The Buzz

Beat cabin fever with a winter walk at these all-seasons preserves

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Winter's dreary days can leave us uninspired and unmotivated, but getting outside for some fresh air and a little exercise might be just what you need to beat the winter doldrums. 

Sunshine and a fresh coat of snow make time spent outdoors in winter a little more enjoyable, but they certainly aren't a requirement to make the most of a winter day. And good thing too, since both are often in short supply. No matter the winter weather, we have many preserves that shine throughout the season. 

When planning a winter hike, keep in mind that winter is generally a quiet season, particularly when it comes to wildlife. You're likely to see ducks, geese and other waterfowl at any of our preserves with lakes and ponds. You may also see some of our common winter birds, including juncos, cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches, or spy squirrels and deer out and about on a nice day, but our forests, prairies and wetlands are much quieter at this time of year than they will be in a few short months.

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Want to elevate your walk to a full-blown winter workout? The Forest Preserve doesn't clear snow from paved trails, so they are perfectly suited for cross-country skiing. However, conditions can change based on weather conditions and trail usage. Another good winter workout after a good snowfall is snowshoeing. Many of the District's trails are suitable for snowshoeing in winter, and if you don't have your own you can rent them from Plum Creek Nature Center at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve.

You can also turn your hike into an educational experience by attending an upcoming winter hiking program. Hikes are held at preserves all across the county and focus on a variety of topics, including winter birds, animal tracks, wildlife in winter and more. 

Since the Forest Preserve does not plow trails, keep in mind that heavy snow cover could make trails difficult to walk on. In addition, trails can be icy or slippery because of weather conditions or heavy trail use. Use caution and always dress for the conditions when venturing out in winter. 

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Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve

Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve has it all — forest, prairie and wetland habitats and trails traversing them all. If you want a long hike through the woods, hit the natural surface trails and explore. If you're looking for a quick, easy hike, check out the paved trail that loops from the preserve's Plum Creek Nature Center down to Snapper Pond.

For a long hike, consider hiking out to the "big bridge," a 267-foot-long wooden bridge spanning a 40-foot ravine. The views from the bridge are awe-inspiring in any season. The hike to the bridge is about 3 miles round trip departing from the preserve's Plum Creek Nature Center. Need directions to the bridge? Stop by the nature center and staff can direct you to the trail that will take you to the bridge. You can also check out all that the nature center has to offer, including a honeybee exhibit, resident reptiles, a nature playscape and a bird observation area. If there's enough snow, the 40-foot hill at the preserve is the perfect spot to go sledding. The nature center offers sled tubes for rental, as well as snowshoes. Nature center hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

Hammel Woods

The DuPage River runs along the eastern edge of Hammel Woods, providing a scenic winter backdrop along many of the trails criss-crossing the preserve. Hammel Woods is a good preserve for natural surface trails, some of which will take you right to the river's edge. The paved DuPage River Trail also runs through Hammel Woods, offering a smooth surface for a winter walk.

The DuPage River Trail additionally provides opportunities for a longer trek. From Hammel Woods' Crumby Recreation Area and the DuPage River Access you can take the trail north across Black Road or east, over Interstate 55, to its connection with Rock Run Preserve. 

Hickory Creek Preserve

The largest Will County forest preserve, Hickory Creek Preserve is home to vast and varied habitats, but it's known for its forests. Those forests can be a beautiful sight after a snowfall. No snow? No problem. The preserve has miles and miles that will help you work up a sweat and beat the winter blues even with nary a snowflake in sight.

Hickory Creek has three access points — Hickory Creek Barrens, Hickory Creek Junction and LaPorte Road Access. All three include natural surfaces trails as well as paved bikeways well suited for winter walks. After a snowfall, those paved trails can also be a good place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. 

Lake Renwick Preserve

Lake Renwick Preserve is home to several lakes, which adds to the scenery and the likelihood of seeing some wildlife activity on a winter walk. The preserve has three access points, two of which include trails for walking. At the preserve's Heron Rookery Nature Preserve, you can walk along a 1.45-mile crushed limestone trail, while Turtle Lake Access offers the 3.35-mile paved Lake Renwick Bikeway.

Lake Renwick Preserve's Heron Rookery Nature Preserve is closed from March 1 to Aug. 15 each year except for public programs to protect the nesting activities of migratory birds on the rookery islands, so winter is a good time to experience all of this large preserve. While most of the nesting birds have migrated south for winter, you're still likely to see some activity from waterfowl in and around the lakes. Bald eagles are sometimes seen at Lake Renwick in winter as well.

McKinley Woods — Kerry Sheridan Grove

McKinley Woods — Kerry Sheridan Grove is located near the spot where the Des Plaines, DuPage and Kankakee rivers meet to form the Illinois River, and these waterways provide a nice backdrop for a winter walk. They also attract plenty of winter waterfowl, including many varieties of swans, ducks and geese, so there's often lots of activity to check out on the water. You might also spot a bald eagle soaring overhead, especially during cold spells when many area waterways are frozen over.

After your walk, warm up by visiting Four Rivers Environmental Education Center, where you can check out the interactive exhibits or the 2,000-gallon fish tank stocked with local river fish. Education center hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. 

Note that the lower parking lot access to McKinley Woods — Frederick's Grove closes each year on Nov. 1 or during the season's first snowfall, whichever comes first, so that access area is inaccessible during winter. 

Rock Run Rookery Preserve

If you don't want to spend too much time out in the elements for a winter walk, plan a visit to Rock Run Rookery Preserve. The paved trail at the preserve is just 0.41 mile, so it's a nice, easy trip out and back.

The rookery is a big draw in winter because bald eagles can often be seen there. This is especially true during cold weather, when eagles visit to hunt along the Des Plaines River, which is adjacent to the preserve. In addition to eagles, you may see herons and waterfowl in the lake and songbirds and woodpeckers in the trees along the trail. 

Whalon Lake

The paved DuPage River Trail runs through Whalon Lake, and a 1.62-mile segment of the trail circles the preserve's namesake lake. The trail is often busy with people exercising or simply enjoying the season, and winter is no exception. The lake itself can be busy too with a variety of waterfowl, from the most common to extremely rare, keeping busy on the water.

If you're up for a longer walk, you can follow the DuPage River Trail to the adjacent Hidden Oaks Preserve and check out the four lakes at the trout farm. Because of its steep grade, the roadway leading to Hidden Oaks Trout Farm is closed from Nov. 1 (or after the first snowfall) to April 1 each year, so the only way to access the area in the winter is by foot.

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