When chilly temps hit the Chicago area, we’re ready for snow, polar vortexes and anything in between. But when dealing with brutal Midwest winters, it doesn’t mean the family fun has to stop!
Winter in Chicagoland still brings exciting seasonal activities that you can’t experience any other time of the year. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best things to do this winter with kids in our handy guide below.
Keep scrolling to find all the cool wintertime activities like sledding hills and skating rinks. Plus, we’ve included indoor activities for the days you want to stay warm and fun ways to celebrate winter holidays such as MLK Day, Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day and more.
WINTER FAMILY ACTIVITIES
Choosing something to do, especially if you’d rather stay home, can be such a chore. Thankfully, there’s so much to choose from in Chicagoland that you can’t really go wrong when you venture out.
We did the work and compiled a few of our favorite things to do to help you start to fill up your family winter bucket list.
Go ice skating at Millennium Park
If you’re looking to get out of the house and let your kiddos roam free, it may be time to go ice skating. One bonus at Millennium Park: each and every weekend, there are free ice-skating lessons.
Hit the slopes
Head up north to enjoy a thrilling day of skiing and snowboarding. In Rockford, Alpine Hills offers a the ultimate snow park with tubing, snowboarding and skiing for riders of all abilities. It’s the perfect activity for a fast-paced and adventurous family.
Trek to Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva makes a great winter tip especially if you time the trip for its Winterfest Feb. 1-5, 2023. Downtown Lake Geneva hosts more than 40 ice sculptures and if you’re looking for even cooler things to do, make a stop at the glowing Ice Castles at Geneva National Resort & Club. Find more winter getaways worth the drive from Chicago.
Take a trip to the zoo
A trip to the zoo may feel synonymous with summertime, but the Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo are open year-round and ready to welcome you and the kiddos throughout the winter months. In fact, families can take advantage of free admission at Brookfield Zoo, free on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in January and February.
Try out snowshoeing at Morton Arboretum
The next time Chicagoland gets covered with a blanket of snow, head to Morton Arboretum where it offers rentals for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Just wait until the next snowfall!
Pet Siberian huskies
Polar Adventure Days (Jan. 21 and Feb. 25, 2023) are free family events filled with winter activities taking place on Northerly Island indoors and outdoors. If there’s snow, you can even explore the island on snowshoes!
Attend a winter festival
Festivals are still going strong in the winter months! Downers Grove Ice Fest returns Feb. 3-5, 2023, with ice carving demonstrations and ice sculptures. Other goodies include Spring Valley Winterfest in Schaumburg (Feb. 11, 2023) and the Cocoa Crawl in Downtown Long Grove (Feb. 11, 2023).
Go for a wintertime hike
It can be tempting to keep cozy on the couch all winter long, but before you tap that “next episode” button, consider bundling up the kids and heading to your favorite park or trail for a hike and a bit of fresh (albeit brisk) air. A wintertime hike means less crowded trails, and it’s the perfect time to spot things you may have missed during the summer months, like bird nests sitting high up in the trees. Don’t let the early sunset deter you. Grab a few flashlights or lanterns to guide you while you listen for the sounds of owls and other nocturnal creatures.
We know, we know, not all winter days make us want to spend all our time outside. You want to spend some time at home relaxing, but we also want to avoid cabin fever. That’s where indoor attractions come to the rescue.
From local theater and museums to indoor playgrounds, you can have lots of fun at these local places.
Splash around at an indoor water park
If you’ve had enough with the freezing temps, pretend it’s summer at one of these nearby indoor water parks. You can even sneak in a weekend getaway with spots like Great Wolf Lodge Illinois in Gurnee and Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells.
Drink all the hot chocolate
Stay warm this winter by grabbing a cup (or two) of hot chocolate at these local places. Some of our favorites include XO Marshmallow, Firecakes and BomboBar. Some of them include fun toppings!
Explore the Chicago Auto Show
Returning to McCormick Place on Feb. 11-20, 2023, the Chicago Auto Show brings auto-related exhibits, vehicles and interactive displays the whole family will love.
Play some mini golf
You can enjoy mini golf at any time of the year thanks to these indoor mini golf courses in Chicagoland. And some of them have a glow-in-the-dark theme!
See a show
The theater season is even more lively during the winter season. You can catch Disney on Ice Presents Frozen & Encanto at Allstate Arena (Jan. 19-22 and Feb. 2-5, 2023) at Allstate Arena and Jan. 26-29, 2023, at United Center.
Warm up with nature
Pretend that spring is already here by seeing more than 10,000 gorgeous blooms at Chicago Botanic Garden’s The Orchid Show beginning Feb. 11, 2023. You can also stop at Garfield Park Conservatory.
Watch some sports
Enjoy a Chicago Bulls game with the kids by purchasing their family ticket packs. The $35 pack includes one ticket, a jumbo hot dog, potato chips and a drink. Or check out Family Sundays at a Chicago Wolves game — the arena is packed with children’s activities.
AT-HOME WINTER ACTIVITIES
Now that the hubbub of the holidays is over, the inclination may be to hibernate until that first spring thaw. But don’t sleep on wintertime — it has its perks. From science experiments and homemade crafts and family outings, discover fun ways to get the kids up and make memories at home.
Set up a hot cocoa bar
Enter winter’s answer to the summertime sundae bar: the hot cocoa bar. Heat up the almond milk and the 2% and lay out your family’s favorite toppings for a hands-on sweet treat that’s guaranteed to be a household pleaser. Can you hear the mini marshmallows, whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles calling? Yum.
Build snow castles
No shade to Frosty, but when that next fluffy snow falls, instead of a snowman, encourage the kiddos to build snow castles in the yard. Good ol’ fashioned buckets will do the trick, of course, or you could spring for a castle making kit. And, who knows, maybe they’ll want to go all out and build a whole scene where Frosty is the king of his own castle.
Organize a winter-themed scavenger hunt
Help the kids plan and execute a real-life scavenger hunt. You can find premade lists online and print those, or create your own with must-finds like animal tracks, a smoking chimney, a melting snowman, a pile of firewood, a lost mitten, or (ew!) yellow snow. Take snaps along the way.
Erupt a snow volcano
No doubt you remember those science fair volcanoes from when you were in school. Well, this is the same idea, except the mess isn’t on your dining room table. Help your future geologists mold a volcano out of snow, and then whip out the baking soda, vinegar and food coloring for an experimental explosion.
Enjoy snow ice cream
Yes, snow is generally safe to eat but it’s probably best to plan for a big snowstorm and catch your flakes midway through the dump (after the air has gotten a good scrubbing) in a clean container. We rounded up these fun snow ice cream recipes.
Make a DIY snow globe
Who says snow globes are just for the holidays? Carry the magic into the new year by helping the kids make their very own glittery globes. It’s super simple. All you’ll need is a small plastic figurine, a glass jar, glitter, glycerin, super glue and cold water.
- Glue the figurine to the inside of the jar’s lid.
- Fill the jar with cold water.
- Mix in a couple teaspoons of loose glitter.
- Add a few drops of glycerin (this will keep the glitter from floating to the bottom too quickly).
- Screw the lid onto the jar and glue it closed.
Make frozen bubbles
For an experiment that’s equal parts fun and educational, help the kids make frozen bubbles. First, unearth the bubble mix left over from summer or make your own. Then use straws or wands to blow, blow, blow. It works best on days when temps reach single digits. For a different take, try making frozen marbles: Simply fill a balloon with water and food coloring, put it outside to freeze, then cut off the balloon.
Winter plays host to a ridiculous amount of holidays — so many that it can be hard to plan for them all. We’ve got you covered. Here you’ll find guides to help you plan upcoming winter holidays such as local events and at-home activities.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – Jan. 16, 2023
Honor the civil rights crusader by attending a local event in your area or giving back with a community service project. You can learn more about MLK and other influential Black figures by attending a Black History Month event.
Lunar New Year – Jan. 22, 2023
2023 is the Year of the Rabbit and families can celebrate with these local events. We also rounded up Lunar New Year books for kids.
Groundhog Day – Feb. 2, 2023
Six more weeks of more winter or will we have an early spring? Groundhog Day is a silly holiday that the whole family secretly loves. You can celebrate with these fun at-home ideas or venture out to Groundhog Days at Woodstock, the film location for Groundhog Day.
Valentine’s Day – Feb. 14, 2023
Love is in the air! There are loads of Valentine’s Day events for families in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.
Presidents Day – Feb. 20, 2023
Learn more about the U.S. presidents and history with these children’s books.