Are you and your Chicagoland family looking for the perfect summer staycation ideas? With over 70,000 acres of wild, wonderful and natural beauty contained within, the Forest Preserves of Cook County have got you and your kids covered.
“A lot of people think that Chicago is just the downtown area,” says Jessica Becker, a Forest Preserves Programming Specialist, “but you don’t have to go very far to enjoy natural wonders and natural beauty.”
Becker isn’t kidding when she says the perfect family staycation is closer than you may realize. The average Cook County resident is no more than 20 minutes away from a Forest Preserves of Cook County location. So pack up the kids, get on the road, and choose your adventure!
Will it be camping, water sports, birding, or hiking? Or maybe a little bit of each? Whatever you decide, you have a world of unique opportunities that won’t break the bank with pricey admission tickets, and, even better — won’t hurt too much when it comes to filling up the gas tank on the way.
1. Camp out with your kids
Whether you’re experienced campers ready to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars, newbies looking for a heated cabin or bunkhouse experience, or looking for the perfect spot to park your RV while you and the kids become one with nature, the Forest Preserves of Cook County are sure to offer exactly the camping experience you’re looking for.
You’ll enjoy an immersive, around-the-clock nature experience no matter which of the five accessible campsites you choose!
“The Forest Preserves of Cook County is a place where people can create their own adventure,” says Becker. “And if you are new to camping, we offer Camping 101 classes throughout the year where you can learn how to pack for a camping trip, how to set up a tent and set you and your family up for success.”
You might consider building your staycation around a family camping experience, suggests Becker, allowing you the opportunity to perfectly tailor your trip by checking out the different recreational activities offered at each of the Forest Preserves five campsites.
2. Make waves while making memories
Ready to get your feet wet? The Forest Preserves of Cook County offers a wide variety of water sports activities like fishing, paddling, kayaking, canoeing and boating, along with various training and educational opportunities. All you have to bring is your sense of adventure.
“The Forest Preserves will provide the necessary equipment, as well as a very safe environment to try out your new skills,” Becker says.
If fishing is more your speed, the only challenge you and your kids might face is deciding on which of the many bodies of water are available for recreational fishing within the Forest Preserves.
“We have about 40, so you should not have to travel far to find your new favorite fishing spot,” says Becker, adding that you can look forward to catching sunfish, blue gill, catfish and maybe even northern pike. “It’s a great opportunity to connect multiple generations and gives children a chance to see what’s living under the surface of the water, sparking curiosity in the natural world.”
3. Take a hike
And we mean literally!
Hiking is a popular activity you can incorporate into a camping trip, or just drive out for a short walk or a hike for the day. Many of the campsites are adjacent to trails, like the Shabbona Woods campsite located next to the Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland.
“So you can enjoy hiking and or walking the trails and enjoy the exhibits at the Nature Center and get a chance to talk to knowledgeable Forest Preserves staff,” Becker says, pointing out that many trails are family-friendly for strollers, as well as accessibility-friendly trails paved for wheelchairs and walker-friendly surfaces.
Even better? You can dovetail your walking or hiking experience into an opportunity to do a bit of birdwatching with your kiddos, as well!
4. For the birds
The Forest Preserves of Cook County is ready to set you and your family up for success at every step of your staycation, and that includes birding.
“Birding is a very relaxing way to take in nature,” says Becker. “You are going out and trying to see as many birds as you can. And it’s OK if you don’t know the name of all the birds. It’s really about enjoying the diversity of species.”
Becker is a big fan of birding, calling it an “immersive experience,” and sharing how she loves the perspective kids bring to the experience.
“I really like having young kids on my walks because everything you see is so new to them,” says Becker. “That sense of wonder is a great feeling for everybody.”
Ready, set, stay(cation)!
No matter how you spend your Forest Preserves staycation, you and your kids will be sure to enjoy yourselves.
Says Becker: “There is just so much opportunity for fun that is both recreational and educational for kids of all ages.”
Learn more about the Forest Preserves of Cook County and get stuck into your own family staycation at fpdcc.com.