LCFPD is a Little Lake County Advertising Partner.
The Lake County Forest Preserve District is one of the perks of living in Lake County. Not only is it an extensive system of parks, trails, and facilities, but it provides a gorgeous backdrop for year-round fun in nature. Yes, I said year-round! In winter the days are shorter, the air colder and the ground snow-covered but that doesn’t mean the preserves close! Our friends at LCFPD have helped us put together this primer on enjoying the preserves all winter long.
Local pools and waterparks may shutter for the winter months, but the preserves are open throughout the winter. Most maintain 6:30 a.m. – sunset hours, making them a great option for those early risers! Some locations, including the Dunn Museum, golf courses, dog exercise areas, and the visitor centers have special hours. You can find hours and winter sports conditions on the LCFPD Winter Sports Page.
If you’re looking to be outside more with your kids, bundle up and explore a new-to-you forest preserve. Take part in an unstructured winter activity, such as ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, or cross-country skiing. Here are some ideas on how to do that:
Winter Activities in the Forest Preserves
There are lots of ways to explore our trails over the winter! Take an evening hike on a solar-lit trail. Go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or snowmobiling. You’re going to want to have good boots for winter hiking as the trails are generally not plowed or cleared of snow. Exceptions to this include paved trails at Old School in Libertyville, Hastings Lake in Lake Villa, and Independence Grove in Libertyville.
Make it a date! As it gets darker earlier some trails have added solar-lit paths for evening hikes. With small solar lights to guide their way, hikers, skiers, and snowshoers can get some brisk evening exercise along the 1.3-mile fitness trail at Old School in Libertyville and along a 1.65-mile hilly section of the Millennium Trail adjacent to Lakewood’s Winter Sports Area in Wauconda. These illuminated trails stay open until 9:00 p.m. daily through March 10. The extended hours are only for hiking or skiing. Leashed dogs are welcome, but bicycles and horses are not allowed.
We broke down the different locations for cross-country skiing in Lake County. LCFPD has nearly 189 miles of trails for you and your family to explore on skis.
If you have never bundled your preschooler up and taken them to a playground in the snow you are missing out! Slides become small sled hills, nothing seems as high with a pack of snow on the bottom, and it’s just a delight for all ages! The Forest Preserves’ nine playgrounds are open and accessible throughout the winter. You can find them at:
- Independence Grove in Libertyville (northwest of the Visitors Center)
- Lakewood in Wauconda (near Shelter E)
- Old School in Libertyville (at the parking area between Shelter C and Shelter D)
- Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa (southwest of the parking area)
- Half Day in Vernon Hills (north of Half Day Pond)
- Heron Creek in Lake Zurich (between Shelter A and Shelter B)
- Greenbelt in North Chicago (near Shelter A)
- Hastings Lake in Lake Villa (south of the parking area for Shelter B and Shelter C)
- Van Patten Woods in Wadsworth (east of Shelter A)
Interested in a twirl on the ice? Lace up your skates and head to the lake at Independence Grove in Libertyville or the manmade rinks at Lakewood in Wauconda and Old School in Libertyville. Ice hockey is not allowed.
At Independence Grove, the designated skating area is open 6:30 am–sunset daily when conditions allow. You’ll find it on the southern end of the lake, west of the marina. For access, bear right on the preserve road after the gatehouse and park in the first lot.
The two manmade rinks are shallow and typically freeze earlier in the season than the lake at Independence Grove, where a 4.5-inch layer is required for ice skating.
The Lakewood rink is part of a dedicated, lighted Winter Sports Area, giving extra time for more winter fun 6:30 a.m. –9:00 p.m. daily when conditions allow. It’s next to a sledding hill so you can try two activities in one visit.
The Old School rink is open 6:30 a.m. – sunset daily when conditions allow. For access, follow the roadway until you reach the parking area on your right signed for skating and sledding. Learn more and check conditions on the LCFPD website: https://www.lcfpd.org/ice-skating/
Ice fishing feels like one of those things you just need to try once to say you’ve done it! Angling to catch some fish? Ice fishing is available at Banana Lake at Lakewood in Wauconda, Sterling Lake at Van Patten Woods in Wadsworth, and the South Bay at Independence Grove in Libertyville, when conditions allow. A 4.5-inch layer of ice is required for ice fishing. Learn more about ice fishing in Lake County. https://www.lcfpd.org/ice-fishing/
If your kids are like mine, sledding is what they want to do the most! Sledding is allowed on two dedicated sled hills, located at Lakewood in Wauconda and Old School in Libertyville, respectively.
The Old School hill is open 6:30 am–sunset daily when conditions allow. To access the sled hill, follow the roadway until you reach the parking area on your right signed for sledding and skating.
The Lakewood hill is part of a dedicated, lighted Winter Sports Area, giving extra time for more winter fun 6:30 am–9 pm daily when conditions allow. The hill is next to an ice skating rink so you can try two activities in one visit.
Sledding is free and does not require a permit. Snowboards, toboggans, and sleds with metal runners are not allowed.
If you know you want to be outside but aren’t really sure where to start or want a little more structure to the experience, LCFPD offers recurring outdoor education programs throughout the winter, such as Playdate with Nature, Walk with a Naturalist, and Connecting Kids with Nature. We have personally done Playdate with Nature, and it’s an excellent opportunity to go off trail and learn about the area and play outside in a really meaningful way.
Upcoming Playdate with Nature Events:
All Playdates with Nature
Upcoming Connecting Kids with Nature Events:
- February 14, Greenbelt Cultural Center
Connecting Kids with Nature is a free event open to all ages.
Other winter programs for kids include:
Hikin’ Tykes: Voles
Preschoolers will enjoy a nature-based story, hands-on activities, craft, and outdoor exploration, weather permitting.
Tuesday, February 12, 9:30–10:45 am, Greenbelt Cultural Center—Education Wing. Children ages 2–4 with an adult. $6 adult/$3
Find more programs throughout the preserves and for all ages on the Lake County Forest Preserves’ online calendar.
Disclosure: The Lake County Forest Preserves is a Little Lake County advertising partners. They provided us with the information needed to write the story. All thoughts and opinions are my own.