11 Outdoor Winter Activities for Chicago Families

Turn off Netflix, get out of your pajamas and combat the seasonal blues by venturing out of the house. Even when it’s cold, Chicagoland is full of exciting outdoor activities to celebrate the winter wonderland. We’ve found the coolest (literally) and most unique ways to enjoy some social distancing-fun outside.

Note: We’re updating our website as quickly as we can, but changes may occur due to COVID-19. Please double check before heading out for the most updated information on safety precautions and any last-minute closings. Stay safe!

Take a hike.

You can change the scenery of your family walks by visiting a nature center. While some programs and indoor facilities might be temporarily closed, these Chicagoland nature centers still offer plenty of kid-friendly trails to explore.

Go sledding down the best hills.

From James Park in Evanston – a former landfill with four steep hills – to a single hill with a 33-foot drop for thrill seekers at Soldier Field, there are plenty of sledding options for daredevils and novices alike.

Hit the ice at beautiful skating rinks.

Take a spin around the breathtaking quarter-mile Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park or glide through Parkway Bank Park with hundreds of twinkling lights. Here are some more our favorite outdoor ice skating venues.

Play a pick-up game of Pond Hockey.

The Chicago Park District offers pick-up games where skaters can feed their nostalgia of pond hockey on the slushy ice, without the structure and rules of a traditional hockey rink (score!). Skaters can also find Stick & Puck classes before and after pond hockey games, so they can hone their stickhandling, skating and shooting skills.

Snowshoe at the Morton Arboretum.

Trek through the 1,700 acres of woodland and other naturally preserved areas at The Morton Arboretum (weather permitting). When four or more inches of snow are on the ground, the ski trails are groomed for snowshoers to take in the scenic sights of snow-capped trees.

Make a bird feeder.

You can make your backyard birdies feel extra special with these heart-shaped bird feeders. You can also use other cookie cutters to make the bird feeders in other fun shapes. Here are some more backyard tips for how you can feed birds during the wintertime.

Get hooked on ice fishing.

Ice fishing is a great parent-child bonding experience. The sport is permitted during the winter season at 22 designated lakes and sloughs throughout Cook County. During this time of year, young fishers can expect to catch bluegill and crappie. Note: Conditions are not monitored by the District, so make sure to check the ice thickness before going out on any frozen body of water.

Plan a picnic.

You don’t have to wait until it’s warmer to enjoy an outdoor picnic. Depending on the weather, pack some extra blankets, your favorite hot chocolate and soup to keep everyone warm. Here are some other things to keep in mind when planning your winter picnic.

Make frozen bubbles.

When the weather drops in Chicago, you can have some fun by trying out these frozen bubbles outdoors. Create your own bubble solution and blow bubbles to see the winter science experiment come to life. The colder it is, the cooler the frozen bubbles will look!

Take a road trip.

Depending on COVID-19 travel advisories, take a drive out to Lake Geneva to see the Ice Castles. The castles are scheduled to open sometime in January (weather permitting) and attendees can explore the frozen attraction filled with tunnels, slides, thrones and more.

Spend the day on the slopes.

Snow tubing, skiing and snowboarding bring out the child in all of us! The snowy sports are perfect for adventurous families out there and some of the local resorts offer lessons for first-timers.


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This story originally published in Dec. 2018. It has been updated with the most recent information. 

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