The Chicago Marathon is a major event that draws thousands of spectators who come to support and cheer on the runners. 

And if you’re one of the thousands of spectators looking for the perfect spots to watch the Chicago Marathon and witness all the excitement, you’ve come to the right place. 

If you want to be close to the Chicago Marathon’s starting line, go to Grand Avenue (around Mile 1/1,6km). State Street, between Jackson Boulevard and Grand Avenue, is another great spot to watch the early race. If you prefer to be near the finish line, head to the Bank of America Cheer Zone at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road. 

This article will guide you on how to get to some top places to watch the Chicago Marathon, whether you plan to take the train or drive to these locations. 

So, if you want a fantastic view of all the action and directions, continue reading!

Chicago Marathon Course Overview

To make the most of your spectator experience, it’s essential to have an understanding of the Chicago Marathon course. 

The course is known for being flat and fast, which is ideal for both runners and spectators. It offers a scenic journey through some of Chicago’s most iconic neighbourhoods.

The marathon begins in Grant Park, setting the stage for an exciting race day.

Runners head north through the city, passing through the lively neighbourhood of Wrigleyville.

After the northern stretch, the course turns southward, leading runners through the vibrant Loop district.

Continuing westward, the route takes runners to the Damen neighbourhood.

From Damen, the course heads south, eventually reaching the historic neighbourhood of Bridgeport.

Throughout the race, runners wind their way through a total of 29 distinct Chicago neighbourhoods, each offering its unique atmosphere and sights.

The race concludes back in Grant Park, where the finish line awaits the runners.

Before we dive into the best spots to catch all the action, let’s set some essential guidelines to ensure the best possible experience for you, your fellow spectators, and the runners themselves. 

These guidelines will help create a positive and supportive environment for everyone involved.

Race-day Guidelines For Chicago Marathon Spectators

Access Restrictions 

Spectators will not be allowed access to the race start and finish areas within Grant Park on race day. 

These areas are reserved for registered participants displaying their event-issued bib numbers, event staff with proper credentials, and ticketed guests, if applicable. 

If you’re not a registered participant, you won’t be able to accompany runners to the start line or greet them at the finish line.

Cheer Along the Course 

To support the runners, it’s recommended that you spectate from other points along the course. Find a spot where you can cheer and encourage the participants as they pass by.

Post-Race Meeting

Plan to meet your runners after they complete the race in designated areas within Grant Park. These areas are typically accessible to spectators after the race.

27th Mile Post-Race Party

The 27th Mile  Post-Race Party and Runner Reunite Area in Grant Park is a great place to celebrate with your runners. Spectators can access this area starting at 9:30 a.m. 

To enter, you’ll need to pass through security and bag screening at Entrance Gate #1 (Jackson Drive and Michigan Avenue) or Entrance Gate #4 (Ida B. Wells Drive and Michigan Avenue).

Now that we’ve got this out of the way, let’s look at those great places where you can see all the action.

The Best Places To Watch The Chicago Marathon By Train

The “El” train, short for “elevated” train, has sections that run both above and below ground, providing a way to navigate the city even when race-day street closures are in effect.

These train lines are designated by colours. 

For example, the Red Line and Brown Line run in a north-south direction, while the Blue Line moves west and then east again.

Between Miles 1-2 ( 1.6-3.2km)

Start downtown at the intersection of State Street and Lake Street, on the west side of State. 

Look for your runner passing south, on the right side of the street, and capture a photo with the iconic Chicago Theater sign in the background.

Mile  3 (4.8km)

Walk three blocks west on Lake Street to see runners heading north on LaSalle Boulevard. You’ll be on their right. If your runner is exceptionally fast, consider skipping this spot and heading straight to the next spot.

Mile 9(14.5km)

Walk back east on Lake Street to the Clark and Lake train station, entering from the north side. 

Take the Brown Line north to Kimball, eight stops in total. Get off at Belmont, then walk half a mile (800m) east on Belmont Avenue to Broadway Street. Runners are heading south to downtown, and you’ll be on their right. 

If you prefer a livelier atmosphere, walk a couple of blocks north, where the Frontrunners, Chicago’s LGBT running club, will have stages set up.

Mile 17 (27.4 km)

Return to the Belmont Station and take the Red Line south to 95th/Dan Ryan. After seven stops, transfer to the Blue Line to Forest Park. 

Three stops later, exit at the UIC-Halsted stop. Walk west along the platform to either the Peoria Street or Morgan Street exit (do not exit at Halsted). 

Walk one block north on Morgan or Peoria Street to Jackson Boulevard, where you’ll see runners heading east. You’ll be on their right.

Mile 23 (37 km)

Rejoin the Blue Line, heading to O’Hare, and go three stops. Transfer to the Red Line south to 95th/Dan Ryan at the Jackson stop. After five stops, exit at the Sox-35th stop and leave at 35th Street. 

The course runs directly in front of the station, and your runner will appreciate your support on the left side.

The Finish

Return to the Red Line north, going to Howard. If you want to catch the finish, get off two stops later at Roosevelt and head east toward the Museum Campus/Grant Park. 

Otherwise, proceed one more stop to Jackson and head east. Pass through the pedestrian gate labelled “Gate 1.” 

The Best Places To Watch The Chicago Marathon By Car

If you plan to spectate by car, it’s more convenient if you have someone to drive, drop you off, and assist with parking. 

However, it’s still possible to do it solo. Here are some helpful apps for a smoother parking experience:

  • ParkChicago: Use this app to pay for parking meters with your credit card and extend your parking time without needing to return to your car. Available for free on iOS and Android.
  • SpotHero: This app allows you to search for parking options, compare prices, and even pay in advance for garages and other non-public parking facilities. It’s available for free on both iOS and Android

Mile 1 (1.6 km)

Find street parking or use a parking app to pre-book a space near the corner of Ontario and Fairbanks Ct. 

Walk south until Fairbanks turns into Columbus. You’ll reach the corner of Grand and Columbus, where runners will be heading downhill toward you. 

It may be challenging to spot your runner in the crowd, but it’s a great photo opportunity if you do.

Mile 8 (12.9 km)

Return to your car and drive west to Michigan Avenue. Turn right and head north on Michigan, following signs for Outer Lake Shore Drive. Drive approximately four miles (6.4 km) and exit at Irving Park Road. 

Find street parking and walk south one block to Sheridan. You’ll be on the runners’ right side.

Mile 14 (22.5 km)

Get back on Irving Park Road, heading east. Make a right onto Lake Shore Dr., heading south. Drive about eight miles (12.9 km), then exit onto I-55 South. 

Within a mile (1.6 km), take exit 292 for I-90 W/I-94W. Take exit 52C for Roosevelt Road. Turn right on Roosevelt and make the first left onto Jefferson. Go north on Jefferson toward Jackson. 

Find street parking or use SpotHero near the corner of Jackson and Jefferson. Walk north to Adams Street to catch runners after the halfway mark. You’ll be on the runners’ left.

Mile 17

Walk back a block south to Jackson and head west over the highway bridge. You’ll be on the runners’ left.

Mile 21 (33.8km)

Chinatown, around mile 21 (33.8km), has impressive lion dancers performing throughout the race but can have large crowds. 

To avoid them, drive east on 18th Street, turn right on State Street, and then right again on 26th Street. 

Look for parking near Federal Street or go the other way on 26th Street toward Wabash Avenue. 

Walk about a tenth of a mile (approx 160m) west on the 26th to spot your runner heading south on Wentworth.

Mile 24 (38.6 km)

From there, walk half a mile (800m) back east on 26th Street to Michigan Avenue and catch the runners heading back north just past mile 24 (38.6 km).

The Finish

If you have a driver and some luck, you can try to race to the finish line. Head up State Street and get dropped off as close to Roosevelt Road as possible. 

Then, run east to Michigan Avenue and slightly north to the finish line on Columbus. 

Alternatively, park in one of the Millennium Park garages near Grant Park and reserve online in advance for a discounted rate. 

You can also search for alternate parking on SpotHero. 

Can I Watch The Bank Of America Chicago Marathon Live?

If you can’t make it to the city for the big day, you can still catch all the action. 

NBC 5 Chicago, Telemundo Chicago, and TeleXitos will provide comprehensive live TV coverage and live streaming of the marathon in both English and Spanish.

The live television broadcasts will run from 7 to 11 a.m., and you can access the live stream on and

Additionally, you can watch it on the NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago apps, as well as on their Roku and Apple TV channels, available from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Can I Track The Runners On The Chicago Marathon Route?

Yes. Race organizers have made it easy to track runners using a dedicated app. 

You can get the app for iPhone here and for Android here

Alternatively, you can search for “Bank of America Chicago Marathon” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Once you have the app, you can add registered participants to your tracking list. Simply search for their name and add them to your favourites. The app allows you to track up to 20 runners simultaneously.

The app provides real-time tracking, an interactive course map, a schedule of events, and access to race photos. You can keep an eye on your tracked runners as they progress along the course.

If you prefer not to use the app, runner tracking will also be available on the marathon’s website on race day. 

You can view the race leaderboard and follow friends and family by receiving real-time updates and splits there.

Top 10 Tips For Chicago Marathon Spectators:

  1. Know Your Runner’s Number: Find out your runner’s assigned race number to track their progress using tracking apps or websites. Keep in mind that tracking alerts may have delays due to the high number of runners. Downloading the official Chicago Marathon app during race weekend can be helpful.
  2. Know What Your Runner Is Wearing: Given the large crowds, knowing what your runner is wearing is crucial for spotting them. Communicate your attire to your runner as well, so they can identify you. Some spectators use helium balloons to be more visible.
  3. Cheer For Everyone: Cheer for everyone participating in the race. You can bring a cowbell to make noise without straining your hands. Call out runners’ names or team names, and offer words of encouragement such as “You look great” and “You can do it.” Avoid telling walking runners that they “look good” and opt for more motivational phrases.
  4. Plan Your Stay: Secure hotel reservations well in advance, especially if you plan to stay near the starting line, finish line, or specific mile markers along the route. These accommodations tend to fill up quickly.
  5. Do Not Rely On Taxis: Do not rely on finding a taxi or ride-sharing service between 7:00 a.m. and noon in downtown Chicago, as traffic can be extremely congested. 
  6. Wear Comfy. Consider wearing comfortable running or walking shoes, as you’ll likely cover a significant distance while spectating.
  7. Be Prepared For Chicago Weather: Chicago’s weather can be unpredictable, so dress in layers and bring items like warm hats (secure ones that won’t blow off), windbreakers, waterproof or plastic ponchos, gloves, and even foot and hand warmers to stay comfortable.
  8. Stay Hydrated and Bring Snacks: Dehydration can occur even if you’re just standing still due to the excitement of the race. Carry water or your preferred nonalcoholic beverage, as well as snacks, to keep yourself nourished and hydrated throughout the event.
  9. Security and Bag Checks: Be aware that all bags, purses, and backpacks are subject to security checks, and metal detectors are used to screen spectators before they can access certain areas.
  10. Flight Timing: If you’re flying in for the event, consider booking flights after 6:00 PM, as traffic can be heavy earlier in the day. 

With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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