A Short Walk in Lincoln Park: Discover this Free Park and Zoo

Take a walk in Lincoln Park and you'll discover a few of the free things to do in this Chicago treasure.

This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.

By Joslyn Lopez Richardson

Lincoln Park was my refuge during my time in Chicago. I would jog through the scenic trails and walk the serene boardwalk before the city had even begun to peak open its eyes for a new day.

The small pond, pure air, and abundance of trees made me forget that the bustle of downtown is no more than a 10-minute walk south.

This location could easily be classified as one of the Top 10 things to do in Chicago, but I believe many people overlook many of its hidden treasures; heck, I did, and I lived only three blocks away for two years.

As you take this walk in Lincoln Park, you’ll find a wealth of local history and culture.

A Short Walk in Lincoln Park Chicago

Lincoln Park Chicago in the fall, photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson

Stop 1: Lincoln Park Conservatory

We’ll start in the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

I arrived early to beat the crowd and enjoy a peaceful morning. The Conservatory invites you to study exotic plants and visit a location that is the opposite of the frenetic windy metropolis.

When you first enter, you’ll see four separate exhibits: the Victorian Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House, and Show House, which is home to flower displays and annual flower shows.

Each exhibit makes you feel as if you’re entering a different landscape, with each one offering something unique in display and diversity.

Lincoln Park Conservatory, photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson

This conservatory is significant to me not just because it provides a fast respite from the city, but also because I appreciate what the park does to give back to the community.

The conservatory is more than simply a greenhouse; it also offers volunteer opportunities to residents. The initiatives range from weekend park cleanup to full-scale renovation and restoration of Lincoln Park’s North Pond.

Stop 2: Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is a swift 3-minute walk south from the conservatory. With the exception of special zoo member days and the spectacular Lincoln Park ZooLights in December, this zoo is completely free for all guests.

It’s also Lincoln Park Zoo one of the most established zoos in the U.S. Once inside, I recommend taking a trip through the Helen Brach Primate House, which features eight biological habitats that mimic forest ecosystems with vines, trees, paintings, and natural lighting.

The Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove is another of my favorites since it is modeled like Boulders Beach, a beautiful beach near Cape Town. If neither of these piques your attention, the zoo has 200 different species to select from.

photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson

The zoo also has attractions such as the AT&T Endangered Species Carousel, which has 48 handcrafted wooden animal models, and a “Farm-in-the-Zoo,” which resembles a petting zoo, but also features interactive activities for kids to learn about food and animal behavior.

If you have additional time or are preparing ahead, consider attending one of the farm’s programs, such as “Play Days at the Farm” or “Sing Along with Mr. Singer,” where children may interact with farm animals or dance along to animal music.

In addition to being one of the few zoos with free admission, Lincoln Park Zoo is also the country’s fourth oldest. The zoo first opened its doors in 1868 and has expanded in size alongside the city of Chicago.

One employee, who has worked at the zoo for 56 years, is all too familiar with this. I got the opportunity to ask him a few questions on his experiences at the zoo and how it has changed.

He explained, “I have seen the city grow and I have seen the zoo grow but the community still feels the same to me.” I also asked him why he continues to work at the zoo, the man smiled and said, “I have stayed at this post because I love meeting all kinds of people and getting to spend time with the animals.”

Read more about Lincoln Park and Lincoln Park Zoo’s crazy history in Living Landmarks of Chicago.

Stop 3: A Tribute to Chicago History

Chicago is a city that exudes art and culture, and Lincoln Park is no exception.

Statues are scattered throughout the park. These figures depict historical figures, and each one is accompanied by a plaque that describes who they are and what they mean to us.

Because Illinois is known as the “Land of Lincoln,” you may expect to see a statue of Abraham Lincoln. But I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the others included, such as William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, and Hans Christian Andersen.

Statue at Lincoln Park  photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson
Statue at Lincoln Park  photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson

Keep an eye out for these statues, however, because they can certainly be tricky to spot. I only spotted two of the sculptures in the entirety of the time I lived in the area, and I jogged through that park every single day.

It is, however, amusing to see how many you can spot. Once I took the time to wander around, I found eight in total, yet upon checking the map after, I noticed there are at least twelve.

I encourage you to go on your own statue pursuit; you’ll be shocked at how much history is dispersed around the park.

Lincoln Park photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson

Stop 4: Chicago History Museum

On the park’s southern edge is the Chicago History Museum. After living in Chicago for a total of eight years, I had yet to go to this museum. I now must come clean and say I was super disappointed in myself for not going to this museum sooner.

It has been in the same location since the 1930s, which adds so much character to the whole building in my opinion.

Chicago History Museum  photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson

The museum is free for children under the age of 12, $17 for students and seniors, and $19 for adults. Get current hours, prices, and policies at chicagohistory.org

This experience is worth the price because the museum consists of temporary and permanent exhibitions; the temporary ones adhere to more current affairs or what is prominent in today’s culture and the rest is all about Chicago, including an exhibit on the Chicago fire and how Chicago came to be.

I think locals and tourists could enjoy this museum by getting an in-depth background on the city’s roots.

Stop 5: The View from Lincoln Park

To bring our tour full circle, there is a panoramic view near the southern end of Lincoln Park. There is a bridge over the south pond that connects the two sides of the park, and it is here where I have seen family photos, wedding photos, bachelorette parties, etc.

It is an iconic and picture-worthy view to finalize your time in Chicago and around this northern neighborhood.

The bridge is also connected to various nature boardwalks where you can run, bike, or simply take in more of the scenic views. I suggest ending your journey here with a memorable and identifiable Chicago skyline picture.

View of downtown Chicago from Lincoln Park,  photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson
View of downtown Chicago from Lincoln Park,  photo by Joslyn Lopez Richardson

If you ever find yourself in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, I recommend keeping this quick guide in mind because there is a lot that gets missed in a park with so much to offer.

Want another break from hectic city life? Check out these road trips from Chicago.

Short Walk in Lincoln Park Map