If, like me, you LOVE the Midwest for its kind folk, impossibly green summers, and the city of Chicago, but have a little bit of an issue getting your outdoor fix, read on.
I hadn’t realized how important nature was to me until I neglected devoting time to it. The outdoors is where I find my rhythm, balance, and humility.
For a while after college, I felt (and still feel sometimes), a bit of a grudge against the Midwest. How could a place feel like such a home to me and yet seem to have this huge void?
With the help of some incredible people, I’ve learned is that there is PLENTY to do here. I just didn’t know where to start. So i’ve been challenging myself to work a little more diligently and creatively to find the treasures that the Midwest has to offer.
To further that commitment, I’m going to camp out after every wedding that I film this summer (with the exception of Chicago weddings). I have some Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois weddings, so I am excited to explore more. I will be sure to instagram wherever I pitch my tent with #sweetpitch (courtesy of my friend Nate always complimenting his tent skills).
Below is a list of a few activities and areas to start adventuring in the Midwest. Feel free to comment more spots if you can contribute to this post! I would LOVE to hear more. Also-let me know if you would like a post about basic camping gear and what/where to start with.
My favorite! There are a couple different ways to hike. The most common would be to find a nice trail or part of a long trail, take that trail as far as you want to go and then loop back. There is also section or thru hiking, which requires a bit more gear and preparation. Long trails consists of a few hundred miles or more, and have to be tackled days, weeks, or months at a time. The Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest trail are some of the most popular of these trails.
A few weeks ago, however, I found out about a long trail in Chicago’s backyard called the Ice Age trail! It goes all over Wisconsin’s parks and forests, and I will be headed there in a few weeks to get a little section of the trail done! This website: http://www.iceagetrail.org provides awesome explanations, maps, and planning tools if you want something low key or a little more intents ( see what I did there?)
Some other great places that I’ve done day hikes are:
Starved Rock-Usually pretty crowded and pretty easy hiking. We’ve yet to camp here, but I know that the park offers campgrounds and cabins.
Southern Illinois-A few years ago, I explored all over the bluffs of Southern Illinois and can’t find any of the itinerary from that excursion. I looked online and found this pretty great resource specifically for Southern Illinois. It’s a bit of a drive, but so worth it if you can hike/camp around for a few days.
I also stumbled across this post from REI about long trails that get overlooked. The closest long trail to the Midwest, featured in this blog, is a 296-mile thru hike in Minnesota. These trails are all over the country, but it’s a good blog to have if you are traveling somewhere and want to get a hike in.
I am sure I will have a lot to add to this list after this summer as a volunteer canoe guide for Friends of the Chicago river. Canoe guide training was at a place 30 minutes away called the Skokie lagoons. If you don’t have a canoe or kayak, you’d be surprised how many trips nonprofits like FCR offer throughout the summer and so close or in Chicago. In this case, somewhere being too far away is not an excuse.
My favorite place for a low key Canoe trip is Kickapoo river in Ontario, WN. It’s about a four hour drive from Chicago to a small town near an Amish community. The river slowly meanders through moss covered bluffs, rolling meadows, or deciduous forests.
We rent from Drifty’s and it’s can be up to a 14 mile 2-day canoe trip, meaning you pack everything in the canoe, and pull aside to make camp. There is a few different day or float trips they offer as well. This area is also prime for trout fishing. I ask some of the locals (like the owner at Drifty’s) for different fishing guides and hikes available in the area. If you would like to go on a canoe trip, but not camp, I recommend these lovely people for a quant, affordable, cabin. Joe fish, the owner, is also a great resource for things to do in the area.
Now I can’t first hand vouch for this one, as it’s on the list of things I want to learn. But my very reliable roommate and friend is an avid rock climber. During off seasons she will indoor climb at places like Climb on or Vertical Endeavors. (Plus a lot of Chicago gyms have rock climbing walls).
Now this is a sport that heeds caution. You MUST know what you are doing and be with people who are equally as cautious and careful. For those who want to do camping/climbing excursions, here are a few spots I heard are great:
Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, WI (Closest to home and great hiking, camping- but gets crowded so be sure to call about a campground and if it’s full, you can easily camp outside of the state park)
Lakeshore bike path is always a gorgeous route, but can get a bit crowded. However, if you are looking for a long stretch, the path extends 18 miles along Lake Michigan.
The Prairie path is beautiful too, located in the West suburbs. I ran into a couple on the train who took the Pacific West Line Metra out to Lombard, got off and took the path all the way to St. Charles, had a packed picnic and turned around and came back. It was a day event, but seemed like a lovely way to spend a Sunday. I would advise to be sure to plan the train times cause they change on some weekends and you don’t want to get stuck out there!
Cross Country Skiing
This is the one that threw me for a loop. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind until it was mentioned to me by my roomie. She found some used gear and starting hitting up some local areas in Batavia and Morraine Hills State Park in McHenry. Morraine Hills is huge and has lots of great CC skiing trails. If Winter must come, at least I will have something new to try out.
Some of these places are a few hours away, but if it’s important to you, you make the time. I am always down to pile into a car to get a long weekend of adventuring in. I would be happy to do a followup post with all the other places Midwesterners have found because there seems to be new places I hear about every week!
Hopefully this blog post inspired or sparked at least one person to try a few things out this summer and enjoy being outside!
Photo cred 1: Nate Rawlings
Photo cred 2: Chu Batsaihan