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Chicago winter Buckingham Fountain
Photograph: Shutterstock

Things to do outdoors this winter in Chicago

Don't let the cold weather keep you cooped up! Here's how you can enjoy the outdoors during the winter in Chicago.

By Zach Long

The winter months in Chicago may not seem like the most opportune time to head outdoors, but a blanket of fresh snow won't stop most locals from finding amazing things to do outside in Chicago. Embrace the chilly forecast when you visit Chicago parks, track down the city's vast collection of public art or check in on the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo. If you're willing to travel outside of city limits, you can even go ziplining at The Forge adventure park or take in frozen waterfalls at Starved Rock. There's no reason to stay cooped up until spring arrives—here where you can find things to do outdoors during the winter in Chicago.

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Things to do outdoors in the winter

Photograph: Courtesy Maggie Daley Park
Photograph: Courtesy Maggie Daley Park

1. Skate the ice ribbon in Maggie Daley Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Millennium Park

With the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park closed for the season, Maggie Daley Park is your destination for winter fun in the Loop. The park's ice ribbon is open for socially-distanced skating, though you'll need to make a reservation online—there'll be no walk-ups this year, regardless of whether or not you bring your own skates. And while most of the park's other attractions are closed for the season, you can still go for a walk and admire the skyline views.

The Forge: Lemont Quarries
Photograph: Courtesy The Forge: Lemont Quarries

2. Take a chilly zipline ride at The Forge

Things to do Suburbs

The Forge: Lemont Quarries adventure park began welcoming guests to a 300-acre outdoor space just 20 miles from downtown Chicago in July, and it will continue to do so throughout the winter. Attractions like ziplines, climbing walls and towering ropes courses will be open as weather allows (though you'll probably need to bundle up). Plus, The Forge will also offer a 3,600-square-foot ice skating rink and a holiday light show, beginning in early December.

Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

3. Visit the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo

Things to do Lincoln Park

While many of Lincoln Park Zoo's residents head inside for the season once the temperature drops, you might spot a penguin or a polar bear out enjoying the chilly weather if you visit when it's cold. While it's usually free to enter the zoo, keep in mind that this year's edition of ZooLights (November 21–January 3) will charge $5 admission—a small price to pay to admire the twinkling displays while checking in with a few of your furry and feathery friends.

Waterfall at Lightscape
Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden

4. Explore the Chicago Botanic Garden

Things to do Literary events Suburbs

You certainly won't find any flowers blooming in the Chicago Botanic Garden during the winter, but the outdoor attraction maintains its regular hours during the winter. Swing by during the day to explore the garden grounds, including the expansive prairie and Japanese garden. From November 13 through January 3, the sprawling property also hosts Lightscape, a ticketed after-dark event that lines a trail with mesmerizing illuminated displays.

Millennium Park Christmas tree
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Embrace the spirit of the season in Millennium Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Millennium Park

There's no ice skating in Millennium Park this year, but the downtown greenspace will still host the Chicago Christmas tree (near Michigan Avenue and Washington Street) and provide a place for visitors to get some fresh air. You can gaze at a snow-dusted Bean from afar, walk through the Lurie Gardens or trudge across the Great Lawn in your boots. Beginning in December, Wrigley Square will host an art installation that pays tribute to Chicagoans who lost their lives to COVID-19.

Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Go for a stroll on the North Branch Trail

Attractions Parks and gardens North Park

Cold weather shouldn't stop you from taking advantage of one of the city's best paved trails. Beginning in Gompers Park and stretching all the way to the Skokie Lagoons, the North Branch Trail remains open from sunrise to sunset year-round, meaning that you can walk, jog or bike on it as long as conditions are favorable. Visit the Sidney Yates Flatwoods or take the trail all the way to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

16th Street Murals Pilsen
Photograph: Time Out/Zach long

7. See some snow-covered public art

Things to do

Chicago's best public art doesn't go indoors when the conditions outside take a turn for the frigid. If you dress for the weather, you can treat the city's various public displays like an open-air museum, stopping by the Picasso and Calder sculptures in the Loop or checking out the murals lining 16th Street in Pilsen. You may need to trudge through some snow, but the city's walkable art gallery is 100 percent free.

Starved Rock winter
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Hit these trails for winter hiking

Things to do

Throw on some layers and head to state parks and forest preserves surrounding the city, most of which welcome visitors throughout the winter. You can travel to Starved Rock and admire the frozen waterfalls, gaze out at the icy Lake Michigan from the Indiana Dunes or visit the bison at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Make sure to double check the operating hours wherever you're visiting—some parks and preserves make adjustments during December, January and February.

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