Whether you want to experience the peace and tranquility of nature or feel invigorated and refreshed, there is so much to enjoy in the Forest Preserves of Cook County throughout the winter months.
This winter will be like no other, as we continue to physical distance from those who don’t live in our household, avoid indoor get-togethers and follow other public health guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19. It may be colder, but the Forest Preserves remain a refuge and a resource to get out of the house and get into nature, with all that offers—including proven benefits to mental and physical health.
Check out the list below for ideas for renewing and rejuvenating experiences, tips for planning a trip to the Forest Preserves and info about modifications to our typical operations due to the pandemic.
- Take a walk. There are more than 350 miles of paved and unpaved trails in the Forest Preserves, perfect for a stroll through the woods or along a river.
- Find a new scene. Even a light dusting of snow can transform a landscape into picture-perfect winter wonderland. The Forest Preserves offer views of all sorts of vistas: prairies, woodlands, wetlands, savannahs and more.
- Watch for native wildlife. Some of our native animals hibernate for the winter, but with less foliage and brush, other forest critters like white-tailed deer and coyotes may be more visible. Native birds are out looking for food, too: See if you can spot cardinals, owls or even a bald eagle.
- Enjoy a forest therapy walk. Enjoy a peaceful audio-guided forest therapy walk, designed by Kimberly Ruffin, a trained nature and forest therapy guide. This guided practice is centered on belonging, as we all belong to nature. It’s an opportunity to slow down, relax and enjoy the sensory delights of the natural world.
- Drop a line and try ice fishing. When the conditions are right, ice fishing is permitted on a fish at your own risk basis at specific waterbodies in the Forest Preserves. Find the locations and learn the rules on our Fishing Page.
- Workout outdoors. Get your miles in out in nature with a run or bike ride on our trails. Or take the family out to an open field for a game of tag or a silly relay race.
- Strap on some cross-country skis. Nearly all our trails are also open to cross-country skiers, with special groomed trails at Sagawau Nordic. No skis? The Sagawau site also rents equipment (check Sagawau’s Facebook page to see when the groomed trails are open and any limitations due to COVID-19 restrictions).
- Learn about nature. Give your curiosity a workout and tour six nature centers. Buildings remain closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the grounds and trails are open 8 am to 4 pm daily to see and learn about native animals and ask questions to naturalists on staff.
- Walk on the snow. There’s nothing quite like exploring or hiking while floating along on showshoes. With the exception of Sagawau, all Forest Preserves nature centers offer free snowshoe rental.
- Feel the rush of the sledding hills. Generations of residents have special memories of sledding at one of the nine sledding hills throughout the Forest Preserves. Sites are open when the ground is frozen and covered with a minimum of three inches of snow, check for availability beforehand.
Before You Go
- Check the map. Our Interactive Web Map is a great resource to find nearby locations on your computer or phone. The Web Map will also let you know about site closures, amenities and more.
- Know the latest. Visit our COVID-19 Information Page to prepare for your trip. In addition to the most recent information on location closures, you’ll find details on visitor guidelines, resources and more.
- Layer up. The key to being outside in the cold is dressing for the weather. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep comfortable, stay dry, and pay special attention to your head, feet and hands.
- Stay hydrated. It might seem counterintuitive to need water when it’s not hot and humid, but with added layers and dryer air, wintertime dehydration can happen easily. Please be sustainable and bring a reusable container!
- Pick your time and be safe. Don’t forget, the Forest Preserves close at dusk. And as with any outing, be sure to let someone know where you’re heading, bring along a cell phone, and keep tabs on your location in case you need to communicate with a first responder.