Chicago Park District: Natural Areas | Varyer

Chicago Natural Areas

a map of recommendations made in collaboration with the Chicago Park District

Chicago is home to many lush and verdant spaces within a dense metropolitan area officially incorporated as a city in 1837 with the motto “Urbs in Horto,” a Latin phrase meaning “City in a Garden.” The Chicago Park District carefully plans and tends to these spaces, with ongoing projects aiming to restore natural varietals of flora and fauna of the Prairielands. We teamed up with friends from the Chicago Park District's Dept. of Cultural & Natural Resources to create this map of some natural spaces accessible within the city, wherever you are.

Land Acknowledgment:

The Chicago Region has long been a place of deep connection between people and nature. Chicago is located on the ancestral homelands of the Council of the Three Fires-- Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations. The Sac, Fox, Myaamia, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee also called this area home. We recognize these Indigenous communities are the original stewards of this land, and that many continue this legacy as residents of Chicago today.

NORTH SIDE NORTH SIDE

Winnemac:

Winnemac Park Natural Area is 2.7 acres of native prairie habitat within the larger Winnemac Park. This natural area offers quiet nature walks on mulched trails amidst tall prairie grasses. It is divided into three sections, all of which are popular with birds and butterflies due to the large amounts of flowering plants there. Black-eyed susans, New England asters, and multiple species of goldenrod can all be found along the trails. The outer edges of each section are defined by split-rail fences which create subtle borders along the native landscape.


Montrose Bird Sanctuary:

For decades, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary has drawn people from all over the region and nearby states to witness the profusion of migrating songbirds found here each spring and fall. The “magic hedge,” a 150-yard stretch of shrubs and trees within this natural area, is the prime spot to bird watch in an area where sightings of over 300 different species of birds have been recorded. This natural area has expanded in recent years with the addition of a butterfly meadow at the west end of the site. Additionally, an asphalt-paved, accessible loop trail was installed in 2021, making it easier for a wider range of people to explore one of the most important birding destinations in Illinois.

Bill Jarvis:

This natural area is another great location for birders. Warblers and other songbirds are present here in great abundance during spring and fall migrations. Small flocks of black-crowned night herons roost in the taller trees during the day in the spring; their presence is most notable when there aren't yet many leaves on the trees. The bird sanctuary has expanded in recent years to the south and east, with the entire area south of the tennis courts and parking lot, north of the archery field, and between the lake and Recreation Drive now existing as bird habitat. Viburnum and other native shrubs, and common native wildflowers like New England aster and tall goldenrod can be found throughout the area. A viewing platform provides excellent access to see the birds in their habitats while interpretive signs with bird identification photos help explain the sanctuary and educate visitors about the birds they may observe.

River Park:

River Park is located where the North Shore Channel meets the North Branch of the Chicago River. Their confluence provides some of the best river fishing in the City. The west side of the river provides one of the city's great nature hikes, as a wood-chipped trail winds along the banks of the river through restored river edge habitat. The park also features an accessible boat launch for kayak and canoes. The newest addition to River Park is the RiverLab located in the River Park Boathouse on the west side of the River where you can learn about macroinvertebrates, Chicago’s fish populations, local plants, animals and more.

WEST SIDE WEST SIDE

Douglass Park Natural Area:

A visit to Douglass Park will inspire anyone with its acres of natural habitats. You don't have to be a plant expert to appreciate the variety of wildflowers that bloom here throughout the year. Towering sunflowers rise above the mints and grasses, providing historic prairie views in the heart of the city. Scan the edges of the lily pond for leaping bullfrogs or walk alongside the monarch butterflies in the prairie. You don't have to go far to connect with nature -- it's right here in Chicago's neighborhoods!

Humboldt Park Ponds and Lagoons:

Discover the vast stretches of renowned natural habitats inside Humboldt Park. The lagoons and wetland areas have been a staple of the park for over 100 years, inspiring countless people with their natural beauty. Recent restoration efforts have enhanced both the architecture and natural areas of the park, making it a must-see for naturalists and the general public alike.

Garfield Park Natural Area:

The recently expanded natural area around Garfield Park's lagoon showcases stunning sights and sounds during any season. From the pinks and purples of spring flowers in the prairie to the reds and oranges of autumn trees along the trails, the park contains a tapestry of natural beauty. Watch the lagoons for a chance to see a sandhill crane stop over during its great migration. Interpretive signs throughout the natural area provide information to turn any visit into an interactive learning experience.

SOUTH SIDE SOUTH SIDE

Canalport Riverwalk Natural Area:

Canalport Riverwalk Natural Area is 1.3 acres of native prairie habitat located along the northern stretch of Canalport Riverwalk Park (which follows the Chicago River) in the Lower West Side community. The half-mile riverwalk has ADA-accessible fishing stations and river overlooks from which to see native prairie grasses, wild bergamot, and tall compass plant blooming along the river bank accompanied by scenic skyline views.

Big Marsh Park:

Big Marsh Park offers a glimpse into the past Illinois landscape, while keeping current with the needs of our society --to seek a balance between fun, relaxation and learning, while promoting and engaging with nature. The aim of the park is to provide a new type of recreation in Chicago that marries habitat restoration with public use. As a result, Big Marsh Park offers roughly 250 acres of native wetland, prairie, savanna, and woodland habitats that attract some impressive wildlife (including bald eagles!) and a 50-acre bike park with jump lines and pump tracks for riders of varying skill levels.

The Ford Calumet Environmental Center is the park’s newest attraction. The Center features informational exhibits on the environment, community history, as well as local flora and fauna. Classrooms, interactive nature play areas, and rental bikes are available to everyone who visits the park.

Burnham Wildlife Corridor:

The Burnham Wildlife Corridor (BWC) is a 100-acre ribbon of urban wilderness running through Burnham Park. It is composed of three main natural areas including the Burnham Centennial Prairie, Burnham Nature Sanctuary, and McCormick Bird Sanctuary. The corridor spans both sides of Lake Shore Drive and is the largest stretch of natural area along Chicago’s lakefront. Its native prairie, savanna, and woodland ecosystems provide healthy, diverse habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, and offer opportunities for visitors to meaningfully connect to this revitalized public green space in ways that inspire nature exploration, enjoyment, and stewardship.

The BWC is home to five unique "gathering spaces," which have been designed and created by teams of local artists and community-based organizations from the Chinatown, Bronzeville, and Pilsen neighborhoods. The BWC Gathering Spaces are artistic installations and seating areas, reflective of nature and culture, that serve as assembly grounds and resting points for people exploring this part of the lakefront. They are located on both the east and west sides of Lake Shore Drive.

Ping Tom Memorial Park Natural Area:

Ping Tom Memorial Park is located at 1700 S. Wentworth Ave. in the heart of Chinatown, right along the South Branch of the Chicago River. With scenic views of the city and beautiful murals, Ping Tom Park is the perfect place to visit. Enjoy an afternoon admiring the three acres of native prairie and wetland habitat alongside the walking paths or even kayaking on the river. Come out with Shedd Aquarium every month for restoration and cleanup workdays. Nearby you can check out the Chinese American Museum of Chicago open Saturday-Sunday 10:30am-3:30pm.