The Run Down

This guide is part of our "Known/Unknown" series where we pair an essential Chicago landmark with some more obscure spots nearby. It starts with a leisurely bike ride down the Lakefront Trail where you'll visit a prairie-style garden with iconic views of the Chicago skyline (the "Known"). Afterwards you'll continue on with a peaceful and quiet bike tour through a 121 acre cemetery that's home to the final resting place of famous Chicagoans like Ernie Banks, Jack Johnson, George Pullman, and Louis Sullivan ("the Unknown"). Here are the details.

1. Visit @ Nature Boardwalk

2. Ride trails @ Graceland Cemetery

1. Nature Boardwalk (“the Known”)

Start your journey along the Lakefront Trail and head to the Nature Boardwalk just south of the Lincoln Park Zoo. This four acre pond and ecological habitat is where you can find one of the most jaw dropping views of the Chicago skyline while surrounded by a scenic natural oasis.

Once you’re here, there’s a wooden walkway that circles the pond with walls of flowers and native plants immersing you on each side. Keep following the walkway and you’ll eventually run into this large cylindrical structure tucked into gardens.

If you’re looking for one of the most popular spots in the city for wedding or family engagement photos, this is the spot for a perfectly framed perspective of the city.

Here’s some last fun facts we picked up from a volunteer. There are butterflies everywhere. Monarch butterflies make annual trips from Mexico to Canada, and they feed on milkweed plants along the way to complete the journey.

Because climate change and pesticides have wiped out a lot of their food source, it’s getting harder for these butterflies to make this pilgrimage. To help our friends out, the zoo has planted milkweed all over the boardwalk, which has turned this place into a pit stop for travelling butterflies visiting our city.

2. Graceland Cemetery (“the Unknown”)

Get back on the Lakefront path and ride until you hit Irving Park Rd.. From there, we’re veering off and making our way to the next stop, Graceland Cemetery. Here are a few notes to keep in mind as you plan your visit.

– Gates open from M- F (8am -6pm); Sat- Sun (9am – 4pm); 365 days a year
– Bikers are allowed to ride inside the cemetery grounds

While some may think visiting a cemetery is a bit morbid, our experience here was quite the opposite. If anything, it was almost meditative. Once you enter the gates, the sounds of the city almost completely disappear, and you’re just left with your thoughts as you navigate the maze of roads that wind through this 121 acre cemetery.

As you move past different gravestones, it just feels natural to wonder about these people’s lives, who they were, and where they might be now. For us, it was oddly comforting. Whatever’s the opposite of an existential crisid id what we experienced. 

There are lots of notable people who call Graceland Cemetery their final resting place. We visited a few, but there are a lot more that you can find on the cemetery’s website, complete with exact Google map directions.

Jack Johnson

His tombstone sums it up perfectly: “First Black Heavy Weight Champion of the World.” His life is an incredible story, and if you’re interested in learning more, there’s a Ken Burns documentary called Unforgivable Blackness that you should check out.

Exact Location

George Pullman

An industrial titan in 19th century Chicago, he once developed a planned town on the South Side that was once called the most perfect town in the world.  If you want to visit what that looks like today, we did a a whole guide dedicated to exploring it.

Exact Location

Daniel Burnham

Arguably the most influential architect and urban planner in Chicago history, his burial site sits on a small island in the lake.

Exact Locations