In northern Illinois, the woods can be so quiet that oftentimes the only sounds you hear on a hike are your footsteps crunching in the snow, your breath and the beating of your own heart. The bare branches on the trees guide your eyes to birds that usually blend into summer’s greenery. This week alone 815 Outside hikers easily saw a pileated woodpecker at Colored Sands, a barred owl at Funderburg and a bald eagle at Pecatonica Wetlands. It’s exciting to witness such majesty!

But such majesty comes at a cost. Winter hiking in northern Illinois means you have to deal with mud, ice, snow and puddles, often on one hike! When the temperatures dip below zero one day and soar in the 40s another, the trail conditions range from slippery to muddy. Please do not let that deter you from venturing into the region’s green spaces. It’s winter: Should we call them white spaces? As I look out my window, I mostly see brown so brown spaces?

Regardless of what color you want to assign outdoor space, the best way to prepare for winter trail conditions is to remind yourself that we are here to adapt to the earth, not the other way around. You can cover four or five miles without falling if you slow down and widen your stance. Digging your heels into the snow with each step helps you stay upright. Being intentional with your movement keeps you safe.

If you like, you can also strap on some YakTrax or some other traction device to your shoes and boots. Utilizing walking poles (or just a long stick) can help your stay steady.

Gear or no gear, we hope you slow down. Take the time to trust that you belong in nature because you, too, are nature. Trust your instincts while you’re out there and enjoy the wintry abundance our colorful earth provides.

We hope to see you on the trails or on one (or more) of our free hikes!


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