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Forest Preserves Offer Winter Activities

A man cross country skiing through the woods

Photo Credit: Chip Williams

The Lake County Forest Preserves give residents a variety of reasons to get outside this season from ice skating to sledding and cross-country skiing. Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves, says, "There are so many amazing ways for visitors and families to recreate outside in nature during the winter, and there's no better place to experience the season and improve your physical and mental wellness than in your forest preserves."
Solar-lit Evening Hikes
Hikers, skiers and snowshoers can get brisk evening exercise along the 1.3-mile fitness trail at Old School Forest Preserve, in Libertyville, and along a 1.65-mile hilly section of the Millennium Trail adjacent to the Winter Sports Area at Lakewood Forest Preserve, in Wauconda. Regular preserve hours are 6:30 a.m. to sunset, but illuminated trails and parking lots will remain open after sunset until 9 p.m. daily through March 14. Bicycle and equestrian traffic are not permitted on the lighted trails after sunset. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed. To access the lighted trails, park at the Lakewood Winter Sports Area on the east side of Fairfield Road just south of Route 176 or at Old School main entrance lot on the east side of St. Mary's Road just south of Route 176. Rangers regularly patrol the areas.
Sled hills are located at Lakewood, in Wauconda, and Old School, in Libertyville. The Lakewood hill is part of a dedicated winter sports area, and is lighted, allowing for winter fun until 9 p.m. daily. The Old School hill is open until sunset, when conditions allow sledding. Snowboards, metal runners and toboggans are not permitted.
Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiers can enjoy 200 miles of trails at Lakewood’s winter sports area, at Old School and along the Des Plaines River Trail between Old School and the Wright Woods Canoe Launch on Route 60 in Vernon Hills. Grooming is typically done two days after a heavy snow. A four-inch snow base is required for cross-country skiing at the Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods.
Snowmobilers can use 21 miles of designated trails within the preserves that connect to each other. A four-inch snow base and frozen ground are required to open snowmobile trails. Snowmobilers should use caution and watch for trail route signs along all forest preserve snowmobile trails.
The Des Plaines River Trail from Russell Road to just south of Wadsworth Road provides the longest stretch of trail for snowmobilers. Parking and trail access is provided at the Van Patten Woods Canoe Launch on Russell Road east of Route 41, and at Sedge Meadow Forest Preserve, located on Wadsworth Road just east of Route 41, in Wadsworth.
When conditions allow, snowmobile trails are open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6:30 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Snowmobile trailer parking lots open extended hours for snowmobilers include the Van Patten Woods Canoe Launch parking area on Russell Road east of Route 41, the Sedge Meadow parking area on Wadsworth Road east of Route 41, and the Lakewood parking area on Brown Road near Route 12. All other parking lots close at sunset.
Ice Skating
The lake at Independence Grove, in Libertyville, is open, as is the rink at Lakewood’s winter sports area. The shallow rink at Lakewood, open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., typically freezes earlier in the season than the lake at Independence Grove, open 6:30 a.m. to sunset, where a 4.5-inch ice layer is required for skating.
Ice Fishing
When conditions allow, ice fishing is free and available at Banana Lake, at Lakewood, Sterling Lake at Van Patten Woods, Hastings Lake in Lake Villa, Lake Carina, in Gurnee, and the south bay at Independence Grove. Ice conditions are not monitored. BYO gear. Temporary shanties and shelters are permitted, but must be removed by the end of the day. Only two poles are allowed, or tip-ups with no more than two hooks on each line. Holes must be drilled six inches or smaller in diameter. Van Patten Woods is open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. until one hour past sunset for ice fishing, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 6:30 a.m. to sunset. Other sites are open daily from 6:30 a.m. to sunset for ice fishing. All state of Illinois fishing regulations and licenses apply.
For a full list of winter activities, visit