After a relatively snow-free winter, the surprise blizzard—which ended up being the fifth largest in Chicago history—has finally allowed the snow-loving folks in the area the chance to enjoy the white stuff this year. If skiing or snowboarding is your passion, most of the Midwest resorts are able to make their own snow. But for most snow-dependent winter activities in Chicago, we rely on Mother Nature to make them possible. So now that there’s snow, here are ten ways to take advantage of it in the Chicago area.
1. Cross-country skiing at Arrowhead
This golf course in Wheaton becomes the Arrowhead Nordic Center once the snow falls. With rentals and lessons available, it’s one of the few places south of Wisconsin for beginning skiers to learn the sport. The groomed trails are great for both classic and skate skiers, and while the golf course is relatively exposed, you can easily access the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve next door, which offers some very nice tree-lined trails that are also groomed for both classic and skating.
The trails on the golf course, though, are still very good. The 27-hole course offers plenty of room, with lots of ups and downs and several decent size hills to challenge you.
2. Cross-country skiing at Camp Sagawau
Close to the Palos Trail system in the southwest suburbs, Camp Sagawau is another great spot for beginners. While you can cross-country ski in just about any forest preserve in Cook County, this facility offers rentals, lessons, and groomed trails to help anyone get started with cross-country skiing. The area has just under 3 miles of groomed trails at the facility, which serves as a nature center in the snow-free months. Lessons are offered with a PSIA-certified ski instructor on Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. from January to the first weekend in March, weather permitting. There are no reservations and the cost is $20/person.
3. Snowshoeing at the Morton Arboretum
There are a lot of good reasons to visit the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, any time of the year—but the snow is a great way to explore the 4,000 different species of trees in the 1,700-acre preserve. You’ll find 16 miles of hiking trails, and both adult and children’s snowshoes are available to rent at the visitor’s center whenever there is four or more inches of snow on the ground. The arboretum also offers some challenging hills—so expect a workout.
4. Snowshoeing on Northerly Island
For those in the city, the best place to explore on snowshoes is Northerly Island the 91-acre peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan just east of the museum campus. On most weekends when there’s snow, the park district offers rentals for just $5. (Call ahead or check the Northerly Island Facebook page on Friday to find out if rentals will be available.) There are no specific trails in the park, but there are plenty of areas to explore—and you can’t beat the view of the city skyline. Northerly Island also offers Polar Adventure Days on Feb. 21, a free festival with family-friendly activities to get out and enjoy the winter weather.
5. Tubing at Mt. Hoy at Blackwell Forest Preserve
The Blackwell Forest Preserve in west suburban Warrenville offers one of the better hills in the area for tubing. One of many hills in the Chicago area built from a former landfill, Mt. Hoy has become a top destination in the western suburbs for its 800-foot ride. You must rent tubes from the forest preserve (for $5), and be prepared for a long walk back to the top, but it sure is fun going down.
6. Tubing at Villa Olivia
This facility operated by the Bartlett Park District features skiing and snowboarding on seven runs serviced by a chairlift and six rope tows. But it also features a tubing hill that’s great for families. Separate from the ski facility, the dedicated tubing hill has long runs that offer some nice thrills (and manmade snow if necessary). But best of all is the ride back up—a “magic carpet” lift, which resembles the moving walkway at the airport, only up an incline. It sure beats carrying your kid and a tube up the hill. It’s $20 for two hours for everyone age 6 and up, $5 for kids 4 and 5, who can ride with an adult.
7. Tubing at Wilmot Mountain
Most people know Wilmot as a ski and snowboard destination, but the facility just across the border in Wisconsin also features a giant tubing park with 20 lanes on a 1,000-foot hill. A state-of-the-art enclosed conveyor belt brings riders back to the top in comfort. Hours are Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. The cost is $15-$35 a person.
8. ** Sledding at Soldier Field**
It’s not the biggest hill, but you can’t beat the view of downtown. The Chicago Park District offers sledding just outside of Soldier Field along the Lakefront—along with free parking most of the time at the Burnham Park Lot South lot. It makes for a great winter outing, especially with young kids.
9. Sledding at Caldwell Woods
Caldwell Woods is the former home of one of the Cook County Forest Preserve's toboggan runs, which was removed in 2008 thanks to the cost of maintenance. But the forest preserve still offers a quality sledding hill here, which also features a warming station, fire pit, and indoor bathrooms.
10. Sledding at Rotary Hill
This sled hill in downtown Naperville is located along the city’s Riverwalk, within walking distance of downtown bars and restaurants. Operated by the Naperville Park District, the hill features night sledding until 9 p.m. during the week, 10 p.m. on weekends. The good-size hill isn’t too scary for the small kids, but enough of a thrill for the older ones. And the walk up is manageable for everyone. Concessions and a bathroom at the bottom of the hill make this a very popular destination after a big snow.