South Side parks offer scenic, historic walks

The Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park provides a short but beautiful walk behind the Museum of Science and Industry.

William Tan, Assistant Editor

A cool, clean breeze swirls through the air, sending up a kaleidoscope of soft reds, oranges and yellows. The leaves drop plentifully to the sidewalks and streets below, crackling satisfyingly under the footsteps of all who walk across them. 

Fall is finally here, and the combination of crisp outdoor weather and vibrant scenery makes the perfect recipe for a comfortable walk in the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Chicago campus. 

In the Hyde Park area, three accessible locations make for an enjoyable and scenic experience, and all offer rich historical pasts that make each trip worthwhile. At the west end of the Midway Plaisance is Washington Park and along Lake Michigan are the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and the Garden of the Phoenix, a Japanese Garden.

Washington Park: Located at 5531 King Dr., Washington Park is just five minutes from Lab, and consists of over 300 acres of greenery, lakes and educational spaces. It is the “western division” of the enormous 1,055-acre South Park, which encompasses both the Midway Plaisance and Jackson Park. The park was completed in 1871 and has been updated numerous times.

Washington Park features multiple sports fields, three playgrounds, a garden and an arboretum. There are paved trails for walking or biking and restrooms nearby at the fieldhouse or the DuSable Museum of African American History. 

The property is home to the renowned Fountain of Time sculpture by Lorado Taft, an influential sculptor and artist from Chicago. The sculpture depicts a shadowy Father-Time figure who observes a group of humans across the water.

Garden of the Phoenix: At the east end of the Midway Plaisance, at 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., is the Garden of the Phoenix, a traditional Japanese Garden built during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to commemorate the relationship between the United States and Japan.

Situated on the Wooded Island, the garden overlooks the East Lagoon and offers a tranquil view of the Museum of Science and Industry. Inside the grounds are cherry blossom trees that bloom in the spring and a traditional Japanese tea house. Small waterfalls and dense foliage mark a short but enjoyable route around the garden that should take around 10 minutes to walk. 

Right outside the garden is the Skylanding, a metal sculpture created by the Japanese sculptor Yoko Ono, wife of the late Beatles founder John Lennon. Ono envisioned the sculpture as a lotus blossoming from the ashes of a phoenix. 

South Shore Nature Sanctuary: A 15-minute drive from Lab, the South Shore Nature Sanctuary is located at the easternmost end of 71st Street within South Shore Cultural Center Park. The park contains six acres of dune, woodland, prairie, savanna and shrubland habitats that visitors can walk for free. A lakefront beach provides areas where swimming and grilling are also allowed. 

A paved path borders the entirety of the Cultural Center, and visitors often come to jog the perimeter. Small gatherings can be held outdoors at one of two council rings, large circular benches. Restrooms can be found inside the Cultural Center facility at the front of the park.

The weather is perfect and the colors are dazzling. As fall arrives in full spirit, find some time to breathe in the fresh air and walk these locations to experience their vibrancy and cultural history.