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Snow in Grant Park
Photograph: Grace DuVal

12 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.

Zach Long
Emma Krupp
Written by
Zach Long
&
Emma Krupp
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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 enjoy a chilly stroll along the icy lakefront. 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.

RECOMMENDED: Discover more things to do this winter in Chicago

Things to do outdoors in the winter

  • 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.

  • Things to do

The Midwest is hardly a ski and snowboarding mecca, but you'll still find ample opportunities to hit the slopes within a few hours' drive of Chicago. Travel just outside of the city to check out local options or head north to Wisconsin for resorts in the hilly Driftless Area; you'll also find chic options in Michigan with cushy lodgings to make for a perfect winter weekend getaway.

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  • 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 also offers a 3,600-square-foot ice skating rink.

  • Kids

Don't let Chicago's overall flatness fool you—there are great sledding hills to be found in tons of the city's neighborhoods. Folks looking for a rush should check out the 200-foot slope tucked inside the Dan Ryan Woods nature preserve, which is lit and staffed by county employees when conditions are right (call head of time to make sure). On less snowy days, a hill located outside of Soldier Field is supplemented with machine-made snow. And if you've got little ones, you'll also find a variety of bunny hills perfect for beginners.

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  • Things to do
  • South Shore

The 18-mile path that hugs the shores of Lake Michigan is pretty sparsely populated during the winter months, save for the dedicated runners and cyclists that take advantage of the decrease in traffic. If you're willing to put on some layers (there's usually a bit more wind by the lake), you can't beat the sights along the Lakefront Trail, whether you're gazing north from Promontory Point or south from North Avenue Beach. Keep moving to stay warm—and maybe bring along a thermos of cocoa and some handwarmers.

When it warms up, take a speedboat tour of Lake Michigan.

  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Suburbs
  • price 2 of 4

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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • Things to do

Don't let the chilly weather keep you out of the city's public parks this winter. Even when there's not snow on the ground, the various green spaces (which are a bit more brown, at the moment) that make up the Chicago Park District are beautiful places to get some fresh air. Go see the Statue of the Republic in Jackson Park, climb to the top of "Mount Bridgeport" in Palmisano Park, do a lap around the lagoon in Douglas Park or make a playlist and pretend you're attending a self-curated edition of Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park.

  • Things to do
  • Suburbs

Not into sliding down slopes on your skis? You can do some cross-country skiing at the Morton Arboretum, where guests can bring their own skis and enjoy some of the trails that wind through the greenspace. From January 15 to March 21, skis and snowshoes are available to rent, but only when there is more than four inches of snow on the ground. Remember that timed-entry admission is still required for all Morton Arboretum guests—you can make a reservation online.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

More things to do in Chicago

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