Although Lake Michigan's cool breezes occasionally play havoc with Chicago’s spring weather, longer days and brighter sunshine are helping cure our cabin fever. For many, that means leaving the constraints of a gym or home and working up a sweat outdoors. Few urban areas offer more diverse options that cater to those looking to run, blade, bike, or even paddle. Here's a sample.

Illinois Prairie Path

The Illinois Prairie Path consists of three trails shaped like a "Y," covering a total of 61 miles. One can travel the 15-mile Main Stem from Forest Park to the trail’s fork in Wheaton. From there, bikers, runners, and bladers can travel the 16-mile north fork (Elgin branch) to Elgin, or the 14-mile southern fork (Aurora Branch) to Aurora. Other trails connect to the Prairie Path, making towns like Sycamore and Algonquin accessible, too. Though some spots require street crossings, this trail provides an excellent workout and a view of the western metro area that's far superior to those viewing it while stuck in a traffic jam.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve and Trail

Circling Argonne National Lab (though rarely visible), the nearly 2,500-acre Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien offers hikers, runners and bicyclists views consisting of prairies, a model airplane field, creeks and rivers, scenic overlooks, swamps and marshes, a river and waterfall, savannas, and oak-maple woodlands. Nearly 740 native plant species, 300 invertebrates, and another 300 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles call Waterfall Glen home. There are spots so quiet you’d swear you are on the Illinois frontier during the 18th century instead of a modern-day trail. And, the crushed limestone trail does involve some challenging inclines, so you get a great view and a superb workout.

Swallow Cliff

Originally built in 1930, the quad-burning 125-step, 100-foot-tall staircase was used for tobogganers to access the top of a sledding hill. Today, it’s one of the most popular sites for engaging in a strenuous workout. In 2016, the second set of stairs were added (raising the total number of stairs to 293), allowing for either two optional climbs, or for an ability to climb one set and down the other. At the top, one can enjoy the 800-acre forest preserve by hiking through hilly terrain. There is also a 4.75-mile trail loop west of the cliff.

Chicago Lakefront Trail

It’s not necessary to leave the city or head to the woods to break a sweat. Chicago offers its residents plenty of trails, notably the incredible, expansive 18-mile waterfront trail. The paved trail extends from 5800 N. Sheridan Road southward to 71st Street, taking workout warriors on a journey through several neighborhoods, such as Uptown, Lincoln Park, South Loop, and Hyde Park. There's no better way to view Chicago's skyscrapers, Lake Michigan and its harbors and beaches, as well as many museums, nature centers, gardens, playgrounds, parks, courts, and almost everything else imaginable.

Chicago River Water Trails

If sea legs interest you more than tiring your actual legs, the metro area offers 156 miles of river for canoeing, kayaking, row boating, and more. Numerous launching points exist throughout the city and suburbs, such as in Skokie Lagoons, the North Shore Channel, and the Chicago River's North, South, and Main Branch, which weaves its way through Chicago’s fantastic cityscape.

Ned Brown Preserve (Busse Woods)

Maybe you are a person that enjoys it all. If so, head to the 3,700-acre Busse Woods in northwestern Cook County. An eight-mile paved loop (and other spur trails) encircle its main feature, the 460-acre Busse Reservoir. But, you don't have to go around the water because the boating center provides access to canoes, kayaks, and rowboats. Besides the lake, the view at Busse includes an expansive nature preserve registered as a National Natural Landmark and trees that pre-date European settlement.

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