You might be longing for springtime already – and who could blame you? – but instead of hunkering down for the season, get out and enjoy the winter. Downtown Chicago is at its most glamorous when it’s covered in a blanket of snow, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To really make the most of the Illinois winter, leave the city behind and explore Sagawau Canyon Nature Preserve, a Cook County forest preserve.
Take the family and get a look at the area’s stunning natural beauty, plus skiing, skating, and other outdoorsy activities in one of several forests encompassed by the preserves. Start your day with a visit to the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, where The Sagawau Nordic Ski Program will teach your kids everything they need to know about flatland skiing.
Beginner lesson are all taught in a designated area, so your kids strap on their skis and gingerly try out a few small hills. The Sagawau Program also offers a few entry-level skiing and snowshoeing tours, plus it hosts goofy, family-friendly special events. If you come on Feb. 21, for instance, you’ll catch “Surfing the White Wave,” a surreally Hawaiian-themed afternoon of skiing, drinking Polynesian punch, and watching surfing movies to cool down (or warm up?) after your vigorous efforts to stay upright on the white stuff.
But if you’ve already all got the basics down and have your own skis, just stop by warming lodge for a warm welcome and to pick up a Cook County forest preserve trail pass. Then off you go, gliding through the hushed woods on the neatly packed trails. Follow an advanced course if you are ready, or take one of the more leisurely routes such as the Sag Trail, the Dolomite Loop, or Baseline.
With littler kids, slide your way more slowly along the simpler Prairie Loop, where you pass the Dolan Farmhouse for Avian Studies. Here you can all gawk and giggle at a gaggle of geese and the turkeys that bob placidly over the snow. Everyone’s cheeks glow red with the cold, but the pleasant rhythm of skiing keeps everybody warm; with so much time indoors lately, it’s wonderful to breathe fresh air and see the beauty of the winter forest around you.
All that time in the Great Outdoors builds up a powerful appetite, so you’ll want to stop for dinner on your way home. The Junction Diner in Forest Park is a can’t-miss place for late lunch or early dinner: It’s hearty, cozy, and definitely family-friendly. A toy train delivers meals such as chicken fingers and mac ‘n cheese, to the delight of your little ones. If they didn’t appreciate the beauty around them while frolicking in greater Chicago’s natural splendor, rest assured they’ll appreciate the Junction’s train-themed play areas. After dinner, don’t forget to check out their old-timey photo booth, where you can commemorate your day with goofy poses and big grins.