Say what you will about winter in Chicago—but it sure makes you appreciate the spring. With the snow disappearing, it’s time to start planning to take advantage of the warmer weather and all the outdoor opportunities that abound in the area—at least for nine months of the year. RootsRated offers you these 10 spring adventures to help you get the most out of the season and reintroduce yourself to the outside world.
1. Hike Starved Rock State Park
Yes, the most popular park in the state —with more than 2 million visitors each year—is worth a visit any time of the year. But the spring is the best time to see the waterfalls that run through the 18 canyons in the park. You’ll find impressive rock formations, wooded hiking trails, and scenic lookouts atop sandstone bluffs that, quite frankly, make you wonder how this all got to central Illinois. The French, LaSalle, and St. Louis Canyons have the largest waterfalls, which also tend to last the longest in drier weather.
In addition to the canyons, Starved Rock offers giant bluffs overlooking the Illinois River, which offer a panoramic view of the area that’s not to be missed. In total the park features 13 miles of hiking trails.
2. Take the Skyline Plunge
Chicago may not be known for its rock climbing, but it does offer one event that offers participants a truly unique way to see the city. The Respiratory Health Association’s Skyline Plunge on May 22 offers people the chance to rappel down 27 stories of theWit Hotel at State and Lake streets. Start from the roof of the building and descend all the way down to street level. The event requires a minimum of $1,000 in fundraising to participate, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience like no other in Chicago.
3. Run the Warrior Dash
The Warrior Dash, the hometown event that started the mud-obstacle craze, continues to produce one of the most enjoyable races in the area. The obstacle-filled 5K course on a private farm in Channahon, Ill., is guaranteed to get you muddy and produce a smile on your face. Sign up with a group and create one of the most memorable outings of the year. The event traditionally draws more than 20,000 runners (start times are staggered).
4. Paddle the Chicago River
The Chicago River provides one of the more unique paddling trips in the country . With the help of organizations like Friends of the Chicago River , the river has become a much cleaner and an enjoyable spot for recreation. Several outfitters now take groups out in canoes and kayaks to explore downtown Chicago. And what a view you get from below street level: It’s an amazing way to get a close look at Chicago’s architectural treasures. If you don’t have a boat yourself, you can take advantage of guided tours from Urban Kayaks , Water Riders , Kayak Chicago and Chicago River Canoe and Kayak.
5. Climb at Devil’s Lake
You may have to drive a bit to find outdoor rock climbing in the Midwest—but Devil’s Lake State Park is worth the trip. It’s is the most visited state park in Wisconsin, offering magnificent panoramic views of the 360-acre Devil’s Lake from 500-foot high quartzite bluffs. It’s a popular destination for camping, hiking, trail running, boating, and fishing. The 29 miles of hiking trails offer you stunning views of the lake—you have to work for it—and miles of solitude into the less popular wilderness.
For rock climbers, Devil’s Lake is one of the top destinations in the Midwest. With 100-foot tall quartzite cliffs, the park offers terrain difficult to find anywhere else that far from the Rockies. There are more than 2,000 climbing routes of all skill levels to choose from in the park. If you’ve never climbed before, several outfitters offer programs to help you get started, including Adventures in Climbing, Apex Adventure Alliance, Devils Lake Climbing Guides, Midwest Mountain Guides, and Vertical Adventure Guides.
6. Complete the Galena Triathlon and Duathlon
This popular early-season race celebrates its 20 th anniversary this year. If you’re used to training on Chicago’s Lakefront, you’re in for a real treat. The hills in Galena, about three hours northwest of Chicago, are unlike anything surrounding the city. The event is relatively short—a 660-yard swim, 16.8-mile bike, and 4.2-mile run—but the challenging course will put your training to the test. Plus Galena is a great weekend getaway, even for those who aren't competing in multisport. PLEASE NOTE: THE GALENA TRIATHLON HAS BEEN CANCELED AND WILL NOT TAKE PLACE IN 2016.
7. Hike the Indiana Dunes
As the name implies, the Indiana Dunes State Park is best known for its big sandy hills that line the Lake Michigan lakeshore. And yes, you have more than three miles of very nice beach among the 2,182 acres of the park, with a long-distance view of the Chicago skyline on a clear day.
In the summer, the park draws big crowds for the beach. But in the spring, you’ll find cooler temperatures and have many of the trails to yourself. You’ll find some of the most challenging hiking around and a very unique experience for trail runners looking for a different kind of destination run.
8. Bike the Drive
What’s more fun that riding your bike on a closed Lake Shore Drive with 20,000 other cyclists? Bike the Drive has become a Memorial Day weekend tradition for riders of all ages and abilities. This year’s event on May 29 will once again be centered around Grant Park, with Lake Shore Drive closed between Bryn Mawr on the north side and 57 th Street on the south. The recreational ride features rest stops, food, and live music. Plus you’re raising money for the Active Transportation Alliance, a bicycle advocacy group that’s done great work to make Chicago a bike-friendly city.
9. Run the Earth Day 50K, 15 Mile, and 5 Mile
Celebrate Earth Day by getting to know it a little bit better. This trail run on April 23 takes advantage of Veteran Acres and Sternes Woods Forest Preserves in Crystal Lake, Ill. You’ll find singletrack, open prairie, pine forest, and spring wildflowers blooming along the five-mile loop course. For newcomers to trail running, the 5-miler is a great way to see what all the fuss is about. For ultra veterans, it’s a great early-season race to get you started on the season.
10. Paddle the Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race
Yes, this is a race for those who want to push themselves, but it also draws lots of families and recreational paddlers to the Fox River each June to enjoy the ride. This year’s event on June 5 features 11 canoe divisions and eight kayak divisions, plus free shuttle service from start to finish. Choose between the St. Charles route (10 miles) or Batavia route (6 miles), with both finishing at McCullough Park in Aurora. Rental packages are available for those without a boat.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for RootsRated.