8 Illinois Winter Adventures

December 09, 2018

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We won’t lie to you: Illinois gets chilly in the winter months. But with 200 winters under their belts, Illinoisans have built a state which makes the most of the cold. So get out and embrace the beauty and excitement an Illinois winter has to offer—it’s a season to remember.

Skate the Night Away at Millennium Park

Ice Skating at McCormick-Tribune Ice RinkIt’s a Chicago winter tradition, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. This magical location just below the world-famous Cloud Gate sculpture is especially breath-taking at night; the silhouettes of buildings to the west, lights reflecting off the sculpture to the east. It’s the perfect place for a family outing, a romantic night out or just fun times with friends. Skate rentals are $12—$14, but entry is free!

Check out other ice skating opportunities around the state.

See Lincoln Park Zoo in a Whole New Light

ZooLightsZooLights is Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual holiday season celebration, running between November and January. More than two million lights transform the zoo into a twinkling winter wonderland, complete with holiday crafts and activities, musical light shows, a light maze, ice sculpture demonstrations, carnival rides, holiday crafts and activities, sweet treats of all kinds and a visit from Mr. Claus himself. You’ll see why more than half a million holiday adventurers flock there each year.

Looking for a night away from the kids? Try the Adults Night Out. Stroll through exhibits with a beer or wine in hand while enjoying live music, educational entertainment, animal chats and more.

Grab a Tube

Snow-Tubing-2015_3Tubing calls for virtually no skill, balance or coordination—but it provides a whole lot of fun. Whether you’re a family looking for a fun day out, or a group of friends getting together for a nostalgic play in the snow, speeding down the slopes on an inflatable rubber tube is an adventure to remember.

  • Mount Hoy in Warrenville, DuPage County offers an 800-foot ride.
  • Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park just outside the Quad Cities has 11 tubing lanes and a “magic carpet” to get you back up the hill with ease.
  • Villa Olivia in Bartlett, northwest Cook County, has tubing along with skiing and snowboarding.
  • Raging Buffalo offers tubing just over an hour outside downtown Chicago.

Step Out in Snowshoes

Walking in a winter wonderland is a romantic idea, but if you’ve ever tried walking in deep snow, you’ll know it can be a struggle.

Not so in snowshoes. Slip on a pair of these and it’s like you’re floating atop the snow. It’s a perfect way to explore the snowy landscapes, and to get in a little exercise when hiking or cycling won’t cut it. The Morton Arboretum in Lisle and the Forest Preserve of Will County both offer snowshoe rentals and beautiful settings in which to try them out.

Check out other snowshoeing destinations

Try Cross-Country Skiing

Cross Country Skiing IllinoisIllinois’ flat landscape is perfect for cross-country skiing, a great form of exercise and a great way to enjoy a fresh snowfall.

Woodstock is home to one of Illinois’ most popular cross-country skiing destinations, McHenry County Conservation District. If there’s more than 4 inches of snow on the ground, you’re good-to-go on the more than 40 miles of trails.

Check out other cross-country skiing opportunities

Admire a Frozen Waterfall

MatthiessenStatePark WinterIf you’ve visited Illinois’ waterfalls in summer, you’ll know they’re a lot of fun to explore and enjoy. But visit them in winter and you’ll see a truly breath-taking sight: icy columns hanging in the air as if by magic, some up to 80 feet in length.

Get your frozen waterfall photo at Matthiessen State Park or Starved Rock National Park.

Experience the Holidays of Yore in Galena

Night of the Luminaria2Galena is the kind of place where you can hear actual sleigh bells ring. The Shenandoah Riding Center offers horse-drawn sleigh rides across fields of glistening snow, with a stop for a bonfire and cocoa along the way. Oh what fun it is to ride!

Galena’s Main Street is the perfect place to check off items on your holiday gift list. Its garlands and holiday lights galore evoke a holiday atmosphere so magical you may just start to believe in ol’ Saint Nick again.

The can’t-miss winter event is the Night of the Luminaria. More than 30 Main Street store windows come alive as “Living Windows,” with holiday-inspired vignettes, and more than 5,000 candlelit luminaries line the streets, steps and sidewalks.


That’s just a taster of the winter fun you can enjoy all over Illinois. For more ideas, explore our winter events listings. Wrap up warm and have fun—there’s no need to hibernate here in Illinois!

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