Lincoln Park Zoo

Best Places to Run in Chicago: Lincoln Park Zoo

The zoo is located off Stockton Drive in Lincoln Park and is free to the public

Chicago's lakefront trail is perhaps the best place to run in the city -- or at least the most obvious place to run.

But the city's great running trails extend beyond the narrow strip along the lakefront. If you're looking to shake up your spring running regiment, consider the second best places to run.

In my opinion, Chicago's second best running spot is the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The isn't technically a running trail, but it's friendly to runners and even hosts its own race in June. Entry is also free and open to the public, so no need to break out the wallet for a trip to the zoo and a good run.

My wife and I routinely include the Lincoln Park Zoo in our running routes, even in the early morning. The zoo itself doesn't officially open until 10 a.m., but the gates open to the public at 7 a.m. year-round.

The crowds can get hectic during the day in the summer, but the park is mostly pedestrian-free in the zoo's off-hours, making it a peasant run.

There are a couple of different routes you can choose through the zoo. Whether you're running from the north or south, you can easily access the zoo and make your way through. There are five entrances, and each brings you to a different part of the zoo. You can choose to enter near the seals, the camels or the lions, for instance.

Depending on the time of day and year, some animals may not be out in the open inside the exhibits, but, again, this will add some variety to your runs.

The sights at the zoo are remarkable enough, but an added bonus to running there are the sounds, too. My wife and I love running by the Kovler Lion House, where an African lion roams, in the mornings. Quite often, we're greeted by a ferocious good-morning roar.

Finally, the last perk about running at the zoo is its proximity to the lakefront trail. Marathon trainees won't be able to get a long run in if they stick to the zoo alone, but it offers an excellent detour from the lakefront trail to make those long runs more bearable.

Chris Narbone is a Chicago runner who curates Amplify Running, a blog about gear and technology for runners.

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