Time to grab the snow gear! From eagle watching at Starved Rock State Park to sledding down the massive hill at Twin Sisters Park, our region has plenty of exciting winter activities for the young and young-at-heart.
Just because Christmas has come and gone doesn’t mean winter fun is over. When the temperature drops, you might think it’s hard to find things to do, but there are plenty of activities to enjoy in our area so you don’t have to hide away all season.
Winter is what we make of it. So, throw cabin fever to the wayside, get outdoors and have some fun!
Catch a Rockford IceHogs Game
Enjoy some fun and unique entertainment with our Chicago Blackhawks-affiliated IceHogs. With 38 games each season at the BMO Harris Bank Center, 300 Elm St., Rockford, there are bountiful opportunities to watch this exciting hockey team.
“We’re such a unique entertainment option,” says Mike Peck, director of business operations. “You’re coming to a hockey game and there’s plenty of promos, whether it’s on ice activities, giveaways or various theme nights.”
One of those theme nights is Autism Awareness Night, happening Jan. 25. The IceHogs will wear specialty jerseys and there’ll be an IceHogs Lego figurine giveaway. The team also will have a variety of promotions to educate fans about autism while raising funds for charity.
The team will also recognize their “big brother” of sorts during Blackhawks Night, happening Feb. 7. The team will wear special jerseys, and Jim Cornelison, who sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” during Blackhawks games, will belt out his popular rendition. Another promotion for the night is $2 Bud Lights.
“Their mascot Tommy Hawk will be here and we’ll have some of their ice crew members here as well,” Peck says.
Fans can celebrate Rockford’s heritage at Sock Monkey Madness Night, presented by Midway Village Museum, on Feb. 8. The IceHogs will pay homage to the original sock monkey made popular by Nelson Knitting Co. in the early 1900s. There’ll also be a sock monkey bobblehead giveaway.
Winter Fun in Rockford
Twin Sisters Hills Park, 3001 Harney Ct., is the place to be when snow falls. This sledding destination is home to a large, steep hill. Grab your sled, snowboard or snow tube and enjoy a classic wintertime experience.
For more outdoor winter fun, head over to the Eclipse Lagoon in Sinnissippi Gardens, on the campus of Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, 1354 N. Second St. Ice skating and hockey are free and open to the community from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, depending on the weather. Hockey is available on the north end of the lagoon and goals are provided, but hurry, because they’re accessible on a first come, first served basis. Bring your own skates because there are no rentals on site.
If you’re into skiing, you’re in luck. The park district offers cross-country skiing at Sinnissippi Golf Course, 2003 Arlington Ave., and Aldeen Golf Club, 1902 Reid Farm Road. A minimum of four inches of snow has to be on the ground in order to use the trails. Rockton Adventures, 313 N. Madison St., offers lessons.
If you love golfing, head over to the Indoor Sports Center at Mercyhealth Sportscore Two, 8800 E. Riverside Blvd., in Loves Park. The indoor golf practice center includes a driving range and a putting green, which allows you to work on your short game during the winter months.
Mother Nature’s Off-Season at the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County
With 10,500 acres of diverse public trails that sprawl across 43 preserves, guests can truly experience the beauty of winter.
“Winter is a time to stay in touch with nature in her offseason,” says Jamie B. Johannsen, director of marketing and community relations.
On warmer days, be on the lookout for various animals that are usually dormant during the winter, but not true hibernators.
“It’s challenging and fun to learn to identify the tracks of skunks, chipmunks, raccoons, weasels, otters and lots of birds,” Johannsen says. “You can expect to see deer tracks in the forest preserves as well.”
Snowshoes and skis allow people to get into the more wild and remote areas of the preserves.
“Families who want to go beyond winter hiking really enjoy wearing snowshoes because they don’t take much time to master and once they get the feel for walking in them, they feel a sense of freedom to go places where there’s a lot of snow,” Johannsen says.
Bird watching is also a fun and relaxing way to cure your winter blues. Great spots to bird watch are along rivers, especially where parts of the water are frozen, but open enough to provide food and hydration for the birds. In addition to our forest preserves, Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 2715 S. Main St., Rockford, is a great place to bird watch because of the many fruit trees that provide birds with survival nutrition.
Stay Warm in Beloit
Relax by the fire and enjoy a glass of wine at D.C. Estate Winery, 8877 State Line Road, South Beloit, Ill. Located in a beautiful, picturesque setting, this winery will take your mind off the hustle and bustle of the outside world. You’ll also be surrounded by warm hospitality during the cold, brutal winter.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike or snowshoe while roaming around Big Hill Park. One of Beloit’s most scenic sites, this 190-acre park located on the bluffs of the Rock River has hiking trails, an environmental educational center, a cross-country ski trail and a scenic overlook with amazing views. There’s also nature trails in the park, which allow for plenty of wildlife sightings. Make sure you visit the Leisure Services office, 2351 Springbook, Ct., Beloit, for snowshoe rentals.
Golfers and gamers can head over to the Ironworks Golf Lab, 625 Third St., Beloit, where you can use one of three simulators to brush up on your golf game. An HD simulator lets you pick from more than 100 courses from around the world. In addition to golf, two additional simulators let you choose from 14 additional games, including hockey and zombie dodgeball. Adult beverages and snacks are available for purchase.
Hang Out in Belvidere
There’s a myriad of activities to enjoy in Belvidere this winter.
“People are tired of clearing snow and shoveling sidewalks and paths,” says John Beachum, marketing supervisor with the Belvidere Park District. “Recreation is a great way to relieve any type of winter stress and doldrums that a person might have at this time of year.”
Enjoy a winter night out under the stars during “Let it Glow” on Jan. 17 at Riverside Ice Arena, 365 Locust St. Your fee covers ice skate rental, ice time, hot cocoa and a glow set to add some shine to your skating style.
Dads can spend some quality time with their daughters at the Daddy-Daughter Sweetheart Dance, happening Feb. 8 at River’s Edge Recreation Center, 1151 W. Locust St.
There’s also a Mother-Son Shamrock Dance happening March 14 at the same location.
“These dances are a great way to spend time together with your kids when cabin fever sets in,” Beachum says.
Riverside Ice Arena, housed within Doty Park along the Kishwaukee River in downtown Belvidere, is also available for open skate, and lessons are available for kids and adults. Ozzie’s Skate Shop, located inside the Warming House, offers skates for rent, sharpens skates and sells hot drinks and various merchandise.
A Getaway at Starved Rock Lodge
When you visit Starved Rock Lodge, 2688 E. 873rd Road, Oglesby, Ill., you’ll be able to enjoy a fun and relaxing escape.
“If you go somewhere like Disney World, you’re running around with your kids for four or five days in a row and after your vacation, you’re exhausted,” says Kathy Casstevens, marketing director. “Here, it’s restful and there’s plenty of ways to slow your pace down and rejuvenate.”
Starved Rock Lodge is close to more than 13 miles of hiking trails and beautiful bluff views overlooking the scenic Illinois River Valley of Starved Rock State Park.
Enjoy a massage at the hands of an on-site massage therapist or relax in the hot hub, sauna or in the indoor pool complex.
“The indoor pool complex doesn’t have all the noise that a waterpark has,” Casstevens says.
If you want to enjoy the outdoors, check out an Eagle Trolley Tour. You’ll ride to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center and witness eagles from their observation deck and hear an educational presentation. The tour, which runs in January and February, includes lunch during the week and brunch on Sunday.
“We have a lot going on and there’s plenty to do and see,” Casstevens says. “It’s a place where you can disconnect from technology and really just relax.”
Enjoy the Ins and Outs of Byron Forest Preserve
Quietly located off the Rock River in Byron, Ill., the Byron Forest Preserve District offers some fun and exciting events both indoors and outside.
“We have nine preserves and miles and miles of trails for people to use all for free,” says Mark Herman, superintendent of education. “It’s a nice, secluded area to come and enjoy the outdoors.”
The preserve rents out cross-country skies. If you don’t know how to ski, that’s OK – there are ski classes on Friday and Saturday nights.
Visitors can also check out the preserve’s Jarrett Prairie Center Museum, which has 4,000-square-feet of exhibits and learning opportunities. The museum is also home to fossil exhibits, prairie restoration displays, a theater where people can learn about prairie ecology, and an agriculture exhibit where you can design your own farm.
There’s also a free winter lecture series that runs on Sunday afternoons through March. The series covers plenty of interesting topics, including short-eared owls, bobcats and the history of personal photography.
“If you want to curb your cabin fever, come on out and enjoy one of these lecture series,” Herman says. “They’ll be running for five weeks.”
You’ll find a sledding hill just outside the museum, allowing visitors to take on the rolling prairie hills.
Admission to the museum is free, and it’s open every day.
Tackle the Slopes at Granite Peak Ski Area
At Granite Peak Ski Resort in Wausau, Wis., you’ll feel like you’re skiing in Colorado instead of the heart of Wisconsin. The snow-covered hills reach 700 vertical feet and if that’s not enough, there are 68 runs, which is just shy of a mile.
While some ski resorts close their slopes for the evening, Granite Peak allows you to ski at night. Just imagine skiing down a snow-covered hill while the moon watches over you.
Even if you’re not a fan of skiing, there’s plenty to do at Granite Peak. Enjoy a singer/songwriter series, scavenger hunts and trivia nights.
The city of Wausau, just down the slope from the resort, provides guests with plenty to do and see when you come in from the cold.
“We’re in an authentic ski town, meaning we’re less than two minutes away from restaurants, shopping, museums and theaters,” says Lisa Zilinsky, director of marketing. “You have 10 times more things to do when you’re done skiing than being stuck on a hill somewhere with only one thing to do. You can take your pick from a bunch of activities in our town.”
Zilinsky suggests booking your excursion well in advance.
“Lodging fills up quickly and making reservations in advance always saves you the most money,” she says. “We’re affordable and friendly, so you can leave here with memories and not an empty wallet.”
Have Some Fun in the Snow at Chestnut Mountain
Overlooking the Mississippi River, Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort, 8700 W. Chestnut Mountain Road, Galena, has amenities, accommodations and activities for the whole family.
The resort is currently celebrating 60 years of spoiling skiers and snowboarders all across the Midwest.
“The experience is special because Chestnut accommodates every ability level and age,” says Mike Murphy, president and general manager. “There are slopes and resources for each skill set, and this allows the whole family to get together and participate in the memories.”
The resort features 21 ski slopes and snowboard trails, four triple chair lifts, two quad chair lifts and three surface lifts. It also includes a 475-foot vertical drop, the award-winning Farside Terrain Park, and a full line of ski and boarding equipment and rentals.
Chestnut also offers skiing and snowboarding lessons for people who want to fine-tune their skills or for people just getting their feet wet.
After you’ve spent the day on the slope, enjoy a warm, hearty meal at one of three on-site restaurants: The Sunset Grille, The Summit, and the Mountain Top Café, each offering different options.
Spend your evening relaxing at the indoor pool, or warming up in the sauna or Jacuzzi tub.
“Families, friends, couples and even total strangers can create and strengthen relationships and form traditions to look forward to every year,” Murphy says.