So what if the thermometer dips below freezing and songwriter Sammy Cahn’s “Let it Snow” lyrics come true? These are merely indicators that the weather is perfect for outdoor fun. It’s time to pull out the ice skates, sleds and clean up the ski gear or find places to go that also rent winter sports equipment. In the Chicago area, there are local and nearby hills, trails and ponds to enjoy winter sports including these five really good destinations.

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(Photo Credit:

Nordic Center
Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa
444 Eagle Ridge Drive
Galena, IL 61036
(815) 776-5225

Sled, cross-country ski, snowshoe or ice skate surrounded by the breathtaking landscape of the Galena Territory in Northwest Illinois. About 160 miles from Chicago, the Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa sits amid the 6,800-acre Territory outside historic downtown Galena. The resort switches from summer activities to winter fun by setting up the Nordic Center at its South Course golf facility. Ice skating starts later in December when the pond freezes to six inches. The resort has winter fun packages but Nordic Center activities are open to the public. It’s okay to come without equipment, even a sled, because the resort operates the Nordic Center with Galena’s Fever River Outfitters so everything can be rented on the spot. Fever River also has a retail store on site. Instruction is available by reservation. Click here for Fever River Nordic Center operations.

Mountain Top
Grand Geneva Resort and Spa
7036 Grand Geneva Way
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(262) 248-8811

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are anytime winter sports at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, just over the Wisconsin border. The resort, about 1.5 hours from Chicago, opens its Mountain Top ski center on December 6-7, 2014. The facility doesn’t depend on Mother Nature for snow because it produces its own for its 18 runs. Slopes range from green beginners to challenging double-diamond blacks. There are three chairlifts and two carpet lifts. The Mountain Top is open to the public but the resort also features winter fun packages. The facility rents snowboards, cross-country and downhill equipment. Snowshoes can be rented at the Well Spa across the road. Professional ski instruction is available for adults and youngsters. For a free run the first weekend of December, bring non-perishable food to donate. See food donation information at the Facebook symbol on the website.

Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 968-0074

During the day, go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through Morton Arboretum’s 1,700-acre winter wonderland. The Arboretum is an easy 25-mile drive west of Chicago on Interstate 88. Bring equipment or rent it at the Visitors Center but know that four inches of snow are needed to cover the trails. For a winter night adventure, walk through the Arboretum during Illumination, now through January 3, 2015. Light projections and some interactive lighting that respond to voices and tree touches transform the paths. Click here for Illumination.

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McCormick-Tribune Ice Rink
Millennium Park
Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison Streets
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 742-1168

Skate where the Chicago skyline meets the city’s famed Millennium Park. The park is a tourist destination throughout the year. Visitors take “selfies” against skyscraper images reflected in the Cloud Gate sculpture, known as “The Bean.” The ice rink returns each year along Michigan Avenue in the part of the park below The Bean. Because it is on solid ground, it doesn’t need a deep ice layer so the rink opens the second weekend of November. This winter, it is expected to continue through March 7, 2015 if weather permits. Visitors can bring skates or rent them from a rink shop next to the Park Grill Cafe and get hot chocolate at the Cafe.

Independence Grove
Lake County Forest Preserve
16400 W. Buckley Road
Libertyville, IL 60048
(847) 968-3499
(847) 968-3235 (Winter Sports Hotline)

Outdoor adventures don’t end at the Lake County Forest Preserves when winter comes. Instead, its 130 miles of trails attract cross-country skiers. High hills and frozen ponds at the Lakewood Sports Area on Fairfield Road south of IL Highway 176 near Wauconda, and Old School Forest Preserve on Saint Marys Road near Libertyville, encourage sledding and skating. Lakewood also allows ice fishing. However, Independence Grove in Libertyville is the popular destination when wanting to cross-country ski, skate or ice fish where there is an indoor warming house. Be aware that to ice fish, a state fishing license is needed and that the ice here should be 4.5 inches thick to skate. Click here for Lake County Forest Preserves outdoor activity sites.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on