The official user's manual for sunshine

Forest Preserve Tales: Hunting Wild Onions

Food & Drink, Memoirs & Miscellany, Parks & the Great Outdoors No Comments »

It is late May in Chicago. Inside Cook County’s Forest Preserves, along the North Branch of the Chicago River, it is now warm enough to kayak absent the fear of freezing water. Pushing our boats onto the muddy shore for a beer break, we see another early summer tradition. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding the Festive: Limestone, Water and Fireworks at Promontory Point

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When I first came to Chicago in 1994, I lived off Lake Shore Drive near Promontory Point in a charming, yet somewhat decrepit hotel that had been pressed into service to house the precocious youth in attendance at the University of Chicago. I was one of these youth and I was set on exploring the Point as soon as possible, if only as a safety valve from those who wanted to compare SAT scores endlessly and offer long-in-the-tooth panegyrics inspired by Plato’s Republic.

Created by the government largesse that was the Works Progress Administration, this pregnant outcropping of landfill buttressed by an array of limestone boulders is best experienced in summer. If you’re out in the early morning, you might encounter a clutch of yoga enthusiasts setting up shop, dog walkers leading their charges, along with cyclists and joggers, who are as ubiquitous as squirrels.

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Summer Road Trips: Pomona Natural Bridge in Southern Illinois

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Summer for us means escaping the city in search of trees, stars and family time. We have a lot of favorite destinations but few match the surreal beauty of Pomona Natural Bridge, located almost three-hundred-sixty miles directly south of Chicago.

I first started going to Pomona Natural Bridge a decade ago, right after getting married. Honeymooning in Southern Illinois is not everyone’s cup of tea, but we take a certain joy in discovering places off the beaten path. Pomona itself is a lovely, mostly forgotten place in an obscure corner of the Shawnee National Forest that stretches over most of Illinois’ most southern tip. A couple dozen vineyards and a whole lot more cabins dot the area, but most places have a remote, rustic feel and getting to the good points almost always involve a little gravel under the wheel. Read the rest of this entry »

Signs of Summer: Sleeping Under the Stars

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South Haven KOA

South Haven KOA

Summertime for us is all about sleeping under the stars. Here are our top five campgrounds, each less than a gas tank away.

South Haven KOA
Although not exactly in South Haven, or on the beach, this family-run campground has blueberries for the picking along with a very nice pool.  The tent area is set back in a small thicket of trees near a fishing pond far removed from the RVs. Nearby are excellent beaches along with busy South Haven and St. Joseph.  39397 M-140, Covert, Michigan, (269)764-0818,

Kettle Moraine Southern Unit
About two hours north of the city, near Whitewater, is the answer to your neighbor’s summer home in Lake Geneva. Besides fairly private camp sites, the state park offers a decent enough beach, boat rentals, nearby ski trails repurposed for mountain biking in the summer, and the thousand-mile-plus Ice Age National Scenic Trail.  While a summer home in Lake Geneva will set you back at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, camping (with firewood and marshmallows) is about $30 a night. S91 W39091 Highway 59, Eagle, Wisconsin, (262)594-6200, website for campground Read the rest of this entry »

The Gentlemen of Washington Park: Sledging in the Pitch at the South Side’s Cricket Mecca

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imageBy Josh Kovensky

Cricket is a gentlemen’s sport. Requiring patience, skill, and knowledge of sporting minutiae, the British propagated it across their empire, infusing the local cultures with an athletic outpost of the British “stiff-upper-lip” mentality.

And then there’s real cricket. The brutal bat-and-ball sport that you find in the alleys of Bombay, along the beaches of the Caribbean, on Australian news channels and in the South Side’s very own Washington Park. Yes, each weekend, from May to September, Washington Park hosts the Midwest’s largest cricket league.

Although the Washington Park cricketeers are almost entirely South Asian, they, as one player told me, “come from all walks of life.” And, despite the incongruity of the University of Chicago’s ivory towers on one side and the grit of Englewood on the other, the teams are driven to their cause. Shankar, a bowler for the Chicago Mavericks, told me that players arrive at 8am to set up and often leave at 6pm once all the games are over. To play on both days of the weekend: “you have to be committed…or single.” Read the rest of this entry »

Urban Foraging: Looking for Herbs on the Wild Side

Food & Drink, Gardening, Parks & the Great Outdoors 1 Comment »

Illustration: Elena Rodina

By Elena Rodina

We sit cross-legged on the trail in Douglas Park. Across the road is Mount Sinai hospital with its famous trauma center, where people are often treated for gunshot wounds that they receive in this very neighborhood. Somewhere nearby a car stereo is cranked up to the top level, playing angry rap. Meanwhile, Nance Klehm takes a patch of dry mugwort from a black plastic bag that she carries with her, carefully places it on the cracked asphalt surface, and sets the herb on fire. While the dry plant burns and smolders, emanating a bitter-sweet aroma, Klehm explains that we are making an offering to the land, a ritual traditionally done by herbalists before they start picking plants. Once the fire dies down, she reaches into her black bag one more time and takes out a pair of ordinary red gardening scissors. We are ready to start our foraging trip in the heart of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Running: A Guide to the Pleasures of a Really Fast Walk in the Park

Parks & the Great Outdoors, User's Guide to Summer 1 Comment »

Photo: Zach Freeman

Among its many accolades, Chicago is frequently cited as one of the best running cities in America. And after running on any part of the eighteen-mile stretch of paths that make up the Lakefront Trail, it’s pretty easy to see why. Whether you’ve been hitting the trail for decades or this is your first summer, here’s a quick north-to-south guide to getting the most out of a summer run on Chicago’s iconic Lakefront Trail. Read the rest of this entry »

Testing the Waters: Kayak Chicago Fireworks Tour Offers a View From the River

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Photo: Shutterstock

Fireworks explode overhead as a small fleet of kayaks bobs at the mouth of the Chicago River watching the show. After a few minutes, the last of the fireworks fade away to the raucous cheers of onlookers. Most of the spectators simply power up their motorboats and putter home or continue their walks on the banks of the river. The tour group from Kayak Chicago still has a three-mile paddle back to the dock.

The Kayak Chicago Fireworks tour begins at 6:45pm with a brief tutorial conducted by two instructors. This trip, it’s Hina Iwate, a small, bubbly woman, and her laid-back co-worker Brian Westrick. Iwate starts off with some stretches, and then draws a laugh from the crowd of about fifteen kayakers when she appears to break into a dance. Read the rest of this entry »

Urban Hiking: A new old way to see the city you don’t know

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By Michael McColly

For me, summer in Chicago has become the season to hike. I don’t mean a stroll through Grant Park or a long walk home from the bar after a breakup. I mean a purposeful pilgrimage across the city. I’m talking about urban hiking. For years, as a hiker and fitness freak, I packed my gear and headed west or east to the mountains of Appalachia to get my nature fix and break free from the city. But after a walking tour of the UK, where people walk everywhere and trails link city to country to coast, I came home and looked out at this vast metropolis and asked myself: why can’t I hike here? A few weeks later, I walked to the Indiana Dunes from Rogers Park, and I’m discovering you can walk anywhere with a good pair of shoes, an adventuresome spirit and the willingness to break old ways of seeing urban landscapes.

The key to urban walking is distance. A three- or five-mile walk won’t do. You have to push beyond your idea of how far is far. You have to treat the hike as if it were a new place, a wilderness of another sort. I have a few rules: no car, no cell phones, no soundtrack to distract you, but, sure, bring a small camera or notebook. This is all about exploring how perception changes when you slow down and look at the landscape at the pace generated by nothing more than your own muscles and will.

Here are a few of my favorite hikes. Living in Rogers Park I’ve explored all three directions, south, north and west. But the joy of this form of recreation is to make your own pilgrimages. Read the rest of this entry »

Beer, Bikes and Brats: Up the Mississippi and across the Badger State without a car

Bicycling, Parks & the Great Outdoors, Road Trips No Comments »

By John Greenfield

If you’re a car-free Chicagoan, you don’t have to hit up Hertz to take a kick-ass road trip this summer. Here in the nation’s railroad hub, bicycle plus train is a powerful combo, not just for getting around the metro area but the entire Midwest.

Case in point is the beer-soaked bike camping trip my buddies and I took earlier this month along the Mississippi River, across Wisconsin and back using Amtrak and Metra. It was our annual Men’s Trip, a chance for the married guys to take a break from family obligations, and since most of the guys are serious beer snobs we planned our itinerary around brewpub visits. Late spring wind and rain made this tour a bit of a death march for us, but if you’d like to try the route ( it’d be a blast to ride in July sunshine.

On a Wednesday evening we loaded our touring bikes with tents and sleeping bags and hauled them aboard Amtrak’s Carl Sandburg line to Kewanee, Illinois, near the shoulder of the state. Soon we’re flying west across the prairie past dozens of white modern windmills tinted pink by the setting sun.

When we pull into Kewanee, a sign says we’re in the “Hog Capital of the World,” so down the street at the Pioneer Club I tackle a breaded pork tenderloin horseshoe sandwich. The horseshoe is a downstate Illinois specialty often called “a heart attack on a plate”—white bread, fries and a protein, drowned in cheese sauce.

We camp up the road at a park donated to the city by Fred Francis, an oddball inventor, artist, poet and nudist. In the morning I tour Woodland Palace, the futuristic dream home Francis built on the site in 1890, featuring wind-powered heating and cooling systems, automatic doors and many other clever gadgets. I’m most excited to see his bicycle, with a seat installed over the front wheel so he could carry his wife Jeanne to church. Read the rest of this entry »