road trip so the car itself isn't the issue. It's the traffic you have to deal with to get out of the city. Sometimes it takes us 20-25 minutes to go 1-2 miles. I literally run faster than that.
So when we want to stretch our legs and be in nature for a bit, we basically have three options.
- Find a city park or beach. Not a bad option, depending on what time of day it is. Right after work is a people-fest, but during the day is kind of nice. We like to drive up to Montrose beach (it's dog friendly) and let Rooney run wild while we enjoy the views. The water drowns out the sound of cars and the sand dune blocks the view of the road. It feels like you stepped out of the city for a moment and it only costs about 10-15 minutes in the car.
- Head to a forest preserve in the suburbs. There are a bunch of these in varying directions from the city and most of them are a square mile or two in size, with well marked trails. We do bump into people occasionally, but usually just a jogger or someone else walking their dog. The only downside is that you will spend at least 30-45 minutes in traffic to get to any of these. It's always annoying when you first start driving...but once you get there and you're somewhat alone in a sorta woodsy area, it seems worth it.
- Drive up the coast of Lake Michigan to Wisconsin or to Indiana/Michigan. The further north you go on either side of the lake, the more remote and more wilderness-like it becomes. When we first got off the trail, we took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a decently long drive, but not too bad, and we loved it. There were isolated trails and campsites along the beach and since it was a weekday, we had it mostly to ourselves. We camped for a few nights and had a great time.
It IS possible to find a nature experience while living in Chicago, but you have to adjust your idea of the woods a little. After living in the Appalachian Mountains for three years, we set the bar kind of high in terms of expectations. Now that we have adjusted a little and realized what our options are, we're making the best of it and trying to get out and explore whenever we can.
Here are some photos from our latest excursion. We went to Paw Paw Forest Preserve in the western suburbs one afternoon. It took us about 40 minutes each way, but it was well worth it. I'll let the pictures tell you the story.
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