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10 Great Outdoor Chicago Winter Activities

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Yes, it’s cold outside. That’s no reason not to get into the many great outdoor things to do in Chicago in the winter. Here’s our list of 10 wonderful Chicago winter activities to enjoy in the frosty fresh air.

Ribbon cutting: If you own skates, you can take a free spin on the Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon, a serpentine, quarter-mile loop that does for the skating rink what lazy rivers do for the hotel pool. You can rent skates starting at $13, and some rental packages include extras such as hot chocolate and lockers. Skating amid gorgeous skyline views is available into March.

Sled at Soldier Field: Just south of the Bears’ home is a 35-foot-tall hill built for all sorts of sliding fun. The lakefront and skyline views aren’t bad, either. The hill is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., weather permitting. When Mother Nature isn’t providing snow, Soldier Field grounds crew members have been known to use snow machines to get the hill in sledding shape.

Lit Lincoln: ZooLights is a 24-year tradition at Lincoln Park Zoo. Some 2.5 million lights decorate the grounds through Jan. 6, from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Admission is free — just like it is every day of the year at the zoo. ZooLights’ added attractions include musical light shows, ice sculpture carving, carolers and spiced wines, among others.

Night sledding: Dan Ryan Woods is one of the few forest preserves within the city limits, and its 37 acres bordering the lovely Southwest Side Beverly neighborhood make it a popular destination year-round. When there’s at least three inches of snow on the ground, its lighted sledding hill is open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Enter on Western Avenue between 83rd and 87th streets.

Window shopping: Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile features some 460 retailers spread from the Chicago River to Oak Street — or Tribune Tower to Drake Hotel. Everyone has a favorite window to linger in front of, and there are plenty of places to pop into for a quick warmup.

Macy’s holiday windows: Many Chicago traditionalists still refer to this State Street institution as Marshall Field’s — the name under which the department store opened in 1893 — but whatever you call it, visiting the holiday-themed windows has been among the things to do in Chicago in the winter for 51 years. Each window uses familiar animated characters to create a scene built around an annual theme — for 2018, that’s Reasons to Believe.

Skate by the Bean: Now in its 18th season, skating at the McCormick Tribune Plaza Ice Rink continues through March 10. The rink is in Millennium Park, a touristy, percolating patch of downtown holiday bustle. The Bean, a sculpture formally titled “Cloud Gate,” sits near the rink and is a great backdrop for family photos. Skating at the rink, which sits between Madison and Washington streets at Michigan Avenue, is free. Skate rentals start at $13.

Winterland at Gallagher Way: At the southwest corner of Clark Street and Waveland Avenue — perhaps better known as along the left field line at Wrigley Field — Gallagher Way is a former parking lot transformed into a social hub outside the Cubs’ ballpark. Winterland runs through January 27 and features, among other indoor and outdoor options, a skating rink, a schedule of holiday movies you can watch indoors or out, Learn to Curl classes and, new this winter, an interactive art installation featuring 30 lights and eight speakers called “Chimes at Gallagher Way,” designed to demonstrate chaos theory.

Adventure Days: Northerly Island, formerly home to a lakefront airfield, is now an extension of the lovely Grant Park and its Museum Campus. On three Saturdays throughout winter — Dec. 15, Jan. 26 and Feb. 23 — the man-made, 91-acre peninsula hosts Polar Adventure Days. Free events include the opportunity to explore the island on snowshoes; tours of the new Northerly Island Natural Area; winter crafts making; and viewing live animals including wolves and Siberian huskies.

Christkindlmarket: A growing tradition, this year marks the 23rd annual Christkindlmarket Chicago, which gives a decided German accent to holiday shopping for crafts, foods and all manner of other goods with a decidedly European flair. Located in the heart of the Loop at Daley Plaza, the market runs through Christmas Eve.

So Much More

From cross-country skiing at Northerly Island to hitting buckets of golf balls at Diversey Park’s two-tiered, heated driving range, there are many other Chicago winter activities to enjoy. Don’t wait for the thaw — you’ve got things to do in Chicago in the winter.