There are plenty of adventures to enjoy this season, even if we still have to grab a jacket, hat and gloves. We’ve found some excellent ways to embrace the cold weather and make the most of these days, whether it’s playing golf indoors, eating a meal overlooking the lake, or immersing yourself in nature.
The holidays are a distant memory and spring is just around the corner. In the meantime, all we’re left with are cold and dreary days. Fortunately, there are some plenty of local activities and fun pursuits that can help brighten our days this time of year.
Now is the time to do something that’s both enjoyable and uplifting, whether it’s sledding, cross-country skiing or even golfing.
Here are some fun and unique ideas that truly seize on the best this season has to offer.
Snow Much Fun in Lake County
Why sit inside and look at the snow? There’s plenty of fun to be had throughout the Lake County Forest Preserves (LCFP).
“There are so many great ways for people and families to recreate outside in nature during winter, and there’s no better place to experience the season and improve your physical and mental wellness than in your forest preserves,” says Angelo Kyle, forest preserve president.
Hikers, skiers and snowshoers can trek a 1.3-mile fitness trail surrounded by small solar lights at Old School Forest Preserve, in Libertyville, or through a nearly 2-mile hilly portion of the Millennium Trail near the Winter Sports Arena at Lakewood Forest Preserve, in Wauconda. These trails are open until 9 p.m. through March 14. No need to worry about safety after dark, because park rangers regularly patrol these areas.
These two preserves are also home to exciting sledding hills. The Lakewood Hill is lighted and open until 9 p.m., while the Old School hill is open until sunset.
Feeling the urge to do some fishing? Ice fishing is a popular pursuit at Lake Carina, in Gurnee, and Hastings Lake, in Lake Villa.
Ice fishing is free, but it’s not monitored, so check the ice thickness before venturing out on the frozen water.
Fun Activities with the Park District
There are more than 1,450 acres of public open space in St. Charles, and this open space is primed for some exciting winter activities. Since 74% of residents have access to a park within 1 mile of home, there’s plenty of fun to be had this season.
Several outdoor lighted ice rinks around St. Charles, including at David Park, Lincoln Park and Timber Trails Park, offer a good start. Hockey enthusiasts should venture over to Langum Park, just south of downtown.
Sledding is also a favorite at Langum Park, and at Timber Trails Park, on the west side of town. Keep in mind that neither location has lights, so the fun ends at sundown.
Seeing as spring is right around the corner, the St. Charles Park District is offering a head start.
“With the weather beginning to hopefully warm up, our early spring events give families a chance to get outside for some fun and fresh air,” says Jacqueline Mulligan, marketing supervisor.
Dogs can get in on the Easter Egg hunting fun during the Doggie Egg Hunt, happening on March 27 at River Bend Community Park. When dogs touch a plastic egg with their nose, it’s fair game.
Each egg is filled with treats and prizes for our four-legged friends. Pet-friendly vendors will be on site, and each dog must be kept on a leash.
Afterwards, dogs and their owners can get a picture with the Easter Bunny.
Fitness lovers can break a sweat while conquering a unique obstacle course at Primrose Farm. Adventure seekers venture through a 1-mile relay course as they confront various farmyard obstacles.
Healthy snacks and fluids will be available at the conclusion of the race. Kids under 15 must race with an adult.
The Crystal Lake Park District is hosts several activities that’ll keep families engaged and entertained.
The battle is on during Forts on the Courts, happening on March 13 at The Racket Club, in Lake in the Hills.
Teams are given three sheets of cardboard and a roll of duct tape. Their mission? Design and create a fort, which will be judged by staff from the Crystal Lake Park District and the Racket Club, a park district facility with year-round indoor tennis.
Teams can use other items, such as box cutters, battery-powered lights and plastic tablecloths, but leave the paint, glue and sticky products at home.
Prizes will be awarded to the top three forts and the fan favorite, which’ll be judged by everyone in attendance.
The April Showers Stop-In at the Nature Center, in Crystal Lake, happens April 10 at 10 a.m. Check out crafts and displays about the rainy weather we usually see in April.
“These programs and events give families a chance to have fun together, and with other families, while staying safe and healthy,” says Jenny Leech, marketing manager. “Our parks and outdoor areas have remained open during the pandemic and have been a great outlook for families to stay active and moving.”
Cozy Alcoholic Beverages
How’s this for a stay-warm combo: a vodka with a spicy kick? Rush Creek Distilling, in Harvard, recently unveiled a jalapeno-flavored vodka with fresh jalapeno slices infused in this locally made spirit. For a sweeter taste, the distillery has also released a vanilla-infused vodka.
“The jalapenos are cut and allowed to soak in vodka until the desired taste and heat are achieved,” says Mark Stricker, co-owner. “Same with the vanilla vodka; the beans are sliced and soaked to capture the vanilla flavor. Both flavored vodkas are fun to play with in cocktails.”
Rush Creek has also been playing with its whiskey lineup. A new 3-year-old straight bourbon, made with corn and 16 percent rye, gives off sweet and spicy notes. A rye whiskey uses 58 percent rye and includes corn and barley, creating a balanced and smooth taste.
“All of these whiskeys have been aged in new 30-gallon barrels, which are smaller than our typical 53-gallon barrels,” Stricker says. “The smaller barrels offer a higher surface area of barrel-to-spirits ratio and speeds maturation.”
The whiskey is a limited release, Stricker says, so it’s only available in Rush Creek’s Harvard store and tasting room.
The vodkas, on the other hand, are available at liquor stores, bars and restaurants across the region – as well as the Harvard tasting room.
How about a glass of wine? Head over to Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, in Galena, or its outlet in downtown Geneva. Several wine choices are served at this peaceful and tranquil winery, located among the rolling hills of northwest Illinois. Try the Apple Cask, which has a powerful burst of apple flavor, or a dry white Chardonnay, which has notes of citrus, pear and passion fruit. It has a creamy finish with a small hint of toasty oak.
Studio Winery + Geneva Lake Distilling, in Lake Geneva, produces distilled spirits and small-batch, artisan wines like Coltrane Sweet White, which is similar to a riesling or Moscato and has notes of honeysuckle and melon, or try Axl Rose, which has sweet flavors of pomegranate and sugared strawberries.
Sip a cocktail or a glass of wine as local artists lead painting workshops on the third Sunday of each month. Paint a serene Galway sheep on March 21 at 12:30 p.m., or paint a calm, rainy-day picture on April 18 at 12:30 p.m. To sign up, visit studiowinery.com. This bustling destination also has live music happening every Friday and Saturday.
Jude’s Cocktails and Nosh is one of the newest places to grab a drink or lunch in Crystal Lake. Jude’s hangs its hat on unique cocktails, including the Claw-ssal Mary, a bloody mary loaded with several delicious appetizers, including a burger slider and a soft pretzel.
The loaded brunch menu includes a Monster Grilled Cheese Sandwich that’s served up with feta, cheddar, Swiss and pepper jack cheeses. Jude’s also hosts live music Thursday nights.
Fresh snowfall usually forces golf enthusiasts to store their clubs and patiently count the days until spring.
That all changed when PrairieFire Golf & Grill, situated behind the clubhouse at PrairieView Golf Club, opened in Byron last June.
Eight temperature-controlled heating bays keep golfers on the driving range year-round. Just for fun, the range is littered with Glow Gear LED targets that light up long after the sun goes down.
Golfers can also enjoy Toptracer Range technology, which combines golf with augmented reality. It traces a ball’s apex, launch and speed in real time, and it’s capable of tracking distance, even if there’s snow on the ground.
The technology also allows golfers to virtually play some of the best courses in the world, including St. Andrews Links, in Scotland.
PrairieFire’s full bar and restaurant serve up a loaded food menu and beer from local breweries.
The simulated courses at Pier 290, in Williams Bay, Wis., are staying busy, too. Swing a club and hit balls into a specially made projection screen that simulates world-renowned courses such as Pebble Beach Golf Links, in California. The simulator is available in one-hour sessions.
Golfers can also take on 20 prestigious courses on a golf simulator at Pottawatomie Golf Course, in St. Charles. The simulator offers data on ball speed, carry and distance. Play nine or 18 holes or practice on a virtual driving range. Hourly rentals are available through March 31.
Escape to Starved Rock Lodge & Visitors Center
Take a short ride down to this hidden gem near Utica and experience the best of winter’s beauty. It’s on display inside the state park’s 18 canyons and their frozen waterfalls. Take a Winter Wildlife Tour and ride a trolley to Buffalo Rock State Park, where you just might spy the resident bison.
Guided winter hikes combine great photo opportunities with amazing stories of the park’s past and present.
Warm up at the Lodge’s crackling fireplace in the Great Hall and spend a night or two in the cozy hotel upstairs.
“Celebrate a special occasion or just escape from your home office for a breath of fresh air,” says Kathy Casstevens, marketing director. “Yes, there’s Wi-Fi and free parking, but the peace of mind you’ll feel when you reconnect with nature is amazing.”
Warm Up with Delicious Food
Leave the cold weather outside and enjoy a sizzling steak at FoxFire Restaurant, in Geneva. Be sure to check out The Curt, a 6-ounce, Cajun-crusted Angus beef filet with sliced avocado, wasabi yogurt and a teriyaki glaze. It’s served with balsamic bacon Brussel sprouts.
The Pittsburgh Style Rib-eye is also a fan favorite. It’s a 14-ounce Angus beef rib-eye charred on a hot iron, then served with grilled asparagus.
Food options are aplenty at Stockholm’s Restaurant & Brewpub, in Geneva, and a lot of people come for the baby back ribs, marinated in the restaurant’s Downtown Honey Brown Ale and covered in a homemade barbecue sauce.
“We specialize in delicious food from our from-scratch kitchen and handcrafted beers in an Old-World tradition,” says Rebecca Moore, marketing manager.
In addition to 13 beers on tap, Stockholm’s also has an extensive cocktail and martini list, including the Whiskey Acres Manhattan, made with bourbon from Whiskey Acres, in DeKalb. It’s served with sweet vermouth and a cherry.
Get an up-close-and-personal view of Geneva Lake from inside an igloo. Situated just outside Pier 290, in Williams Bay, Wis., these heated domes can seat up to six people comfortably. Experience an amazing view of the lake and a hot meal, like a pan-fried walleye served with seasonal vegetables.
Stimulate the Mind
The local library has always been a great place to find thousands of interesting books, but did you know they also have plenty of other thought-provoking activities?
The Gail Borden Public Library, in Elgin, hosts a Zoom presentation about the area’s best health and wellness resources on March 25 at 6:30 p.m.
The library is also hosting a virtual presentation about identity theft and fraud. Marlen Glenn, a financial wellness educator with KCT Credit Union, shares some warning signs and ways to minimize risks during a Zoom program on March 27 at 10:30 a.m.
McHenry County residents can visit – in-person or online – the Woodstock Public Library and participate in several intriguing events over the coming months.
One of those is led by Sarah Michehl, from the Land Conservancy of McHenry County. On March 22, she shares simple and unique ways to conserve water and explains how to use rain barrels and composters in the garden during a virtual Zoom program.
The library introduces the basics of planning monthly expenses during a Zoom program on April 12 at 7 p.m.
Of course, librarians can also help with tracking genealogies, researching local history and challenging young minds.
We’re fortunate enough to have several great destinations and activities to enjoy in our area, so why sit in the house all this month? Put down the remote control and explore what this great region has to offer.