Northerly Island Ride

Cycle Chicago, Sightseeing Ride, Northerly Island Ride

Relatively unknown and incredibly underutilized, Northerly Island is one of Chicago’s best cycling spots. The 1.3-mile loop around prairie grass offers stunning views of the city. Most cyclists use the path for leisurely spins, but it’s large enough for hard training during weekdays when you just might have the trail to yourself. Many people were shocked in 2003 when Mayor Daley bulldozed the airport runways that occupied this island, but most agree that the natural area is a great addition to Chicago’s parks and paths.


The ride is flat over a well-maintained paved path and along bike lanes on city streets.


Roosevelt Road, Michigan Avenue and Solidarity Drive can be busy, especially on summer weekends, but the loop on Northerly Island is car free.


Take the Red, Green or Orange line “L” to the Roosevelt station or pick up the ride 0.4 miles into the ride at Metra’s Museum Campus/11th Street station.

By car, park along Roosevelt Road, State Street or a side street. Otherwise, park in the Adler Planetarium lot and pick up the ride 1.6 miles into the ride at Northerly Island.

Food and Drink

There are several sites for food and drink along the way, at least in the spring, summer and fall, selling everything from water to hotdogs and ice cream.

Side Trip

Visit any of the great museums on Museum Campus, bike around Grant Park (just to the north) or take a boat ride on the lake. Also, explore the booming South Loop neighborhood (just to the east of the park), full of interesting spots, such as Wine Styles at 1240 S. Michigan Ave., known for its unique policy of BYOF (bring your own food)!


More Details

Northerly Island is a 91-acre manmade peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan east of the Museum Campus. It was the most northerly island of many lakefront islands that Daniel Burnham proposed in the famous 1910 Plan of Chicago. The construction of Northerly Island began in 1920 and was completed in 1925. Over the years, it has seen many changes.

Originally the island was connected to the mainland by a bridge, but in 1938 a causeway was built where you now find Solidarity Drive, which remains the only approach to the island. Then in 1930, the Adler Planetarium was built at the northern tip. Next, the island served as the center of activity for the extremely popular Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933-34. Meigs Field, a small airport, was built on the island in 1947 under a 50-year lease. It was named after local publisher and intrepid aviation booster Merrill Meigs.

After Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered the airport runways demolished in the middle of the night on March 30, 2003, the land was converted to a park. Charter One Pavilion (officially a temporary structure) was built on the island in 2005. It seats 7,500 and is a cool place to listen to music. Although the airport’s old control tower still stands, the land has taken on a natural look. Dozens of native species of prairie grasses and wildflowers have been planted. As they take root they provide a sense of what the area looked like hundreds of years ago. Occasionally, Chicago Park District workers burn the fledgling prairie to give native plants a better chance against invasive species.

Bicyclists share the island with joggers and fishers, kite fliers and segway drivers but also birds and bees. Watch for some birdhouses along the path that provide a Tweet Home Chicago for purple martins. What’s most remarkable about the relatively secluded loop trail on Northerly Island is that it is usually empty. When I mapped it on Memorial Day, I encountered just five people on the loop even though there were thousands of people on the nearby beach and at the planetarium. This is a short easy ride, but it doesn’t have to be. Only 77 times around the loop adds up to a century ride!


Ride Log

  • 0.0 Start on south side of Roosevelt Rd in front of “L” station. Bike east.
  • 0.1 Cross Michigan Ave, then Roosevelt Rd and go north on sidewalk.
  • 0.3 At 11th St, turn right following sign for Museum Campus. To go over bridge, bike to the right around stairs and then to the left up ramp.
  • 0.4 View north from bridge shows what Millennium Park used to look like - uncovered railroad tracks. Also on bridge is the Museum Campus/11th St Metra station.
  • 0.5 Bear right following signs to Museum Campus along a gentle S curve.
  • 0.6 Pass under Lake Front bridge and bear right.
  • 0.7 Ride under Museum Campus bridge and take left fork going east following signs to Adler Planetarium. You’re now biking east in front of Field Museum.
  • 0.8 Continue east until you hit Lakefront Path with a yellow stripe down the middle. Turn right and ride around back of Shedd Aquarium.
  • 1.2 Ride under Solidarity Dr bridge and immediately turn right up to the street. Turn right (again) onto street heading toward aquarium.
  • 1.3 Turn right on Solidarity Dr. Now you’re biking in the street heading toward planetarium.
  • 1.6 Almost to planetarium, turn right and follow middle path leading to the beach.
  • 1.7 If there are pedestrians, walk your bike in front of 12th St Beach House.
  • 1.8 Pass Charter One Pavilion, an open-air stadium.
  • 2.0 Bear left and follow main path around Northerly Island, clockwise.
  • 2.1 Bear left to stay on main path.
  • 3.2 At T, take a sharp right at fence to stay on main path.
  • 3.3 Turn left and head back.
  • 3.6 In front of planetarium, turn left on Solidarity Dr and bike in street. On left is statue of Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. On right, spectacular view of skyline.
  • 3.8 Statute on left is Karel Havlíček Borovský, a Czech writer, critic and activist.
  • 3.9 Turn right on ramp for Lakefront Path, just after bus shelter.
  • 4.0 Watch for bikers and pedestrians at bottom of ramp as you merge left to go north around back of aquarium.
  • 4.3 After passing aquarium, bear slightly left to ride west in front of Field Museum.
  • 4.4 Bike under Grant Park bridge and take second path to left to return to “L” station.
  • 4.5 Bike under bridge and follow S curve.
  • 4.6 Cross bridge over tracks.
  • 4.8 Cross Michigan Ave at light. Turn left.
  • 5.0 Turn right at Roosevelt Rd.
  • 5.1 End ride at “L” station.
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    7.888 km / 4.901 mi

    Total Distance

    93 m / 307 ft

    Total Ascent

    94 m / 308 ft

    Total Descent

    185 m / 608 ft

    Highest Point

    Ride type:
    Mountain biking
    Road riding
    Kid friendly
    Rail Trail
    Difficulty: Beginner (Green)
    Ride Duration: <1 hr
    Fitness Level: Low
    Shared Bike Path - Paved
    Shared Bike Path - Dirt
    On-Road Bike Lane
    Off-Road - Fire Trail
    Off-Road - Rail Trail
    Off-Road - Single Track
    Off-Road - Downhill
    Mobile Coverage: Excellent
    Estimated Distance: 8.0
    First Aid
    Bike hire
    Bike servicing
    Accessible by bike
    Accessible by car
    Accessible by public transport
    Accessible by shuttle / uber
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