Lap Swimming with the Chicago Park District

Ping Tom Park Pool

 

I love lap swimming, but I can’t justify the cost of a gym membership at a place fancy enough to have a pool for lap swimming. However, if you’re interested in Chicago lap swimming, the park district has a great deal for you!

Hidden in plain sight, there are “free” pools available all over the city of Chicago. For me personally,  there are three indoor and one outdoor pools within a mile of home. Best of all, many of these pools offer lap swim sessions for adults only. While access to the park district pools is generally free, access to the pools during lap swim times is not. However, it is extremely affordable. Monthly memberships are $25, or you can buy a 3-month pass for $40. For $13/month, you can do unlimited lap swimming.

The downside is the times that adult lap swim is offered is a bit limited (check the Park District website for the current schedule), but in just about any area, you should have access to morning, evening and weekend times. I think about the lap swim “shifts” like I do group exercise classes. If I want to participate and get in my workout, I have to show up on time. Because some shifts are as short as 45 minutes, but there are a few that are 2 hours long.

 

Welles Park Pool

 

Chicago Lap Swimming Tips

You can order your membership through the Park Distrcit website (and pay a $2 fee) or avoid the fee and buy in-person at the front desk of the fieldhouse/pool building.

Generally, you have to show your lap swim membership card, and typically leave it with the lifeguards, while you are swimming. I stick mine in a small zip-lock baggie. 

Wear or bring flip flops or some kind of shower sandals. The pool areas and locker rooms seem generally clean, but I always feel more comfortable with an extra layer between my feet and damp surfaces.

Bring a bottle of water to keep near your lane. (No glass!) Maybe you’ve already figured this out, but like any endurance sport, you need to stay hydrated. I bring one that I can use one-handed and don’t have to remove a cap to drink from.

Most of the pools provide some kickboards and what not, but BYO if you need anything fancy. Of course, BYO goggles, swim cap, ear plugs, etc.

The pools and locker rooms, re no-frills. Some locker rooms leave a lot to be desired. You have to bring your own everything – towels, soap, shampoo, water (to drink), lock, etc. And personally, most of the locker rooms aren’t inviting enough to shower in, so I usually just put on dry clothes and head home. And most of the lockers have these weird small holes that don’t fit my padlock, which is annoying. 

Also, many of the locker rooms do not provide any private changing areas (some don’t even offer private showers, just stalls with no curtain), so mentally prepare yourself for nudity, on your behalf, and of others. (The restrooms do have private stalls.)

All of the pools have a shallow end and deep end. So far the deepest I’ve experienced is 12 feet. Most pools are 25 yards long, but there are a few Olympic length (50 meter) pools. 

The lap swimming crowd is a mix of proficient swimmers likely training for a triathlon, older folks who like a “gentle” workout, and everyone in between. You’ll likely have to double up in the laps, so be polite and either stick to one side of the lane or follow their lead if they are swimming on the right in both directions.

 

McGuane Park Pool

 

Most pools have reviews on Yelp, but here are my quick reviews of the pools I have used.   Unless otherwise notes, they are 25 yards long and 6 lanes wide.

Dvorak Park (Pilsen) – The only outdoor pool I’ve used, and also the only Olympic length (50m) pool I’ve used, also only 4 lanes (which were not roped off when I was there, but it wasn’t crowded). You can see the Sears Tower from the pool. And from the locker room. Because the locker room has no roof. Just walls. (Well, the rooms where there are toilets and showers have a roof, but those rooms are dank and dark, so I avoided them.) It’s a very old-school locker room. The sun is usually setting during lap swim, and the pool is east-west, so sometimes the glare on my goggles made me feel like I was swimming “blind.” Obviously only open during the summer. Street parking only.

McGuane Park (Bridgeport) – Free street parking and possibly a free lot. Next to Palmisano Park, which is lovely for a short post-swim stroll. This pool and locker room probably felt the “oldest” of the ones I’ve been in.

Ping Tom Park (Chinatown) – This park and pool are newer, so it’s the most modern that I’ve been to, although it’s still pretty sparse. The shower stalls don’t have any kind of doors or curtains. It seems to be a popular spot because sometimes the pool gets a little crowded. There’s a free parking lot.

Sheridan Park (Little Itay) – Parking is very challenging – the lot is for employees only, the neighborhood is zoned, and Taylor St is metered.

Welles Park (North Center) – This pool is quite busy, so they divide the lanes into fast, medium and slow, and you swim your laps in a “circle” (so everyone is going in the same direction). The locker room is pretty run-down.

 

Dvorak Park Pool

 

Do you swim laps through the Park District? Which pools have you tried? Any other tips? 

 

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5 Comments on “Lap Swimming with the Chicago Park District”

  1. I bought a month long lap swim pass for a park district pool when I was training for my indoor tri in 2013, and I couldn’t believe how great of a deal it was! I mean, yeah, the hours were a little annoying sometimes, but talk about a steal. (Though let me tell you, going from a park district locker room to an FFC locker room for the indoor tri was QUITE the shock! Hahaha.) The only thing I didn’t like was figuring out the nuances of how the pool worked (I went to Gill Park, and you had to bring your lap swim pass into the pool area and show it to a lifeguard before getting in the water) since no one told me how lap swim “worked,” but once I figured that out it was smooth sailing. Well, aside from the whole swimming thing, but it’s not exactly the park district’s fault that I’m not a strong swimmer 😛

    1. I have noticed that every pool has a different system. Welles Park is the same way with bringing your pass into the pool area and leaving it on a table. I think Sheridan Park might be the same way. Ping Tom only just started checking passes at the front desk. The others never asked to see my pass, although it could be because the pool is monitored by teenage lifeguards who don’t care as much?

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