One of the nice things about snowshoeing is that you can do it anywhere you have snow. Pick a forest preserve, city park, the Lakefront—if there are a couple of inches of snow on the ground, you can have a good time exploring with a pair of snowshoes on your feet.
But as long as you’re going to the effort, why not find someplace special to explore? If you’ve never tried the sport before, several destinations offer rentals to get you started. Consider these seven destinations to snowshoe around Chicago that offer excellent trails for an adventure this winter.
1. Northerly Island
Chicago’s newest park is an excellent place to escape the noise of the city and celebrate nature—all within the shadows of downtown. Northerly Island —actually a peninsula—is a great place to snowshoe anytime there’s snow, but the park also offers several free Polar Adventure Days each winter that feature snowshoe rentals in addition to live animals, winter-themed art, and live music. Take the opportunity to discover one of Chicago’s not-so-hidden gems.
2. Morton Arboretum
In the western suburb of Lisle, the Morton Arboretum includes 1,700 acres to explore. The 16 tree-covered miles of trails are fantastic, offering a huge variety 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. Snowshoe 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 .
3. Palos Trail System
You’ll need your own snowshoes here, but you can’t beat the Palos Trail System when it comes to escaping the city. The huge trail system provides mountain bikers plenty of smiles during the other three seasons, but when the snow falls you can enjoy the tree-covered trails by snowshoe.
4. Red Oak Nature Center
In Kane County, the Red Oak Nature Center offers 40 acres of forest and wildlife habitat along the Fox River. Once there is three inches of snow or more, the trails are open to snowshoeing. The Fox Valley Park District, which runs the nature center, offers snowshoe rentals for just $5 a person.
5. Kettle Moraine State Forest
The Kettle Moraine State Forest contains more than 22,000 acres about 37 miles southwest of Milwaukee, and it’s another place that draws mountain bikers in the warmer months. You can explore just about anywhere, but the John Muir and Emma Carlin trails will certainly challenge you. The 30-mile section of the Ice Age Trail in the park is a bit less difficult, but you can still expect some hills. Don’t worry, there are plenty of relatively flat sections of trails lined with pine trees for those who want a more relaxing hike. Just be sure to avoid the groomed cross-country ski trails in the forest.
6. Indiana Dunes State Park
This destination along Lake Michigan doesn’t get nearly the amount of traffic in the winter, but you’ll still find some impressive sights when covered with snow. While the Indiana Dunes State Park brings to mind big sand dunes next to the lake, there are actually 16 miles of trails to explore in the park, many of which are excellent for snowshoeing. In fact, if you don’t have equipment and would like a guide, REI offers trips to the dunes where it takes care of everything.
7. Starved Rock State Park
The state’s most popular hiking trails provide some of the best snowshoeing as well. While Illinois has a deserved reputation for its flatness, Starved Rock (about two hours west of Chicago) features 18 canyons that were formed by melting glaciers. You’ll find impressive rock formations, wooded hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic lookouts atop sandstone bluffs that, quite frankly, make you wonder how this all got to central Illinois. Snowshoes allow you to access the canyons in the time of the year when crowds are sparse, and frozen waterfalls make for an amazing sight.