Best Outdoor Activities for Families in Chicago

One of the best cities to travel to in the United States with your family in Chicago. This city isn’t quite as crazy as, say, New York, which can make it easier for families to enjoy their time in a big city without getting lost in the crowd. Sticking with the family-friendly vibe of the site, all of the outside activities below are family-friendly and fun for all ages.

Since Chicago is a big city with so much to offer, I’ve included activities that span a wide array of interests, price levels, and physical activity levels. Because of this, there is sure to be at least one thing on this list that everyone can enjoy!

  • All of these activities take place outside.
  • Even small children can enjoy many of these activities.
  • Adults are sure to be entertained by all of the activity options!

Table of Contents

  1. Riverboat City Tour
  2. Lake Michigan Water Activities
  3. Maggie Daley Park Rock Climbing
  4. Chicago Zoo
  5. Lincoln Park
  6. Ski Resorts
  7. Tall Ship Windy
  8. Puzzling Adventures
  9. Navy Pier
  10. Chicago Botanic Garden – Garden Chef Series

1. Riverboat City Tour

While Chicago is in Illinois, Lake Michigan is one of the most prominent water-based landmarks near the city. There are also other bodies of water all around the city, including both rivers and smaller lakes. Because there is so much water around, there are a variety of businesses in and around the city that offer riverboat city tours. These tours usually take place on cruise ship-like boats. The tours typically last for a couple of hours. All the while, tourists can enjoy the sights of Chicago from afar while enjoying the lake air on their face.

2. Lake Michigan Water Activities

Other than the actual city itself, Lake Michigan is one of the biggest attractions for tourists who love the water. With a city as hot and busy as Chicago, it can be nice to escape to the beach. As with most beaches, you can go to the shore to swim and the like. However, since the lake is so big, you can also do a lot more than you could in an average lake. Near the lake, there are many vendors who will rent everything from kayaks to jet skis to tourists to use for a few hours or for the whole day! With so much space and so many options, there is sure to be something that every member of the family can enjoy.

3. Maggie Daley Park Rock Climbing

If you belong to an adventurous family with older children, then you are sure to have a fun time at Maggie Daley Park. Here, there is a giant rockface covered in grips. In some parts, the rock goes as high as 40 feet! Of course, the entire thing is totally safe, as rock climbers will be strapped in the whole time. So, if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure that takes you high in the sky, buy some tickets and see how high you can climb!

Best Outdoor Activities for Families in Chicago

4. Chicago Zoo

What family doesn’t love to explore a zoo? The Chicago Zoo, sometimes referred to as the Lincoln Park Chicago Zoo, is one of the most famous zoos in the United States, and for good reason! There are dozens of animals at the zoo, with new baby animals being born there every once in a while. What’s cuter than that? Some animals at the zoo that you aren’t likely to see at other zoos include the pygmy hippopotamus, giraffe, eastern black rhinoceros, howler monkeys, camels, and a variety of reptiles and birds. There are also special events and exhibits at the zoo. Everyone from adults to small children can find something to enjoy here.  

5. Lincoln Park

The Chicago Zoo is in the neighborhood called Lincoln Park. Of course, there is much more to the neighborhood than just the zoo. One of the best things to do outside in this neighborhood is to visit the neighborhood’s namesake park. There is a beautiful lily pond here that is free to visit. It makes the perfect spot for an afternoon family picnic. 

Other than the lily pond, there are several other things do to in Lincoln Park that are outdoors. You can check out various other nature parks and monuments. Some of the most famous monuments in the area include statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln. So, not only is this a beautiful place to spend some time outdoors, but also a great place to learn a little bit about the country’s history.

6. Ski Resorts

When most people think of taking a vacation, they think of traveling during a summer vacation. Since Chicago is so far north in the United States, it gets a lot of snow in the winter. This makes it a great place to travel to during the winter holidays. Part of the reason why Chicago is such a great place to visit in the winter is because it is near many great ski resorts. 

Visiting a ski resort is a great thing to try out if your family loves to spend time outside in the winter. This is a family activity that will work best for families that have older kids. Even if you cannot ski, you can still have fun at a ski resort. You can take ski lessons, snowboard, or even just go sledding! If being outside in the cold isn’t your thing, but your family likes it, then you can always sit in the chalet and enjoy a nice cup of hot cocoa.

7. Tall Ship Windy

Earlier, I mentioned that Chicago has many boat tours to pick from. One boat tour that stands out on its own and deserves its own mention in this article is the Tall Ship Windy. This boat tour takes place on a sailboat. The ship also has many themed events, including pirate-themed events! This can make for an exciting adventure for fans of The Pirates of the Caribbean or for those who are generally into history.

The boat ride can also be fun for people who don’t care for pirates. If you take a night boat tour, then you may be lucky enough to see the ship put on a fireworks display. Whether or not you take a night tour, though, you are sure to enjoy riding the waves of Lake Michigan with your family. 

Top Outdoor Activities for Families in Chicago

8. Puzzling Adventures

If you are looking for a way to explore the city on your own but also want something fun to do at the same time, then you may want to check out Puzzling Adventures. With this service, visitors meet up at the Puzzling Adventures headquarters to get started. From there, they use their phones and/or a map to do a sort of scavenger hunt around Chicago. 

The scavenger hunt also doubles as a cool walking tour, as the hunt leads you toward many landmarks around the city. As a bonus, the hunt is not timed, so you can go as quickly or slowly as you like. All in all, this is the perfect activity for people who want to explore the city with their family at their own pace, while making sure to see all of Chicago’s great landmarks and sites at the same time.

9. Navy Pier

Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s best-known sites. The pier has a mix of both free and paid events and activities that can fit all budgets and interests. For those who like to keep things leisurely, it can be fun enough on its own to just take a stroll on the pier. There are often free art exhibits that people can enjoy while on the pier. If you’re at the pier at night, you can even enjoy a firework show!

Part of the Chicago Pier also functions as a sort of mini carnival. The biggest ride on the pier is the Centennial Wheel, which is a giant Ferris wheel. From the top of the wheel, you can see much of the city. There are also some other smaller rides. There are also a variety of carnival games (with prizes) for both kids and adults to enjoy.

10. Chicago Botanic Garden – Garden Chef Series

Lastly, the Chicago Botanic Garden Chef Series is a great place to go if you’re a fan of both the outdoors and cooking. Often time, the Botanic Garden hosts a farmer’s market, so you may even be lucky enough to buy some locally grown food after your cooking lesson. During the chef series, visitors can watch professional chefs make a range of gourmet meals with fresh ingredients. So, here, you can learn a thing or two and have a snack at the same time. What’s better than that?

Which activities are you most interested in? Have you ever been to Chicago and have other suggestions for tourists to check out? If so, comment below! I hope you enjoy your trip!

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