Lap Swimming with the Chicago Park District

This isn’t sponsored or anything, it’s just a really great deal for Chicago residents. 

One of my requirements whenever I’m shopping for a gym membership is that the gym have a pool. I took swim lessons for years as a child (tot through teeenager), so logging the laps is an enjoyable workout for me. However, since I currently have access to “free” fitness centers both at work and home, I can’t justify paying for a gym membership. So how can I swim laps?

Luckily, the Chicago Park District offers lap swim memberships. Monthly memberships are $25, or you can buy a 3-month pass for $40. Yes, for $13/month, you can do unlimited lap swimming, and there are pools all over the city. I can think of 5 indoor pools and one outdoor pool within a 10-minute drive of our apartment.

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.

I bought my first lap swim pass in May, and just renewed for my second 3 months. What you need to know:

Wear or bring flip flops or some kind of shower sandals. You won’t regret it.

Bring a bottle of water to keep near your lane. Maybe you’ve already figured this out, but like any endurance sport, you need to stay hydrated.

You can order your membership through the Park Distrcit website (and pay a $2 fee) or avoid the fee and buy in-person. Not all pools have a staffed front desk, but in my experience, Welles Park and Ping Tom Park do.

At some pools, you have to check in at the front (Ping Tom). At others, you leave your lap swim card on a table in the pool area (Welles). At others, you could probably waltz in with no paid membership and still do laps.

The pools, and locker rooms, are 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.

I believe the pools do provide some kickboards and what not, but I personally have not used them.

All of the pools have a shallow end and deep end. As someone who has a very weird fear of deep water (I was a lifeguard! I’m an excellent swimmer! Does not make sense, but it is what it is), it takes me a few laps before I feel relaxed in a new pool. So far the deepest I’ve experienced is 12 feet.

I am usually the youngest person there. Swimming. Because the lifeguards are generally teenagers.

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

Dvorak Park (Pilsen) – The only outdoor pool I’ve used, and also the only Olympic length (50m) pool, but 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.) 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.” Labor Day has passed, so this pool is closed until next summer.

McGuane Park (Bridgeport) – Free street parking and possibly a free lot. Next to Palmisano Park, which is lovely for a short post-swim stroll.

Ping Tom Park (Chinatown) – My favorite, because it’s the newest and the locker room feels new and clean. I don’t mind showering here. Sometimes the pool gets a little crowded though.

Sheridan Park (Little Itay) – My least favorite, mostly because it’s a challenge to find parking – the lot is for employees only, the neighborhood is zoned, and Taylor St is metered. Also, their lockers have oddly small holes for locks, and mine doesn’t fit. So I bring my bag into the pool area.

Welles Park (North Center) – This pool was also busy, but 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), so it’s manageable. The locker room is probably the most outdated of all the pools I’ve been to, but not the dankest.

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

5 thoughts on “Lap Swimming with the Chicago Park District

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  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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