Walking for Fitness and Friendship

8 great Chicago area walking paths for older adults

Exercise contributes to healthy aging — that much everyone can agree on. But you don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment to boost your physical activity. All you need is a path and a good pair of sneakers, because walking is one of the best forms of exercise.

Walking regularly can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety and depression, according to America Walks, a nonprofit that advocates for safe, equitable, and accessible places to walk.

“Walking is a great thing for senior citizens, healthwise and for friendship,” says Bruce Beckman, organizer of the Downers Grove Walking Club. The group typically has 15 to 20 walkers per session and also hosts happy hours at local restaurants to help members get to know each other.

Irena Paronis, president of Windy City Walkers, a chapter of American Volkssport Association, says she loves walking for a variety of reasons. “It gives me a chance to get away from everything, and I like the way it feels to be moving. I also love to see how nature changes around me, how things look so different from week to week, season to season.”

Even though walking is a straightforward form of exercise, it’s important to also work on strength and balance, as well as follow best practices for walking safely:

  • Wear supportive shoes. “People who go out walking in casual fashion shoes end up with foot problems,” Paronis says.
  • Always carry a bottle of water. This will keep you well hydrated.
  • Look for parks and trails with senior friendly amenities. These include: a safe environment, little traffic, ample parking or nearby public transportation stops, smooth walking surfaces, well-lit paths, and easily accessible bathrooms.
  • Walk in a group or with a friend, instead of alone. Not only is it safer, but it’s also more fun, Beckman says. “I enjoy the camaraderie and the ability to meet new people,” Beckman adds.

If you want to start walking more, the Chicago area has plenty of places to try. The plethora of beautiful walking routes ranges from vibrant urban trails to serene wooded trails. These eight great places for walking are just a sampling of the many beautiful parks and trails in the greater Chicagoland region.


Elk resting in a pasture in Busse WoodsBusse Woods
East Higgins Road/Route 72, near Elk Grove Village

Busse Woods, part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, features a 12.9-mile paved walking path that wraps around Busse Reservoir, picnic areas, and a fenced elk pasture. Look carefully, and you may spot some of the large, deer-like creatures lounging or grazing.


A gravel trail through a wooded area at Chicago Botanic GardenChicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s paved walkways meander through a series of serene, lush gardens, including the English Walled Garden, Rose Garden, and Japanese Garden. There’s also an extensive model train area for rail fans. The Visitor Center has a charming gift shop and a café for a post-walk coffee. Purchase tickets in advance, (typically $15.95, plus parking, although prices vary depending on the date). The Chicago Botanic Garden also periodically offers free admission days.


A walking path runs paralell to Lake Michigan in ChicagoChicago Lakefront Trail
Access the path between Ardmore Avenue in the north to 71st Street in the south

Chicago’s iconic Lakefront Trail stretches 18.5 miles along Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The path passes by Lincoln Park, Grant Park, Burnham Park, and Jackson Park. While the trail can be crowded at times, it is divided into separate walking and biking paths.


A windmill stands tall against a cloud-strewn sky at Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva, Illinois.

Fabyan Forest Preserve
1925 S Batavia Ave., Geneva

Fabyan Forest Preserve features a Japanese garden, a historic windmill, and the Fabyan Villa Museum. The garden is open May to October.


Two people walking down a trail in Fullersburg WoodsFullersburg Woods Forest Preserve
3609 Spring Rd., Oak Brook

This 220-acre forest preserve has several hiking trails, including a wildflower trail and an interactive nature trail. Fullersburg Woods also has a Nature Education Center and the Graue Mill and Museum.


On a bridge, overlooking the I&M Canal trail

I&M Canal Trail
Multiple access points in Joliet, Lockport, and Romeoville

The Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal trail features a 7.57-mile crushed limestone path. It runs from the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site north to Romeoville, primarily through woodland. The trail connects to the 96-mile I&M Canal state trail, which runs through multiple state parks, historical sites, bluffs, and rolling hills.


A light brown walking path in Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago. Benches and trees line the sides of the path, and a skyscraper stands in the distance.

Maggie Daley Park
337 E. Randolph St., Chicago

Nestled along the lakefront in the heart of downtown Chicago, Maggie Daley Park features smooth, curved paths bordered by trees and shrubs. The park also has a Cancer Survivors’ Garden, a miniature golf course, and beautiful views of the city’s famous skyline.


Trees and shrubs border a wide concrete path on the Chicago 606 trailThe 606
12 entry points between Ashland Avenue and Ridgeway Street

The elevated 606 Trail, tucked between North and Armitage Avenues, is built on an abandoned rail line. Check event listings for path-side theatre performances, live music, storytelling, and more.

Windy City Walkers and the Downers Grove Walking Club welcome new walkers. You can also search for Chicago-area walking groups on meetup.com.

Above photos by Katie Scarlett Brandt