The 5 Best Views From the Run for the Zoo Course

May 18, 2023

Since 1978, Run for the Zoo has been a staple of the Chicago race calendar. Back when it started, it cost $5 to run and the course was 8.9 miles long. Things have changed slightly since then—for one thing, there are two courses: one is a 5K that’s suitable for families and walkers as well as runners and the other is a 10K that’s perfect for those who are competitive or training for even more challenging races. In addition, children between the ages of 3 and 8 can sign up for the Kids’ Course, an obstacle course on the South Lawn that will have them moving and earning a medal of their own.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that Run for the Zoo benefits Lincoln Park Zoo; the funds go to the zoo’s animal care and worldwide conservation initiatives, along with learning programs and much more. For its 45th anniversary, our goal is to raise $45,000, an amount that equates to just $9 per person. And if you haven’t signed up yet, you’re missing out. Taking place early in the summer season, this race is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy the city while being active. It’s a good cause, but it’s also a really fun day at an urban oasis complete with an after-party featuring free food and beer for participants plus gorgeous views of both the city and wildlife.

Those views are just one reason fans love Run for the Zoo, but it’s a big one. Here are some of our favorite scenes that you’ll pass through with other runners and walkers on June 4, if you join us!

1. The City Skyline

Looking south from Nature Boardwalk, you’ll be able to see the Chicago skyline, including the dark tapering obelisk with twin white spires of 875 North Michigan Avenue, formerly the John Hancock tower, and the towers atop 900 North Michigan Avenue. It’s a gorgeous view every day of the year, and depending on where you’re viewing it from, you can see the skyscrapers juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the area—including South Pond and the natural grasses and wildlife of Lincoln Park Zoo.

2. Lake Michigan

People who haven’t seen the Great Lakes before may not be able to understand the scale of Lake Michigan, which is as blue and huge as the ocean on many Chicago summer days. It even has sandy beaches and a beautiful sky above. While the 5K course goes between the South Pond and Diversey Harbor, allowing more distant views of the lake, 10K course runners will be able to glide along the Lakefront Trail for a bit, letting the waves of the lake provide calming yet inspirational views.

3. The Lion Pride at Pepper Family Wildlife Center

The Run for the Zoo course takes racers right past the east side of Pepper Family Wildlife Center, which allows them to catch a glimpse of the lion cubs that currently reside there. Pilipili, born in 2022, and 2023 cubs Pesho, Lomelok, and Sidai can be seen interacting with their mother Zari, father Jabari, and Zari’s half-sisters Cleo and Hasira. The lions often enjoy being out in the morning—right around the time when the race ends—and you may even hear them roaring.

4. Café Brauer

Designed by Prairie-style architect Dwight H. Perkins, Café Brauer is a historic landmark and a stunning building by itself—an indelible part of the architectural legacy of the city of Chicago. It stands just south of the main zoo along South Pond, and runners and walkers will encounter it to their left as they travel north into the Brauer Gate. This building’s green roof and red bricks house a seasonal restaurant, which serves food and cocktails between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays. The Patio at Café Brauer is open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; its brunch menu is available only on weekends.

5. Nature Boardwalk

Created in 2010, Nature Boardwalk is a lush Midwestern prairie ecosystem and a natural oasis enjoyed by residents of Lincoln Park as well as zoo visitors. There are a number of beautiful views you’ll see along the route that feature elements of Nature Boardwalk, from wildlife and native grasses to the Peoples Gas Pavilion and the Ulysses S. Grant Monument from 1891 that separates the area from the zoo parking lot.

If you’re dreaming of getting outside into a brilliant Chicago summer, sign up now! Just note: There’s a lot going on that weekend in the city (we’re looking at you, Taylor Swift), so you’ll want to make plans early to get downtown (check out the FAQ here for more logistics information) or sign up for the virtual version of the race. We’ll see you at the starting line!

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