Top Attractions

4 of the Greatest Parks in Chicago

When we think about Chicago, we think of the city—it’s architecture, the sports, the pizza! What some people may not know is that Chicago is home to one of the largest park districts in the United States. As of 2016, there are nearly 600 parks. In the mid-19th century, Chicago had a handful of small parks, but there were no real plans to create anything spectacular. That’s when Dr. John H. Rauch MD stepped in and created Lincoln Park, the cities first large park (and covering over a thousand acres, is still the largest). The good doctor, who was on the Board of Health, declared that parks were the “lungs of the city,” and commented that Chicago’s parks were inferior to those of say, New York or Philadelphia. Needless to say, Dr. Rauch was a great influence in creating Chicago’s modern park system. The following are the four greatest parks Chicago has to offer.

Lincoln Park

Named after Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Park is Chicago’s largest public park, spanning 7 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan, covering a total of 1,208 acres. The park boasts a veritable plethora of things to do and to see. It is the second most popular park in the United States. There are beaches, recreational areas, nature reserves, and harbors. There are also several museums and a zoo. Lincoln Park is also home to a Conservatory, the Chicago History Museum, and the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool. The theater on the lake holds regular outdoor performances during the summer.

Jackson Park

On the South Side of Chicago, extending from Stony Island Avenue to Hyde Park, you will find Jackson Park; 500 acres of parkland that borders Lake Michigan. It was named after President Andrew Jackson and was first developed as the site for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Jackson Park boasts the tranquil Garden of the Phoenix, (formerly known as Osaka Garden), with its relaxing koi pond and the Kasuga Lantern, which is one of the lamps that survived from 1893. In July of this year, President Obama chose Jackson Park to be the home of the upcoming Barack Obama Presidential Library.

Grant Park

Grant Park is located in Chicago's central business district. There you will find Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum Campus. It used to be called Lake Park but was officially renamed in 1901 in honor of President Ulysses S. Grant. There are performances venues, which host public gatherings and huge annual events. Additionally, there are gardens, works of art, sports and boating facilities all located within the park. To locals, Grant Park is “Chicago’s front yard.”

Burnham Park

Burnham park connects Grant Park to Jackson Park and stretches 6 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan. It was named after Daniel Burnham, an urban planner, architect and designer of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. President Obama also lands there in his helicopter when he’s visiting his south side home in Chicago. Today in Burnham Park you’ll find a skatepark, municipal buildings, a planetarium, an aquarium and a few museums. There are also two harbors for docking and fishing. Burnham Harbor is also home to the Burnham Park Yacht Club and is surrounded by a stunning skyline view. The park also hosts special events, concerts, marathons, and festivals.

Wrapping Up

Unfortunately for most of the nineteenth century, the lakeshore parks were neglected and industry was encroaching on the land and it started to look more like a trash dump than parkland. Fortunately a local businessman, A. Montgomery Ward cared enough to campaign for the parks. Development was consistently prohibited by the Illinois Supreme Court. Finally, in 1897, the Supreme Court ruled that the public grounds were bound to enforce its restrictions. Thanks to Ward, there are laws in place now to always protect the lakeshore parks from industry.

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