October in Chicago: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Chicago skyscrapers as seen from Grant Park
Grant Park, Chicago.

Davel5957 / Getty Images

Even though October traditionally sees a break in travel trends across the country, Chicago's calendar remains packed with tourist-centric events such as the Chicago Marathon and Halloween happenings aplenty. The chilly fall weather allows for exploring the Windy City's beloved green spaces, shopping centers, and attractions (namely Cloud Gate). Plus, with the exception of the jam-packed marathon weekend, hotel rates and airfare can be snagged for a bargain during the shoulder season.

Chicago Weather in October

The weather in Chicago is notoriously unpredictable, and October's climate is no different. Temperatures can vary dramatically from day to day (or hour to hour), but are generally warm enough for al fresco dining or embarking on a culinary tour.

  • Average high: 62 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius)
  • Average low: 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius)

The wind for which Chicago is known increases significantly (from 11.5 to 13.1 miles per hour) between the beginning and end of the month. It also isn't entirely unlikely to see snowstorms, which can delay flights (as can strong wind) during October.

What to Pack

With such disorderly weather patterns, it's best to pack for all seasons when planning an October trip to Chicago. Bring both short sleeves and fleeces, lightweight pants and thermal layers. What you'll need depends on which end of the month you visit, but definitely expect to wear a windbreaker, no matter what. Check the weather beforehand to see whether you may need a winter coat or waterproof shoes. If you plan to partake in Halloween events, it may be a good idea to pack a costume.

Road-level view of runners in the Chicago Marathon
Vincent Laforet / Getty Images

October Events in Chicago

Despite the decline in tourism post-summer, Chicago puts on a host of events in October, from the famous marathon to city-wide pizza parties in celebration of National Pizza Month.

  • Chicago Marathon: October always kicks off with this iconic feat of athleticism. The Chicago Marathon draws about 45,000 runners to the streets of the downtown area (and upward of 30 surrounding neighborhoods). It begins and ends at the famous Grant Park. In 2020, the in-person event will be replaced by virtual runs between October 5 and 11.
  • Chicago International Film Festival: Also drawing major crowds to the city is this annual film festival, occupying most of the month. It is, in fact, North America's longest-running international competitive film festival, having started in the '60s. In 2020, screenings will be streamed online from October 14 to 25.
  • Halloween in Chicago: October is basically one giant Halloween party in the Windy City, with the Chicago Botanic Garden holding a special pumpkin exhibition (Night of 1,000 Jack-o'-Lanterns) and both the Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo doing kid-friendly programming throughout the month. Horror movie enthusiasts won't want to skip Southport's Music Box of Horrors 24-hour movie marathon, which will take place as a month-long drive-in experience in 2020.
  • National Pizza Month: Deep-dish pizza is as much a symbol of Chicago as The Bean, so it's only natural that the city's iconic establishments celebrate National Pizza Month with discounted pies.

October Travel Tips

  • While October is generally a quiet month for tourism, the Chicago Marathon draws thousands to the city, meaning: full hotels, packed restaurants, street closures, and more. Try to avoid that weekend if you don't plan to participate.
  • If cold weather deters you, plan your trip for early in the month. Chicago is notoriously frigid, and the yearly deep freeze begins in the fall.
  • Because of the cold temperatures and short days, many popular attractions—such as Navy Pier and the Lincoln Park Zoo—will have reduced hours.
  • October is prime leaf-peeping time in the Midwest. Colorful scenes can be found in Lincoln Park, Jackson Park, and Morton Arboretum.

To learn more about visiting Chicago during the shoulder season, check out our guide on the best time to visit.

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