5 of Chicago's Best Beginner Snowshoe Spots

Ann Fisher
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Snowshoeing is one of those sports that everyone always talks about trying. Go ahead, mention it at a group run or Spin class, and see just how many people say, “I’ve always wanted to try that.”

And there’s a lot to like about the sport. It’s easy to learn. (In fact, there’s basically nothing to learn beyond putting on the snowshoes.) You can really push yourself and get a workout that puts any run to shame, or you can simply take your time and explore the outdoors in a way that’s otherwise impossible.

So now that Chicago has snow—and it looks like it should stick around for a while—why not actually give it a try this winter? Here are five places in the surrounding that feature a memorable snowshoeing experience.

1. Northerly Island

In the city, the place to go is Northerly Island , the 91-acre peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan just east of the museum campus. “It’s a great place for people to learn to snowshoe,” said Tish Daniels, who oversees the park district center there. On most weekends where 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 bluffs to explore—and you can’t beat the view of the city skyline. One caveat: there aren’t many trees on the peninsula, so on a windy day you’re quite exposed. Of note, Northerly Island also offers Polar Adventure Days on Jan. 24 and Feb. 21 this year. These free festivals feature live animals, dog-sled demonstrations and other family-friendly activities to get out and enjoy the winter weather.

2. Palos Trail System

Darius Norvilas

Northerly Island is the only Chicago Park District facility that rents snowshoes, but REI in Lincoln Park rents snowshoes, allowing you to take them anywhere you like. For adults, it’s $29/day for the first day, $12 for each additional day. Juniors are $18/8. Once you have the shoes, head to the Palos Trail System in the southwest suburb of Willow Springs. In the summer, it’s the area’s best mountain bike destination. But in the winter, when it's covered in snow, it features some of the best snowshoeing trails in the area.

3. Morton Arboretum

Bill Carrier

In the suburbs, the Morton Arboretum in Lisle features 1,700 acres to explore, and the vast majority of people simply do it by car. Which is a shame. Because the 16 miles of trails here are fantastic, offering a huge variety of flora to explore. The hilly landscape can be a challenge, especially if the snow is deep, so choose a route that’s in your comfort zone. Snoweshoe (and cross country ski) rentals are available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $12 for two hours, $16 for all day, with a $2 discount for members. Children are $8/$12, with a similar discount. You do have to pay for an entry to the arboretum, but the costs are less in the winter. See the full pricing here .

4. Lincoln Marsh

Daniel X. O'Neil

The Lincoln Marsh in Wheaton features snowshoe rentals weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and at the adjacent Northside Park Shelter House on weekends and days off school. (The snowshoes are sometimes used for programs at the facility, so call ahead to check for availability before you go). The cost is $5/hour. The Wheaton Park district also hosts moonlight snowshoe hikes at night, which can be a lot of fun.

5. Fox River Valley

Finally in the Fox River Valley, the Red Oak Nature Center in Batavia offers 40 acres along the Fox River to explore. Snowshoe rental is $5 (including poles) and is available seven days a week whenever three inches or more of snow is on the ground. It’s a great place to take kids, as the center features interpretive signs throughout the trails to help explore nature.

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