Health & Fitness

Wild winter

Escape the mundane with these outdoor activities

McHenry County Magazine

Heavy snow during the first two weekends of December triggered polar emotions among many in McHenry County.

For those belonging to team "Let it snow!" – or team "Oh, no! Not snow!" – McHenry County Conservation District communications manager Wendy Kummerer offers a salve. 

"Get out on your own and go explore," Kummerer says. "We don't hibernate."

Numerous municipal park districts and recreation departments also offered options for staying active outside this winter. 

If you think the “great outdoors” remains great even when there's white stuff on the ground, then sample these options for winter recreation offered by the Crystal Lake Park District, McHenry County Conservation District and Woodstock Recreation Department:

"The Veteran Acres [Park] sled hill, I think, just has such a strong tradition," Crystal Lake Park District marketing manager Jenny Leech says. "A lot of people who grew up in Crystal Lake, some of their favorite memories revolve around that area as a winter fun spot. ... A lot of good memories, and I think a lot of people are sharing them with their kids now."

With its Babe Ruth and Nature Center hills, venerable Veteran Acres offers sledding (with lights) from dawn to 9 p.m. Restrooms and shelters are available. As with any outdoor park district activity, call the rainout line at 815-410-4475 for status updates.

There's a lighted ice skating area at Main Beach, which operates from dawn to 9 p.m. and has a restroom on site. Park district employees inspect ice daily to ensure safe skating. There must be at least five inches of ice for open public skating.

Cross country skiing aficionados can explore trails at Lippold Park, Sterne's Woods and Butternut Preserve from dawn to dusk daily. Lights and warming facilities are not available at these venues.

On Jan. 28, the park district will host its Ice Games, an 18-and-older extravaganza at Main Beach, which Leech calls an "all-day special event." 

In addition to the traditional Chili Open golf activities on Crystal Lake's nine-hole, par-32 golf course, there will be a 4-on-4 pond hockey tournament on two rinks. Leech says there's been burgeoning interest in bringing pond hockey to the lake. The cost is $195 per team for the double-elimination format. All participants will receive a T-shirt, while teams reaching the championship game will be awarded a trophy and tournament jersey.

The Chili Open costs $120 per foursome. There are participation gifts and prizes. Spectators are welcome to attend the Ice Games. Concessions, beer and heated locker rooms are available. Golf runs will take place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., while the hockey tournament will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Crystal Lake Angler's Ice Fishing Derby also is set for Jan. 28, taking place from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at West Beach. The cost is $10. Raffles, food, prizes and big fish cash will be offered. Email for questions.

On Feb. 4, Lippold Park will host a men's 16-inch Snowbird Softball Tournament. Teams are guaranteed two games. The tournament runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the cost is $185 per team.

The sled hill at Glacial Park, near the Wiedrich Barn amphitheater, operates as long as four inches of snow cover the ground, and the Lost Valley Visitor Center – open seven days a week – offers refuge from the cold.

Lost Valley also is where you can rent snowshoes at a cost of $10 a day. Men’s, women’s and children’s sizes are available, with rental time spanning from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Renters must leave a drivers’ license and a $20 cash deposit. Snowshoeing is canceled if the wind chill dips under 20 degrees below zero.

“We’re hearty, but we’re not that hearty,” Kummerer says.

McHenry County offers more than 40 aggregate miles of cross-country skiing trails at these locations: Brookdale Multi-use trail; Exner Marsh; Fel-Pro RRR; Glacial Park; Harrison Benwell Conservation Area; Hickory Grove Highlands; The Hollows; Lake in the Hills Fen; Marengo Ridge; Pleasant Valley; Prairie Trail North; Prairie Trail South; Prairieview Education Center; Rush Creek; Silver Creek and Stickney Run.

All trails are packed and tracked when there is at least four inches of snow covering the ground. (Visit for updated trail conditions.)

One new winter recreation offering stems from increased public interest. Silver Creek Conservation Area now offers a skate ski trail, a 1-mile trail loop that is packed, but not tracked. Skate ski trails are packed wider to allow for movement similar to rollerblading strides. The trail is open from sunrise to sunset.

“We had a number of requests, and we were able to honor it at this trail,” Kummerer says.

City of Woodstock Department of Public Works employee Ernie Nelson lauds Emricson Park as a go-to sledding hill thanks to its wideness and varying slopes. 

Although the park does not feature lights, it isn't far from the scenery (and hot cocoa) offered in the town square. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating also are available at Emricson. For ice status, contact the Department of Public Works at 815-338-6118, email or check signage on site.

Hennen Conservation Area offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating. 

There's a sledding hill on the east side of Raintree Park, while Ryders Woods accommodates cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

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