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Forest Preserves Offer Winter Activities

November 29, 2022 01:02 PM
© Rick Myslinski

From ice skating to sledding to cross-country skiing, the Lake County Forest Preserves give residents a variety of reasons to get outside this season. Before heading out to a forest preserve for a winter walk or twirl on the ice, check the winter sport's page online.

Solar-lit Evening Hikes

With small solar lights to guide their way, hikers, skiers and snowshoers can get some 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 regular preserve hours are 6:30 am to sunset, the illuminated trails and adjacent parking lots will remain open after sunset until 9 pm, daily through Sunday, March 12. Bicycle and equestrian traffic is not permitted on the lighted trails after sunset. The solar lights serve as a guide along the trails. It is recommended to bring a flashlight or headlamp along for additional illumination.

To access the lighted trails, park at Lakewood's Winter Sports Area located on the east side of Fairfield Road just south of Route 176, or at Old School's main entrance lot located 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 located at Lakewood in Wauconda and Old School in Libertyville. The Lakewood hill is part of a dedicated Winter Sports Area at that site, and is lighted, allowing for winter fun until 9 pm, daily when conditions allow. 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 more than 200 miles of trails at forest preserves throughout Lake County. At the Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, a 4-inch snow base is required before opening trails for cross country skiing. Groomed trails are available at Lakewood’s Winter Sports Area 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 one day after a heavy snow using new equipment, partially funded by a Preservation Foundation grant, that grooms the trail for both traditional and skate-style skiing.  


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 between December 10 and March 31are 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 6:30 am–11 pm, Sunday–Thursday, and 6:30 am to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The following snowmobile trailer parking lots are open extended hours for snowmobilers: 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

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, open 6:30 am–9 pm, typically freezes earlier in the season than the lake at Independence Grove, open 6:30 am–sunset, where a 4.5-inch ice layer is required for ice skating. 

Ice Fishing

Five locations have been designated as ice fishing areas: 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 waterbody is recommended before individuals attempt ice fishing. 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 six inches or smaller in diameter. Van Patten Woods is open weekdays from 6:30 am until one hour past sunset for ice fishing, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 6:30 am to sunset. Other sites are open daily from 6:30 am to sunset for ice fishing. All Illinois fishing regulations and licenses apply. 

"Your forest preserves provide so many ways for visitors and families to recreate outside in nature during the winter," said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves. "There's no better place to experience the season and improve your physical and mental wellness." 

For a full list of winter activities, visit