On a sunny, cool day last winter, my daughter Grace and I dug our skates out of the garage, threw on scarves and mittens, and headed to a little park district outdoor ice rink in Downers Grove.
For an hour, we skated around the free rink, which was empty, save for a few young boys playing ice hockey on the other side. It was a great way to spend an afternoon-we got some exercise, it didn’t cost us anything, and it was an opportunity to get outside after weeks of being cooped up.
If you’re ready to try some outdoor skating, Chicago and the suburbs offer numerous rinks. Some are regularly smoothed out with zambonis and are similar to skating indoors, while others are pretty much like the ponds we skated on as kids, bumps and all.
If you’re looking for some outdoor skating that veers a bit from the typical pond or small rink, here are three rinks we recommend.
Harris Winter Wonderland. Touted as the world’s largest outdoor synthetic ice rink, this rink lets skaters do the usual loop around an oval rink or follow a skating trail that winds around the rink. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, the rink is open each weekend through the end of January on Friday nights 6-10 p.m.; Saturday nights 6-10 p.m.; and Sundays 2-6 p.m. When school is out for two weeks during the holidays, it is also open 4-8 p.m. Monday-Friday. $3 admission, $2 skate rental. Rockford, rockfordpark district.org, (815) 987-8800.
Millennium Park. Located in the heart of downtown, skaters can admire The Bean or the shoppers on Michigan Avenue while gliding around this free rink. It can get very crowded, though; and with all those people, the Zamboni needs to come out every hour and a half for 20-minute stretches, leaving a lot of people standing around. Bring your own skates if possible-skate rentals here can get pricey at $10. You can also easily stand in line for over an hour to rent skates – which might not be in the best condition after thousands of people have used them. The skating itself is free. 201 E. Randolph St., between Michigan and Columbus avenues in Chicago, millenniumpark.org.
The Rink at Wrigley. This rink is a relative newcomer to the Chicago skating scene-this will be its third year. It’s not nearly as crowded as Millenium Park, though having your own skates is a good idea. Wrigley charges for both admission and skate rental (the same amount for rental – $10 – as Millennium Park), so it could end up costing almost 70 bucks for a family of four. The full-sized skating rink is set up in the Cubs parking lot at the corner of Clark and Waveland. It functions in warmer weather. Call (312) 617-7017 or visit rinkatwrigley.com for cost and hours.