The days are getting longer, and that’s a sure sign spring is on its way. At the same time, you still can’t go outside without a jacket, hat and gloves, so we’re not exactly done with winter just yet.
This in between season is what we make of it, and lucky for us, we have some amazing scenery and many memorable events that give us an incentive to get out of the house.
There are plenty of fun events that happening both indoors and outdoors, including live music performances, educational events and tours through local attractions.
So, let’s kick cabin fever to the proverbial curb and enjoy everything this season has to offer.
Explore and Observe in Lake County
Make your way through the nearly 31,000 acres of protected natural lands in Lake County and you’re sure to discover something new this season.
“There’s so much going on in nature if you only take the opportunity to explore and observe.” says Nan Buckardt, director of education for the Lake County Forest Preserves.
You can learn a lot just by looking at the snow.
“Walking in the winter gives you the chance to see the real structure of nature,” she adds. “Tree branches and their patterns, hidden by leaves in the summer, are revealed and show the real structure of the woods. In winter, when you look closely, you can see a difference between oaks, maples and willows. The silhouettes of the trees make beautiful designs and patterns against a brilliant sunset.”
As if you needed more reasons to get outside, try signing up for a maple syrup hike happening each weekend from March 7 through March 22 at the Ryerson Welcome Center, in Riverwoods. Spring Break Syruping hikes also take place March 24. Discover the ins and outs of a maple tree and learn about the sweet sap of sugar maples. The best part comes afterwards, when everyone gets to taste this sweet treat.
If you’d rather stay indoors and explore, try an interactive walk through the Dunn Museum in Libertyville, where plenty of exhibits engage children and adults in the story of Lake County’s history. A visitor favorite is the prehistoric exhibit, which features a scientifically accurate model of a Dryptosaurus, a small tyrannosaur that roamed our area 67 million years ago.
While you’re exploring, check out the museum’s oldest artifact, a fossil-covered rock that’s believed to be 420 million years old.
Mash Things Up in Wilmot
The tiny Wisconsin town of Wilmot is a lively place to spend the winter months, especially if you love thrill and excitement on a ski slope. Wilmot Mountain, owned by the same people who operate Vail ski resorts, offers some of the area’s top ski hills. Even in this in between season, snowmaking machines keep the powder coming.
“Wilmot is a special place all winter long, given that we have something for everyone with fun and seasonal events,” says Rachael Muhlenbeck, Wilmot Mountain’s marketing and public relations manager. “The weather is warming up a bit and the sun loves to shine a bit more in March, so it’s the perfect time to hit the slopes.”
Various events through the season, like the Midwest Mogul Mash on Feb. 29, attract skiers of all skill levels to the mountain.
Come inside from the cold on March 6 and enjoy complimentary coffee along with live acoustic music at Walt’s Tavern, a casual restaurant at Wilmot Mountain.
“For those who want to stay indoors, Walt’s Tavern is the perfect place to cozy up and enjoy sweeping slope-side views of the mountain along with live acoustic local musicians on most Friday nights,” Muhlenbeck says.
Wilmot’s Spring Fling, happening on March 8, includes live music, an outdoor bar, a photo booth, face painting, a relay race and a costume contest.
Exploring the Outdoors in Kane County
The Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve in South Elgin is a fun place to get your blood pumping this season.
There’s a woodland for hiking and bird watching, a shoreline for relaxing and scenery in abundance overlooking the Fox River.
As you head south on the Riverbend Bike Trail, you’ll discover an 8-foot-high waterfall that cascades into a crystal-clear, rippling creek.
“It’s a beautiful waterfall, and a lot of people don’t even realize that we have a waterfall like this in Kane County,” says Barb McKittrick, environmental education manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. “In the winter, the waterfall freezes sometimes, and when it does, it just looks beautiful.”
If you’re looking for a thrill and there’s enough snow on the ground, try sledding at one of four designated hills, including the popular slope at the Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva.
“That’s a nice hill that’s right next to the Fabyan Windmill, so you can sled right next to the gigantic windmill,” McKittrick says. “That’s a highlight and a real winner for the kids who live around this area.”
Cross-country skiing is also a popular activity.
“We don’t groom any of our trails, but there are a lot of places where you can just grab your skis and cut your own trail,” McKittrick says.
One of her favorite places to cross-country ski is the Les Arends Forest Preserve in Batavia.
“I’ve seen bald eagles and all types of ducks at that preserve during the winter,” she says. “It’s a great place to see wildlife while you’re out on your cross-country skis.”
You can also enjoy the sweet taste of spring during Maple Sugaring Days at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, in St. Charles, on March 7-8.
“We’ll tap maple trees and have stations demonstrating how the sap is boiled down to make syrup,” McKittrick says. “We’ll also explain how syrup was made through the ages, starting with the Native Americans through the European settlers to the present day.”
You can also participate in a hike and learn how to spot a maple tree. Then, stop inside the Maple Cafe and taste some authentic syrup.
“We’ll have tastings where you can try ice cream with syrup on it,” McKittrick says. “The real syrup tastes totally different from the syrup you’ll find in the store.”
Fun Adventures in St. Charles
Depending on the weather, golfers can hit the links at Pottawatomie Golf Course as early as March 1. This scenic, nine-hole course nestled on the banks of the Fox River is a beautiful, yet challenging course – even with the barren landscape of early spring.
Families can bring their “fur babies” out for a special Easter egg hunt that’s just for the dogs. Happening April 4 at River Bend Community Park, the hunt allows dogs to search for eggs all on their own. Once your furry friend touches a plastic egg with their nose, you put it in their basket. Afterward, join your dog for a photo with the Easter Bunny. All pets must be kept on a non-retractable leash.
Just for the kids, there’s a special nighttime Easter egg hunt at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center’s prairie on April 9 and 10. This event has activities for all kids, including toddlers, as they search for eggs on a mowed path. Kids ages 6 through 12 who want to hike in the dark on more uneven ground can do so.
Aimed more at moms and dads, the Turtle Racing & Brew Tasting happens April 17 at Hickory Knolls. The event includes live turtle races and tastings of cold beer served up by Riverlands Brewing Co., in St. Charles.
Fun Times in Crystal Lake
The quaint Colonel Palmer House, in Crystal Lake, keeps relaxed indoor activities going all season.
Its annual mother-daughter tea, happening April 25, honors the 1920s by celebrating more than a century of the teddy bear, whose invention is supposed to have been inspired by the exploits of President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Moms and daughters ages 4 and up can relax in the comfort of the Colonel Palmer House’s Victorian parlors while they’re served a delicious luncheon tea,” says Jenny Leech, marketing manager with the Crystal Lake Park District. “Children are encouraged to bring their favorite stuffed bear to enjoy tea, too.”
The one-time farmhouse is also home to the local historical society, which is constantly refreshing its displays of historical items.
“We strive to present local history to a diverse range of visitors in an enjoyable and engaging manner,” says Ashley Palazzo, manager of the Colonel Palmer House. “Our programs and special events present a unique opportunity to learn history hands-on while still having fun with the whole family.”
Not to be left out, your sons can also enjoy a special outing with Mom this season. On March 7, the park district hosts a Son’s Date Night, aimed at boys ages 4-10.
“This year’s theme is ‘Around the World,’” Leech says. “Participants are encouraged to dress up like a tourist or someone from their favorite place. Everyone will enjoy an evening of dinner, dancing, crafts and fun.”
The whole family is invited out to the annual Forts on the Courts, happening March 14 at the park district’s Racket Club, in Lake in the Hills.
“This is an epic cardboard fort-building battle,” Leech says. “We supply sheets of cardboard and duct tape, and you do the rest with creativity and whatever other supplies you bring along.”
The competition allows kids to use their imagination while learning a thing or two. They can also have plenty of fun in the process.
“The event combines science, technology, engineering and math opportunities, creative and artistic opportunities, plus family and friend fun for all ages,” Leech says.
An ice cream sundae bar will be available after the building competition.
Unique Hikes in McHenry County
The early sunsets this time of year provide a fun and unique way to enjoy adventurous winter activities such as hiking or skiing.
The McHenry County Conservation District maintains numerous properties that are ideal for a late-winter hike, but only two sites stay open after dark for hiking or cross-country skiing on solar-lighted trails.
At Pleasant Valley, in Woodstock, there’s a half-mile looped trail on flat terrain. It’s a great route for beginners or those seeking a shorter excursion.
Hickory Grove Highlands, in Cary, has a near-mile looped trail that weaves through a prairie savanna. It offers a longer scenic route that’s well-suited for intermediate skiers.
Meanwhile, March brings the annual tradition of tapping the district’s maple trees for sap that will become maple syrup. Visit Festival of the Sugar Maples at Coral Woods Conservation Area, in Marengo, and learn about historical and current methods for collecting sap. You’ll also get a tour and learn how maple syrup is made.
As you enjoy a light breakfast, the staff provides a lesson on tree selection, how to put a tap in a tree and what equipment is used to complete the process.