Winter is a great time to explore the great outdoors!
Winter hikes can be just as fun as warm-weather ones. All it takes is a little creativity and a lot of warm layers (and maybe a thermos of hot cocoa, too!). So, don’t hang up your hiking boots when the first snowflakes fall — take your family on a snow-tastic outdoor adventure instead!
Snowshoeing & Cross-Country Skiing
Winter provides opportunities to explore Winnebago county’s little known treasures in local natural areas. Snowshoes are a great way to trek beautiful spots like Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve in Rockford, Nygren Wetlands Preserve in Rockton and Atwood Park in New Milford. What’s really exciting is that snowshoes and skis allow us to get into some of the more wild and remote areas of the preserves where people might not discover when it’s full of underbrush. For an invigorating workout try skiing, but for really observing what’s going in in the winter landscape snowshoes are the way to go.
For those who would like some instruction before setting off into the winter terrain, experienced instructors are available. Rocktown Adventures in Rockford offers instruction, rental, and guided group outings utilizing cross-country skis and snowshoes.
Fifteen miles of groomed cross-country trails at Rock Cut State Park wind through rolling terrain in scenic woods and prairies. Trails groomed for both classic and skate style skiing offer glimpses of Peirce Lake where you may see Bald Eagles. Both skis and snow shoes can be rented at the Rock Cut concession shop.
Observing Nature in Winter
We often think of winter as a harsh time in northern Illinois but there is a distinct beauty in the winter landscape. Visiting your forest preserves and parks in winter is a chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life and enjoy the textures, colors and sounds of the winter woods, ponds and prairies. Whether you’re hiking, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, or bird watching, you’re sure to discover a whole new facet of your favorite natural areas.
Notice the little winter birds flitting through the trees, and foraging on the ground, the beauty of the frost on the leaves or lingering flowers, the peace of a snowy landscape. Nearly all Winnebago County’s 43 forest preserves offer opportunities to experience the beauty of nature in winter. Even where there is no snow on the ground, you may see crystalline hoar frost on the grasses, leaves and golden milk weed pods. The silhouette of the bare branches against the sky creates lattice work of varying lines and contours. Without leaves we can appreciate the distinctive shape and structure of the various tree species. When the vegetation has died back, the land’s unique geological formations are revealed. The striking topography and geology of preserves such as Sugar River and Severson Dells and Atwood Park become dramatically apparent in winter.
Although many animals are hard to see during the winter months, it is actually much easier to trace their comings and goings when there is snow on the ground than at other times of the year. Watch for tracks!
A few birds don’t ever migrate but are here to observe all through the cold months of the year. Look closely and you’ll find them. Chickadees and cardinals are here all winter long. There are over thirty different species of birds that can commonly be viewed throughout the colder months when it is easier to spot birds and study them without obstruction. Local birders look forward to the winter season so they can find northern species that that are not here during other times of the year. Great spots for bird watching are along the rivers, especially when part of the water is frozen, but enough is open to provide food and water for the birds. Look for areas of good cover and trees with seeds for the birds. Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a good bet because of the many fruit trees that provide necessary survival nutrition for birds.
Some of the top winter birding locations are Rock Cut State Park, Severson Dells Forest Preserve, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Oak Ridge Forest Preserve, Nygren Wetland Preserve, and Aldeen Park.
Forest Preserves of Winnebago County- Winter Access
Spend time in the Winnebago County Forest Preserves this winter and discover the subtle beauty of nature in “the off season”. All preserves are open to foot traffic throughout the season for walking, hiking, cross-country skiing and show shoeing. FPWC welcomes walk-in traffic at all preserves. PLEASE DO NOT BLOCK GATES WHEN PARKING. In an effort to reduce snow plowing expenses, some preserve gates are locked during winter months. Check winnebagoforest.org for access information for all preserves in each quadrant of the county.