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Illinois Outdoor Bucket List

Jan 11, 2021 Outdoors & Regional

Sure, you can complain about the cold—but bundling up and reveling in Illinois’ must-experience winter adventures is far more fun.


Glide along an icy trailway at the Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon, Chicago

Trade oval rinks for a quarter-mile path winding languidly around Grant Park’s north end, past Cubist sculpture-esque climbing walls and snow-covered pine trees, with a Windy City skyline backdrop. Now through February 28, 2021.


Practice your curling on a rooftop terrace at Curling & Cocktails, The Gwen, Chicago

Guide a granite stone across the eight-by-32-foot rink, sweeping carefully to land on the button (curling-speak for bullseye). Reward yourself with a hot toddy beside the firepit. Now through March 1, 2021.

Snow sculpture

Marvel at frozen art before it melts at the Illinois Snow Sculpting Contest, Rockford

In the past, sculpting crews from across the state designed an octopus, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, and more. Walk through Sinnissippi Park to see this year’s masterpieces come together. January 20–23, 2021; sculptures displayed until temperatures warm.

Glowing air balloons in the snow

Bowl with a frozen turkey at the Winter Carnival Weekend, Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, Galena

A strike in a bowling alley? Passé. Instead, knock down pins with unthawed poultry, then check out the snowshoe race, ice carvings, and balloon glow. February 12–15, 2021.

Frozen waterfall

Scale frozen waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby

Experienced ice climbers may bring their own gear (and a buddy) to ascend the looming, icy walls in Wildcat, LaSalle and Ottawa canyons. Weather dependent.

Whoosh down Mount Hoy in an inflated tube, Warrenville

Trekking up the trail takes some stamina, but zipping down the two different branches on the 800-foot hill in a $10-per-day rental tube is well worth the exertion. Now through February, weather dependent.


Catch a fish in the Dupage Forest Preservenetwork, Dupage County

You can go ice fishing on most lakes in the forest preserve when surfaces freeze to at least four inches thick. Just make sure you have a fishing license and hand warmers.


Admire soaring bald eagles at the Audubon Eagle Ice Festival, Alton

The annual celebration will be hosted virtually this year, including a Zoom meet-and-greet with an eagle and his handler. Catch the majestic birds of prey IRL at the Audubon Center at Riverlands through February.


Take a spin through the Palos Forest Preserve, Willow Springs

With more than 40 miles worth of hilly trails, this wooded area in Chicago’s southwest suburbs gives even veteran mountain bikers a challenge when snow falls. Rent a ride from nearby 2 Bici Bicycle Shop.


Zip line over a winter wonderland with the Shawnee Bluff Canopy Tour, Makanda

Sail through the crisp air and over snow-crusted bluffs on eight ziplines during this excursion. Tours scheduled ahead of time—just make sure your group has six people. 


By Angela Ufheil

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