As Illinois celebrates its bicentennial and looks back on 200 years as a state, one can’t help but think: that’s a lot of Illinois winters. It’s true: the winter months bring cold and snow to the Land of Lincoln. But as generations of Illinoisans have discovered, an Illinois winter is an opportunity for unique adventures, whether it’s cross-country skiing down a freshly blanketed trail or seeing bald eagles wintering on a riverside cliff.
Here are five ways to enjoy a cozy winter getaway in Illinois — all of which provide just the right mix of winter adventure and good, old-fashioned, warm relaxation.
The 1,800-acre zoological park known as Wildlife Prairie Park is home to over 50 species of animals who live there year round. In the winter months, the spectacular trails and hills allow for activities such as cross-country skiing, fat biking and sledding, but you may just want to head out for a glimpse of the bison and elk that inhabit the restored prairie. During your stay, book a cozy room in the Wildlife Prairie Park Lodging, which includes a set of brand-new cottages built to overlook the bison enclosure itself.
In the winter, bald eagles come to the area near Starved Rock State Park to roost in the cliffs surrounding the Fox River. Follow their lead and make the region into a winter getaway of your own. The beautiful landscape makes for a variety of winter activities, especially when the waterfalls have frozen over. That’s when visitors strap on some spikes and climb the ice (as long as you’ve registered at the front desk and brought your own equipment). Even if you aren’t that adventurous, the winter makes for a cozy getaway thanks to the rustic Starved Rock Lodge, where you can keep warm next to a roaring fireplace or sip hot cocoa while looking out at the landscape from the veranda.
Summer may be the time for growing grapes along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, but winter allows you to enjoy a slower, calmer pace of life in the area around Shawnee National Forest. Properties such as The Stablehouse or the Firefly Valley Lodge serve as a home base for winter activities like hunting, hiking or horseback riding. Of course, all the wineries are open in the winter, too, making it a great time to grab a winery passport and warm up with all the wines along the trail.
In northwest Illinois, just six miles from the small town of Galena — where the snow shimmers on a historic Main Street — Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa overlooks the shores of Galena Lake. The lakeside setting makes for great winter activities, especially along the 23 miles of hiking trails, though you may be tempted to just stay inside and relax in the onsite spa or heated swimming pool. Nobody could blame you for wanting to stay cozy.
Located on the south boundary of the historic Chicago-Iowa Trail, the 385-acre White Pines Forest State Park is one of the most beautiful natural areas of the Rock River Valley. At White Pines Resort, a collection of authentic log cabins harken back to the days of pioneers settling among the trees — no doubt those pioneers might have been jealous of the modern conveniences such as gas fireplaces.
Find unexpected ways to enjoy Illinois in this biannual magazine that explores every corner of the state. Each issue offers a mix of travel stories, stunning photography and timely trip ideas that make the most of each season.
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