Parking at the Stadium
There are two parking lots on either side of Ryan Field (the east and west lots). Note: for football games, these lots are reserved for season ticket holders only who purchased annual parking passes! Everyone else must find street parking or park in one of the NU campus lots or downtown Evanston city lots. Even if you have a parking pass, you cannot park at the stadium the night before the game. You must wait until the stadium lots open on game day. Also, the stadium lots close a certain number of hours after the game.
For basketball games, these two lots are open to the public (for a fee, of course), and the lots are large enough to handle the basketball crowds. The rest of this section applies to football games, since parking in the stadium lots is usually not a problem for basketball games.
Local fans without stadium parking passes (such as me, for example) can usually find street parking within a 15-minute walk of the stadium. They have knowledge of the residential streets of Evanston and Wilmette, and they are familiar with the game-day parking restrictions. In general, if you arrive early enough on a Saturday morning, you will probably find free street parking within a reasonable walk of the stadium. the key word is EARLY.
Always read the posted signs regarding parking restrictions. Many streets in Evanston near the stadium are subject to game day parking restrictions. The area most likely to be affected is bounded by Green Bay to the west, Lincoln to the south, Ridge to the east, and Isabella to the north. The temporary No Parking signs are usually stuck on trees and light posts. Watch out for them. Also, note that several streets have two-hour parking limits during the day. You can trust that the local parking enforcement officials will be out in force on game day.
There are a few private lots along Central Street, west of Ryan Field, and these are available for a fee on game days. For example, Maday Auto Service (on Central, just east of Green Bay Road) usually rents out their lot. However, these lots are small and they can fill up quickly. You can also find some pay lots along Green Bay Road (both north and south of Central Street). These usually cost $15 - $20, depending on the crowd level. Some may offer shuttle buses to the game.
There are several campus lots about a mile east and a few blocks south of the stadium. The campus lots are free, and unlike the Stadium lots, they don't kick the fans out a few hours after the game is over. For more information on the campus lots, check out the Official Ryan Field Brochure in PDF format. The brochure has a parking lot map, and on this map, the campus lots are the small red squares. The three in the north half of the campus are probably your best bet for visitor tailgating.
For most of the campus parking lots, parking is free and unrestricted on weekends and evenings (at least for non-RVs). Enforcement hours are from 7:30AM - 4:00PM on weekdays, meaning that parking is available for free beginning at 4:00PM on Friday and continuing through the weekend. This means that you can park as early on game day morning as you wish. Ensure that the sign at each lot is checked, though, as there are some reserved parking spaces and 24-hour enforcement lots. A shuttle is available to take fans from the campus lots up to the stadium, with the same timing as the downtown shuttle, although the walk is shorter (15-20 min).
RV parking is permitted im one of the campus lots for a fee. Check with the Athletic Department for details.
Downtown Evanston City Lots
If you are not tailgating, I generally tell visitors to park downtown and use the free shuttle buses to get to the stadium. This has some advantages and disadvantages. By heading directly for downtown Evanston, you avoid the traffic jam near Ryan Field and also near the intersection of Green Bay Road and Central Street. The disadvantages are that you cannot do your own tailgating in the downtown garages and you will probably have to walk back to downtown after the game because the shuttle buses simply cannot handle everyone leaving the stadium at the same time.
The Official Ryan Field Brochure does not show the location of the downtown parking lots, but it does show the shuttle stops as yellow squares. The shuttle buses from downtown Evanston to the stadium are reliable, provided you use them at least 75 minutes prior to kickoff. If you try to use them within an hour of kickoff, you may find that the buses are already full before they get to your stop, although this varies depending on which stop you use and how crowded the game is. The main downtown parking garage is on Maple at Clark. This lot is a little north of the Century Theatres and across the street from Chili's. There is a shuttle pick-up point across the street from this garage, on the corner of Clark and Maple.
If the weather is nice, you can walk to the stadium from downtown Evanston in about 35 minutes. Walk west to Ridge Avenue, then north to Central Street, then west on Central to the stadium.
Other ways to get from downtown Evanston to the stadium include taxis (especially Norshore Cab which seems to have taxis stationed in Evanston all the time, 847-864-7500) and the CTA trains [board at Davis Street in downtown Evanston and go north (away from Chicago/Howard) and get off at Central.] You can also use CTA buses, which can drop you off directly in front of the stadium on Central Street.
There is tailgating at the stadium (in the east and west lots) for those who have parking passes. You can usually find a few tailgates for visiting fans going on there. I don't know how the visiting fans managed to obtain parking passes, but I suspect that they made a deal with a season ticket holder. Most of the tailgating occurs in the west lot, but the east lot has its share.
For the reasons listed above, many visiting fans wind up tailgating in the campus lots, which are about a mile east and a few blocks south of the stadium. The campus lots are free, and unlike the east and west stadium lots, they don't kick the fans out two hours after the game is over.
For more information on the campus lots, click here for the Official Ryan Field Brochure. The brochure has a parking lot map. On this map, the campus lots are marked with red squares. Officially, kegs are not allowed in university lots in the Big Ten.
Getting to Evanston from Chicago is relatively easy using either CTA trains or Metra trains. Both lines have stops at Davis street (downtown Evanston) and Central street (the stadium).
The CTA trains (also known as "El trains" or "L trains") are elevated, electric-powered trains that run frequently and have many stops. It is relatively easy to take an El train to the game, but coming back after the game is another matter. You may have to wait in a long line to get a train back to Chicago. If this is the case, you might want to check out restaurants in the area or other things to do before catching a train.
For information on CTA trains click here, then click on "Maps" (on the right) and examine the train system map. The various lines are named after colors. From anywhere in Chicago, head for the Red Line and take it all the way north. It ends at Howard Street, where you transfer to the Purple Line and continue on to Central Street to get to the stadium (or Davis St. to visit downtown Evanston). Transferring from the Red Line to the Purple Line is easy and costs nothing extra. You get out of your Red Line car and walk to the other side of the platform and get on a Purple Line car (or wait a few minutes for the next Purple Line train to arrive). Avoid the Yellow Line, which takes you to Skokie.
While the system map shows the Purple line running all the way into Chicago, this is only true during weekday rush hour periods. On Saturdays, the Purple line stops at Howard Street, the southern border of Evanston.
If you are staying in downtown Chicago, your hotel desk should be able to guide you to the nearest CTA station. Once you arrive at a station, you will find vending machines that issue CTA cards with magnetic stripes. You have to put in $5 to get a new card, which is more than enough for a round trip from Chicago to Evanston.
Metra trains are diesel trains that run according to a fixed schedule and only stop in a few locations. On weekends, the trains run infrequently at roughly two-hour intervals. If you're coming from downtown Chicago and you're not too far from the main Metra station (the Oglivie Transportation Center on Madison Street), this may be the fastest way to get to the game. The train stop for the stadium is on Central Street. For more information click here, then click on "Quick Schedule", then on "Metra Union Pacific North Line". On weekends, you can purchase a weekend pass for $7 that allows you to ride Metra trains all day for both Saturday and Sunday.