Forest Preserves offer winter activities

Plenty of options to get outside this season

LIBERTYVILLE – From ice fishing to sledding to cross-country skiing, the Lake County Forest Preserves give residents plenty of reasons to get outside this season.

“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,” said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Before heading out to a forest preserve for a winter walk or twirl on the ice, check the winter sport’s page online at

Here are some of the winter activities:

Solar-lit evening hikes

With small solar lights to guide the way, 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.

Though preserve hours are 6:30 a.m. to sunset, the illuminated trails and adjacent parking lots at these preserves remain open after sunset until 9 p.m., daily through March 14. Bicycle and equestrian traffic is not permitted on the lighted trails after sunset. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed.

To access the lighted trails, park at Lakewood’s winter sports area on the east side of Fairfield Road, just south of Route 176, or at Old School’s main entrance on the east side of St. Mary’s Road, just south of Route 176.

Lake County Forest Preserve rangers regularly patrol the areas.


Sled hills are at Lakewood in Wauconda and Old School in Libertyville. The Lakewood hill 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 or toboggans are not permitted.

Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiers can enjoy nearly 189 miles of trails at forest preserves throughout Lake County. Groomed trails are available 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. Grooming typically is done two days after a large snow. A 4-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, all of which connect to other area snowmobile trails. A 4-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 for snowmobilers. Parking and trail access is at the Van Patten Woods canoe launch on Russell Road, east of Route 41, and at Sedge Meadow Forest Preserve on Wadsworth Road, just east of Route 41.

When conditions allow, snowmobile trails are open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 6:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Snowmobile trailer parking lots open for extended hours are the Van Patten Woods canoe launch parking area on Russell Road, east of Route 41, in Wadsworth, the Sedge Meadow parking area on Wadsworth Road, east of Route 41, in Wadsworth and the Lakewood parking area on Brown Road near Route 12 in Wauconda. All other parking lots close at dusk.

Ice skating

Lace up your skates and head to the lake at Independence Grove in Libertyville or the rink at Lakewood’s winter sports area. The shallow rink at Lakewood typically freezes earlier in the season than the lake at Independence Grove, where a 4.5-inch ice layer is required for ice skating.

Ice fishing

When conditions allow, ice fishing is 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 fishing is free and at your own risk. Ice conditions are not monitored, so anglers should check ice thickness before going out on any frozen body of water. A minimum of 4 inches of solid ice over the entire body of water is recommended before individuals attempt to ice fish. Bring your own 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 6 inches or smaller in diameter. All other fishing regulations apply. Van Patten Woods is open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. until one hour past sunset for ice fishing, and on Saturday and Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to sunset. Other sites are open daily from 6:30 a.m. to sunset for ice fishing. All state fishing regulations and licenses apply.

For the list of winter activities, visit