Cold Play: Things to do in Chicago in winter

 

Ice Skating

In Millennium Park, Chicago’s answer to New York’s Rockefeller Center may be crowded and sometimes crazy, but there is no lovelier, more romantic place to enjoy a few turns on the frozen oval—especially around Christmas. Take a thermos of hot chocolate and lace ’em up. It’s free if you bring your own skates. Michigan Ave. between Washington and Madison streets; 312-742-1168

Ice Skating

With heated bleacher seating, free Wi-Fi, video games, a snack bar, and high-definition TVs, you could enjoy this arena without ever pulling on skates. But don’t deprive yourself. Glacier features two NHL regulation–sized rinks and offers public skating daily as well as figure skating and hockey classes. 670 Lakeview Pkwy., Vernon Hills; 847-362-1222

Ice Skating

The lodgy feel—dark wood crossbeam ceiling, sun pouring in through skylights—makes this Park Ridge park district rink a skater’s delight. With a full-service pro shop, one jump harness, a state-of-the-art sound system, and some of the best ice around, it appeals to serious figure or hockey skaters and novices alike. No frills—just a great rink with excellent instructors and ample public ice time. 2800 W. Oakton St., Park Ridge; 847-692-3359

Ice Skating

Boasting three NHL regulation–sized rinks, this Bensenville facility is the abominable snowman of local public rinks. Home to Olympic gold medal figure skaters and Chicago Blackhawks practice sessions, it’s one of the largest skating facilities anywhere. Open year-round, the Edge also features generous public hours and amenities such as concession stands and skyboxes. 735 E. Jefferson St., Bensenville; 630-766-8888

Ice Skating

Nestled like a movie set in the heart of Hyde Park, a few blocks west of the Museum of Science and Industry and close to the University of Chicago campus, this rink is one of the few outdoor skating facilities on the South Side and a lovely, affordable place for families and couples to take a long turn on a big sheet of ice. Depending on the day, you’ll see everyone from college students to off-duty cops to members of the U of C’s women’s club ice hockey team. Amenities include ample free parking, a rinkside concession stand, and a warming house. 1130 Midway Plaisance North; 312-745-2470

Ice Boating

To try ice-boating, show up where “hard-water” sailors are gathering—on thick, smooth, relatively snow-free ice. Southern Wisconsin is a hotbed, particularly around Madison, Lake Geneva, and Pewaukee. “People are generally pretty willing to get you out [in a spare boat] or give you a ride,” says Geoff Sobering, a Madison resident and commodore of the city’s Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club. Neophytes typically respond in one of two ways, he says: “‘That’s crazy—I’m never doing it again,’ or ‘That was great—where can I get one?’” His club’s website (iceboat.org) is the go-to source for local information on the sport.

Speed Skating

 

Speed Skating

 

Speed Skating

 

Speed Skating

 

Speed Skating

 

Luging

Reservations for track time are required. Beginners must take a lesson; Saturday clinics ($40 for adults and children eight and older) include 15 minutes of instruction and two hours and 15 minutes of sliding time. Helmets, elbow pads, and luge sleds are provided. (231-744-9629, msports.org)

Cross-Country Skiing

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County encourages cross-country skiing on all its trails, but the gem of the system is Camp Sagawau, where you can rent skis and get a lesson appropriate to your skill level. (Skiers with their own gear must pick up a free trail pass.) Beginners will prefer the Sag Trail, which courses, in part, across flat prairie; more advanced skiers will opt for the hilly and curvy Ridge Run Trail. 12545 W. 111th St., Lemont; 630-257-2045. Get maps of all Cook County trails at fpdcc.com.

Cross-Country Skiing

In DuPage County, more than 11 miles of trails crisscross the 2,472-acre Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. Covered by stands of oak, maple, and pine, the varied terrain—ridges, ravines, kettle ponds, and a dolomite prairie—shelters red-tailed hawks and barred owls. You might also glimpse the imported herd of white fallow deer, an ethereal winter vision. Near Darien, just south of the Cass Ave. exit on I-55. Get maps of all DuPage County trails at dupageforest.com.

Cross-Country Skiing

Skiers in Lake County will find more than four miles of groomed trails in the Old School Forest Preserve and another three miles of groomed trails in the Lakewood Forest Preserve—although there they may encounter the occasional snowmobile. For a more pristine experience, explore the six-plus miles of trails within the 552-acre Ryerson Conservation Area. Old School: near Libertyville on Saint Mary’s Rd. between Rtes. 176 and 60. Lakewood: near Wauconda on Rte. 176 west of Fairfield Rd. Ryerson: 21950 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods. Get maps of all Lake County trails at lcfpd.org.

Cross-Country Skiing

Running more than 30 miles from Carpentersville to Aurora, the Fox River Trail extends the length of Kane County. Along the way you will encounter the enchanting Fabyan Forest Preserve (1925 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva; 630-208-7523). One of a dozen county preserves with cross-country ski trails, this pearl of a park was formerly the estate of George and Nelle Fabyan. Check out the recently restored 135-year-old Dutch-style windmill on the east side of the river. Fabyan: 1925 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva. Get maps of all Kane County trails at kaneforest.com.

Cross-Country Skiing

The McHenry County Conservation District maintains more than 40 miles of cross-country ski trails at 14 sites; it grooms trails at seven of those sites when there are more than four inches of snow. Rising 150 feet above the surrounding farmland, Marengo Ridge, a section of the state’s oldest moraine, caters to both beginning and more advanced skiers. 2411 S. Rte. 23, Marengo. Get maps of all McHenry County trails at mccdistrict.org.

Cross-Country Skiing

Dividedintonorthernandsouthern units, Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest contains miles of trails that wind through coniferous and hardwood forests, skim along open meadows, and ascend the glaciated terrain that gives the park its name. Extending out from the town of Eagle, the 20,000-acre southern unit (262-594-6200) is home to the Nordic, Scuppernong, and McMiller trails (each broken down into multiple loops of varying lengths; McMiller even has a one-and-a-quarter-mile biathlon course, which combines skiing with rifle marksmanship). East of Campbellsport, the 30,000-acre northern unit (262-626-2116) concentrates its runs in the multilooped Greenbush, New Fane, and Zilmer trails; at the latter site, try the five-and-a-half-mile yellow loop for an exhilarating challenge. For maps and other information about Kettle Moraine, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/parks.

Ski Jumping

In the early 20th century, some Norwegians living in the Chicago area and feeling nostalgic for their homeland built a 105-foot tower to ski down and jump off. Today the Norge Ski Club remains the only ski-jumping locale in Illinois, and it has fostered several Olympians. It now boasts five jumps, ranging in height from a few feet to a gut-knotting 150 feet. To try ski jumping, attend a Tuesday or Thursday practice at the club’s Fox River Grove location. A $100 beginner’s annual membership fee includes lessons and all the necessary equipment. And don’t worry about that 150- foot drop—newbies start on smaller hills.

Snowboarding

At Raging Buffalo Snowboard Park in northwest suburban Algonquin (19-265 Western Ave.; 847-836-7243, ragingbuffalo.com), snowboarders come to play in the pipes and perfect their gnarliest tricks on assorted rails, tabletops, and jumps. “It’s like a skate park for snowboarders,” says Matt Barton, general manager of the Shred Shop in Skokie.

Snowboarding

About three hours from Chicago, in Galena, Illinois, the ski resort at Chestnut Mountain (8700 W. Chestnut Rd., Galena; 800-798-0098, chestnutmtn.com) caters to daredevil boarders at the Farside, its seven-acre snowboarding park loaded with quarter pipes, half pipes, box rails, and more. Chris Currier, sales associate at the Burton flagship store in Chicago, treks there three to four times a month in winter and cites the park’s more than 20 rails as a draw. “Chestnut probably has the best park in the area,” he says.

Sledding Hills

Last year, Cook County killjoys demolished the historic toboggan slides that had delighted generations of thrill seekers in the Palos forest preserve. The good news: The hill—now repurposed for sledding—is just as stomach-churning, with a 28-degree grade of descent. Sledding is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is lighted at night. Rte.83 and La Grange Rd., Palos Park; 800-877-3666, fpdcc.org

Sledding Hills

Surrounded by woods at this remote but popular hill, you slide down a bowl toward a wetland lined with cattails. It’s lighted and open until 9 p.m. Fairfield Rd. and Rte. 176, Wauconda; 847-968-3235, lcfpd.org

Sledding Hills

The bad news: Sleds are not allowed on the slope of this former landfill. Instead you must ride a forest preserve district inner tube (available on-site for $4 a day). The good news: “This is the longest, fastest, and most thrilling ride within the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County,” says Bonnie Olszewski, public affairs specialist for the district. Open 9 to 4 on weekends and school holidays December thru February. Butterfield Rd. one mile east of Rte. 59, Warrenville; 630-871-6422, dupageforest.org

Sledding Hills

For the sheer drama of its setting—south of the Bears’ stadium, with views of the lake and the Chicago skyline— this slope is tough to beat. Nearby parking lots have bathrooms, and the lighted hill stays open after dark. 1410 S. Museum Campus Dr.; soldierfield.net

Sledding Hills

With views of downtown Aurora and nearby Lake Patterson, this picturesque hill is big, steep (a 25-degree grade), and worth the trek to Kane County. Open till dusk. 5th Ave. half a mile east of Farnsworth Ave., Aurora; 630-232-5980, kaneforest.com

Skiing

Burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches. The Pheasant Run Resort and Spa is ten miles away (4051 E. Main St., St. Charles; 800-474-3272, pheasantrun.com).

Skiing

Drinks, dining (pizza, fried fish, sandwiches), and live entertainment at two bars. The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is 20 miles away (7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva; 800-558-3417, grandgeneva.com).

Skiing

A 120-room lodge at the top of the slopes offers three restaurants, a sauna and indoor pool, and spectacular views of the Mississippi River. (8700 W. Chestnut Rd., Galena; 800-397-1320, chestnutmtn.com)

Skiing

Five restaurants (one on the mountain); two bars with fireplaces, TVs, and weekend entertainment; a pool and hot-tub center; and accommodations that range from rooms and suites in the lodge to private condos. (S6330 Bluff Rd., Merrimac, Wisconsin; 800-472-6670, devilsheadresort.com)

Skiing

A premier Midwestern resort, Crystal Mountain has more than 80 hotel rooms, suites, condos, townhouses, and other residences, as well as a new 11,000-square-foot spa, an indoor pool and fitness center, 25 miles of cross-country ski trails, and several bar and dining options. (12500 Crystal Mountain Dr., Thompsonville, Michigan; 800-968-7686, crystalmountain.com)

Skiing

As befits this rugged backcountry destination, lodging options are basic: trailside cabins, yurts, and camping. More comfortable accommodations and restaurants (listed on the Mount Bohemia website) can be found nearby. (Lac La Belle Rd., Lac La Belle, Michigan; 231-420-5405, mtbohemia.com)

Skiing

Home to the WatersMeet Spa and feet Wellness Center, Lutsen Resort (800-United Airlines flies nonstop to Duluth, which is about 90 miles from Lutsen. 258-8736, lutsenresort.com) offers a full range of accommodations— lodge, condos, villas, cabins, and townhouses—as well as a variety of dining options. (467 Ski Hill Rd., Lutsen, Minnesota; 218-406-1320, lutsen.com)

Skiing Food & Lodging

 

Skiing Food & Lodging

 

Hiking

The park’s west side trail passes through a landscape kneaded by glaciers, with steep hills and ravines punctuating patches of oak thicket, prairie, savanna, and wetland. Enter the state park off Wilmot Road and park in the equestrian area lot. Hike the Blue Loop, starting near the corral. 847-587-5512, dnr.state.il.us/LANDS/landmgt/Parks/ R2/CHAINO.htm

Hiking

On the arboretum’s east side, four connected loops form a main trail that traverses gently rolling terrain with small ravines, open grassy areas, dense woods, marshes, and restored prairie. After a fresh snow, the arboretum is a great place to look for tracks of coyote, deer, possum, and other critters. Enter the arboretum off Route 53 and follow the Main Route East Side to the Big Rock Visitor Station. Begin on the Main Trail Loop 3. 630-968-0074, mortonarb.org

Hiking

Trails pass through lowland marshes and forests of black oak and white pine, skirt dramatic ravines and bowl-shaped blowouts, and crest some of the highest dunes on Lake Michigan’s southern shore, providing spectacular views of the lakeshore, surrounding landscape, and the Chicago skyline 30 miles away. Enter the grounds from Route 49 and park at the Nature Center, with access to multiple trails. 219-926-1952, in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm

Hiking

The largest remnant of tallgrass prairie left in Illinois, this 2,500-acre tract 50 miles southwest of Chicago—bursting with color in warmer months—is, in winter, a dun-colored sea of withered big bluestem, prairie cord grass, goldenrod, and other native plants. Still, says Villaire, the stark landscape has a haunting beauty. Stay alert for deer, fox, rabbit, barred owl, red-tailed hawk, ring-necked pheasant, and other wildlife. Enter the Goose Lake Prairie area from North Jugtown Road and park at the Visitor Center, where the hike begins.

Hiking

This wooded swath southwest of downtown is laced with miles of trails through some of the most dramatic terrain in the region. In the Sag Valley Trail System, try the remote Cap Sauers and Swallow Cliff Loop, which passes steep ravines, wooded bluffs, oak savannas, streams, marshes, and an esker—a sinuous ridge formed from subglacial stream deposits. At Route 83 and Willow Springs Road (104th Avenue), enter the parking lot for Teason’s Woods. The trail is accessible from the lot. 800-870-3666, fpdcc.com.

Wildlife

In January and February, park visitors can spot eagles from a heated trolley or an enclosed viewing deck in the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center overlooking the lock and dam (800-868-7625; www.starvedrockstatepark.org). Hardy souls can trek to Eagle Cliff for eye-level views of the raptors as they soar above the locks or pluck fish from the currents.

Lodges

This luxe Northwoods retreat gets plenty of ink—and deservedly so. Rustic and refined, its A-frame lodge built of cedar and its cottages accented in stone make perfect bases from which to explore: Tramp woodland trails on the 280-acre property (the lodge provides snowshoes) or venture farther afield for cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, or a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Come back for an in-room massage, wine by the great-room fireplace, or a gourmet dinner showcasing organic regional ingredients. No children or pets allowed. 800-568-1995, canoebay.com

Lodges

The original seven-bedroom lodge, built in 1923 of hand-hewn timber and warmed by two massive stone fireplaces, looks sprung from a vintage copy of Outdoor Life—with a little Martha Stewart Living thrown in. Modern oversize sofas upholstered in leather and mohair, many designed by the owners, mix with European antiques and furnishings of hickory and birch. Outside, silent-sport enthusiasts can sled, snowshoe, or cross-country ski on the world-famous Birkebeiner Trail, parts of which are lit at night. For loud-sport enthusiasts, hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails beckon. But for many guests, a perfect day involves hanging out by the fire, playing board games, and enjoying a conversation over wine. No children under 12 allowed. 800-653-9472; spiderlakelodge.com

Lodges

This small bed-and-breakfast in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine region makes a perfect hub for exploration and relaxation. Hike the property’s 89 acres of nature preserve cut by the Oconomowoc River, or don cross-country skis and glide on groomed trails on-site or in nearby Kettle Moraine State Forest (the inn provides snowshoes and skis as well as ice skates for its pond). In the evenings by a wood-burning fire, enjoy artisan cheeses with wines from the owner’s vineyard—or brave the chill outside for a bonfire and hot chocolate. To reach their rooms—some with fireplaces and hot tubs— guests pass through a greenhouse verdant with orchids, hibiscus, and papyruses—also a perfect spot to curl up with a book. 262-628-9836, coldspringinn.com

Lodges

In winter, tranquillity is on tap at this Wisconsin country inn perched halfway between Spring Green and Dodgeville. Log walls of solid northern white pine and a fieldstone fireplace create Northwoods ambience, but the lodge motif ends there. Rather than staring at dead animal heads on the wall, gaze at fine-art photography collected by the owner. For exercise, hike the inn’s 340 acres of woods and fields or travel seven miles to Governor Dodge State Park to hike, cross-country ski, or snowmobile. 608-935-7297, silverstarinn.com

Lodges

Claiming to have the largest log lodge east of the Mississippi, this summertime golf resort morphs into a winter playground, with ice-skating on a frozen pond, sledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, nearly 25 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, and access to hundreds of miles of wilderness snowmobile trails (machines can be rented on-site). There’s also a winter light display choreographed to music, with animated installations. Unwind later in a hot tub or by a fire. Open at selected times in winter; call for details. 877-442-7526, garlandusa.com

Hot Chocolate

Not sold on making your own? This winter, Segal’s restaurant offers half a dozen packaged hot chocolate mixes. Just add milk and cream. Available at HotChocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-1747) or online (hotchocolatechicago.com).

Classic Libation

The exact origins of the Tom and Jerry, that hot and frothy winter cocktail, are lost in the mists of time—or maybe in the pleasant haze that comes with consuming a drink fortified with rum and brandy. For Chicagoans, the relevant date is circa 1954, when Miller’s Pub (134 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-263-4988) first offered the drink.

Fireplaces

The backroom at 404 Wine Bar could be mistaken for the study from Clue—but no risk of a deadly candlestick here. Grab a volume from a built-in wooden book- shelf, sit on the red velvet couch near the fireplace, and order a glass of the Four Vines Anarchy, a red blend. The rest of your evening is as golden as the flame. 2856 N. Southport Ave.; 773-404-5886

Fireplaces

Of the three fireplaces at Lovells of Lake Forest, the standout is downstairs in the Captain’s Quarters, where the memorabilia from Captain James A. Lovell’s astronaut days will put you in a space reverie. The wooden walls and worn leather sofa in front of the large fireplace will bring you gently back to Earth. 915 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest; 847-234-8013

Fireplaces

Soot stains on the gray stonework surrounding the gas fireplace at The Grafton serve as evidence of the logs that once crackled there. Nestle into the forest green sofa, set your Grafton Special— Irish whiskey, Bailey’s, Frangelico, coffee, and fresh whipped cream—on the table, and you may never want to leave. 4530 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-271-9000

Fireplaces

A double-sided hearth warms two rooms at Uncommon Ground in Edgewater. Enjoy the baked artichoke at a cushioned banquette in the dining room and admire the log mantel flanked by lumber from storm-fallen trees. Waiting for a table? Snag a fireside spot in the bar—there may be no better place to sit and sip with friends. 1401 W. Devon Ave.; 773-465-9801

Fireplaces

At Old Oak Tap, a cuckoo clock, giant mirror framed by logs, candlelit mantel, and slate fireplace evoke the ambiance of a modern lodge. Grab a high top near the blaze and complete the scene with fried butternut squash ravioli with Parmesan sage fondue. 2109 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-772-0406

Winter Meals

The smoked Gouda mac and cheese at Handlebar Bar & Grill ($4) is gooey and rich, deepened by the smokiness and tang from the Gouda.
2311 W. North Ave.; 773-384-9546

Winter Meals

Corned beef hash ($7.95), Patty’s Diner style: Chunky pieces of corned beef laced with potatoes, onions, and the perfect sprinkle of special seasoning. Two fried eggs, begging to be broken, coat the crispy fried concoction with mellow yellow. 3358 Main St., Skokie; 847-675-4274

Winter Meals

Somewhere between the velvety slabs of meat loaf ($11.50) and the lumpy mashed potatoes covered in brown gravy at the friendly Four Moon Tavern is a childhood memory so strong you might decide to join your high-school reunion committee after all. 1847 W. Roscoe St.; 773-929-6666

Winter Meals

Under a delicate disk of puff pastry, an irresistible concoction of fresh peas, tender-crisp carrots, and juicy chunks of white meat chicken all coated in a rich sauce vaults the chicken pot-pie ($18.50) at The Grill on the Alley miles past the frozen-food jobbers at your local grocery store. Westin Hotel, 909 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-255-9009

Winter Meals

Dark and mysterious, Shanahan’s crab and crayfish gumbo ($6.75) promises warmth—and delivers. Creole spices and onions in a mahogany roux keep the heat and the flavor coming in waves, and the überfresh seafood will warm your heart. 7353 W. Madison St., Forest Park; 708-366-0775

Firewood

‘Firewood has a simple mission: to go up in flames. Yet too often the wood smokes and smolders and hisses instead. In your home, that’s a disappointment. In a restaurant with a wood-burning oven, it’s a disaster. So where do local restaurateurs go for reliable firewood? Jonathan Fox, chef and proprietor of the Chicago restaurant La Madia, says that Lumberjacks, based in Woodstock, “consistently does a great job” of furnishing wood for his pizza oven. He’s not alone. More than 100 restaurants in Illinois and 300 Red Lobsters nationwide get their wood from Lumberjacks, which also sells to the public at its retail operations. Rte. 176 and 5013 Sunnyside Rd., Woodstock; 815-337-1451, lumberjax.com; additional locations in Crystal Lake, Barrington, and Lake in the Hills

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