Lindsay Welbers joined Mappy Hour Chicago to talk about hiking by transit in and around Chicago. Along with being the writer behind the blog Third Coast Hikes, she is the author of Chicago Transit Hikes: A guide to getting out in nature without a car.
Lindsay began exploring nature via transit in earnest when she moved to Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. She wanted to explore the new green spaces around her and began by walking to the blue line to see where she could go.
The explorations didn’t end there, she kept adventuring off every train line, hiking all seasons including winter.
Her book shares her findings and while it includes about thirty hikes in thirty different locations, Lindsay notes that if she’d had room, she could have included many more.
“Chicagoland has the most gorgeous… diverse landscape. We’ve got prairie, savannas, meadows, bluffs, marines, dunes, swamps, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. So, if somebody has told you that these things are boring or too flat to be interesting, leave that notion at home and you come with an open mind.”
Preparation: Lindsay’s Recommendations
The Best Apps
- Google Maps (know where you are!)
- Ventra App (for connecting with Chicago’s transit system)
- Seek (identify plants and animals you find on the trail)
- Lake County Forest Preserves (help navigate Lake County specific parks)
- The easiest way to use Metro is to buy tickets using the app
- Signage isn’t great, be prepared with Google Maps
- Can’t find the track? Don’t be afraid to ask!
- Be quiet if you’re in the quiet car
- Sometimes trains come a little early – be prepared
- Alcohol is allowed (but remember to behave yourself)
- Bikes* and scooters are allowed
- *Your bike is technically using the ADA space, so if someone who needs that space boards, you will need to move.
- Remember to bring a bungee cord to secure your bike to the train
- You can bring a cat or dog if it can fit into a carrier under the seat or on your lap
- Better signage than the Metra
You can bring bike and scooter (not during rush hour)
- Same rules as the Metra for bringing a pet
- You can’t smoke, eat or drink on CTA
- Use it to get to Indiana Dunes
- Departs from Millennium Station
- Has Wifi
- “Fussy” about bringing your bike (aka there are a lot of rules)
Recommendations for Exploration
#1 Labagh Woods
Lindsay recommends heading to Labagh Woods off of the Glen Metro stop for an adventure completely within the city limits. From winding paved trails to footpaths you can expect flowers in the spring and abundant wildlife including deer, mink and birds.
Lindsay’s Tip: Bring your bike and take the North Branch trail up to Ravinia. There you some wine and music before taking the Metra back (no biking drunk!)
#2 Thatcher Woods
For the birders among us, Thatcher Woods off River Forest Metro South is Lindsay’s recommendation. Bird life is abundant especially because the area floods so plan accordingly and look out for kingfishers! Thatcher is also notable for over 250 species of wildlife and beautiful massive river bluffs.
Lindsay’s tip: If you want to see raptors up close, check out the Tyrrell Trailside museum.
#3 Veteran’s Acres and Sterne’s Woods & Fen
Just a ½ mile from Crystal Lake Metro, are Lindsay’s all-time favorite spots: Veteran’s Acres and Sterne’s Woods & Fen. Here you’ll find two main bodies of water; a beautiful pond and a fen, which is kind of like an alkaline bog. The presence of the fen enables different types of plants to grow including the native Illinois Orchid.
Lindsay’s Tip: though the park staff won’t tell you where to find the orchids, she recommends going in the spring time or summer and look alongside the trail.
#4 Fort Sheriden Nature Preserve
Head to Fort Sheriden for everything from prairies to 70 foot bluffs. Along with the natural beauty, there are myriad outdoor sculptures to discover as you hike.
Lindsay’s tip: Be prepared for wind (the preserve is on the lake)
You can find even more recommendations on where to hike by public transit in Lindsay’s book: Chicago Transit Hikes: A guide to getting out in nature without a car.
Shoutout to our partners for this event:
Our National Sponsor, The North Face, and TOTAGO (Turn Off The App and Go Outside): an outdoor trip planning app that helps you find trails in your city!
Last summer, we interviewed Artt Mathews, Operations Manager at our Department of Conservation & Experiential Programming at the Cook County Forest Preserves about where to go, eco-systems and more: