Winter is here, and despite the frigid temperatures, it’s the perfect time to get outside and enjoy seasonal adventures with family and friends. One of the most exciting winter activities is snowmobiling, and there are trails all over northern Illinois and Wisconsin where you can spend an hour, a day or even a weekend, making memories in the great outdoors.
More than 2,500 miles of trails on private and public land in Illinois are open to the public. Many of the trails in the state are marked and maintained by the Illinois Association of Snowmobile Clubs, which is comprised of snowmobile clubs across Illinois. All of the trails that the association grooms and maintains are clearly marked with orange signs to ensure that snowmobilers stay on the trail.
For those who’ve never tried snowmobiling, Mason Long, president of the association, says it’s a great family-friendly activity that everyone can enjoy.
“Once you ride, you’ll love it. It’s a blast,” he says. “It’s a great sport. The best thing to do is just try it. Everyone who does it seems to get hooked on it, and it’s a good family bonding experience.”
While snowmobiling is generally considered safe with proper training and equipment, Long says it can be dangerous if snowmobilers don’t practice safe riding techniques.
“Always wear a helmet. We tell people not to drink and ride and not to ride too fast for conditions or ride in extreme conditions,” he says. “I always tell riders to say on marked trails, and not to cross a river or lake if you’re not sure it’s completely frozen. We tell people to go slow when they’re riding in a new area.”
Troy Hummel, president of the Walworth Fontana Blizzard Buzzards Snowmobile Club in southern Wisconsin, agrees that snowmobiling is a great winter activity that can help beat cabin fever.
“[Snowmobiling] is nice to do when you feel trapped inside,” he says. “You can explore the land while enjoying peace and quiet and the beauty of winter.”
Unfortunately for the novice snowmobiler, it’s not easy to find snowmobile rentals in Illinois because of liability reasons. The cost of a new snowmobile can range anywhere from $6,000 to $17,000, but used snowmobiles, which are less expensive, can be found online.
Many of Illinois’ trails are on private property, but several state and local parks also have trails available for snowmobiling when there is at least 4 inches of snow on the ground. Snowmobilers can learn more about trails on private land through one of the many area snowmobiling clubs.
There are a few things to keep in mind before hitting the trails. All snowmobile owners must register with the state of Illinois before riding. The cost is $45. Registration applications are available at area snowmobile dealers or on the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources website. Snowmobilers must be at least 12 years old, and riders between the ages of 12 and 16 must have a safety certification before riding alone. Riders with a state driver’s license can ride without a safety certification, although safety courses are recommended. Speed limits on most trails are usually between 30 and 55 mph, depending on the specific trail.
►For more information about state snowmobile regulations, visit www.dnr.illinois.gov/recreation/snowmobile
Snow going through northern Illinois
Eager to get started? Hit the trails at one of these public properties in Illinois and Wisconsin. Some trails are close to the Chicago area, while some are further away, making them ideal destinations for a snowmobiling weekend getaway. It’s always a good idea to call ahead to make sure the trails are open before venturing out. For more information about the Illinois Association of Snowmobile Clubs, visit the website at www.ilsnowmobile.com.
Forest Preserves of Cook County
Snowmobiling is allowed at several locations in the Forest Preserve of Cook County, and all snowmobiles must be registered with the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources and the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The trails are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. when the soil is frozen, there is at least four inches of snow on the ground and temperatures are 20 degrees or less.
• Ned Brown Meadow
South Side of Golf Rd., east of I-290
• Turtlehead Lake
13600 S. Harlem Ave.
• Morrill Meadow
107th St. and La Grange Rd.
• North Creek Meadow
2200 Glenwood Lansing Rd.
Kankakee River State Park (Kankakee Co.)
5314 W. Rt. 102, Bourbonnais
There are about 15 miles of wooded snowmobile trails in this state park which borders the scenic Kankakee River. Snowmobiling is allowed from sunrise to sunset and parking is available at the park office.
Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail (Grundy Co.)
PO Box 272, Morris
Snowmobilers will enjoy 61 miles of groomed trails while viewing canal locks and beautiful views of the Illinois River. Trails are open 24 hours, with access points, toilets and parking facilities at Buffalo Rock, Gebhard Woods and Channahon State Parks. Trail access is also available in LaSalle, Ottawa and Marseilles.
Silver Springs State Park (Kendall Co.)
13608 Fox Rd., Yorkville
Snowmobilers are welcome to use this park’s 4 miles of trails from 7 a.m. to sunset. The terrain is flat and runs through some wooded terrain. Parking and toilets are available at the park office, which is located about five miles west of Yorkville.
Henepin Canal Parkway State Park (Bureau Co.)
16006-875 East St., Sheffield
One of the longest and most well-known snowmobile trails in the state, the Henepin Canal runs about 75 miles from Sheffield to Rock Falls. Parking and toilets are located at the visitor’s center just east of Sheffield. Adventurers will encounter historical aqueducts, working canal locks and plenty of trees and shrubs.
Shabbona Lake State Park (DeKalb Co.)
4201 Shabbona Grove Rd., Shabbona
The park has seven miles of trails lining Shabbona Lake with rolling hills and meadows. Snowmobiling is permitted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Snowmobilers must check in at the park office before hitting the trail. Parking and toilets are available at the park site.
Des Plaines River Trail (Lake Co.)
15601 W. Russell Rd., Wadsworth
(847) 367-6640 (Lake County Forest Preserves Offices)
This 56-mile trail runs along the Des Plaines River and covers most of Lake County and winds through 12 forest preserves, making it very accessible throughout the county. The trail is open from 6:30 a.m. to sunset. Snowmobilers can find toilets and parking at several Forest preserves along the trail’s route though the county and at the north trail head off Russell Rd.
Grant Woods (Lake Co.)
25405 W. Monaville Rd., Ingleside
(847) 367-6640 (Lake County Forest Preserves Offices)
Snowmobilers have access to 4.5 miles along this Lake County trail. Parking and toilets are available at the north entrance on Grand Ave. between Rt. 59 and Fairfield Rd. in Lake Villa, or at the south entrance, on Monaville Rd. between Rt. 59 and Fairfield Rd. in Ingleside.
Dixon Park District (Lee Co.) Stengel Trail and Lowell Parkway Trail
The almost 8-mile Stengel Trail runs along an abandoned railroad bed from Polo to Woosung, and while mostly farmland, it does feature scattered trees. It connects with the Lowell Parkway Trail near Dixon, and is part of the Tri-County Snowmobile Trail system. Parking is available at Judson Rd. or Holden St. Lowell Parkway is located off Briton Ave. in Dixon, about a half mile south of Timbercreek Rd.
Franklin Creek State Park (Lee Co.)
1872 Twist Rd., Franklin Grove
Snowmobilers can take advantage of four of the park’s six equestrian trails after hunting season as long as four inches of snow is covering the ground. White Pines Inn and the Pinehill Bed and Breakfast are just a few miles away in Oregon, making this trail an ideal spot for a weekend getaway.
Iroquois County State Wildlife Area (Iroquois Co.)
2803 E. 3300 North Rd., Beaverville
Head south of Chicago to experience this park’s 13 miles of signed trails that follow the area’s perimeter. There are many sand ridges in the black oak forest, in addition to prairie and marshlands. Trail hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Parking is available at the site.
Big River State Forest (Henderson Co.)
R.R. 1 Box 118., Keithsburg
(309) 374- 2496
Venture out to western Illinois along the Mississippi River and enjoy the forest, which has 30 miles of groomed, marked trails that wind through scenic pine forest lands. Parking, toilets and a warming house are located at the trail head at the forest headquarters in Keithsburg.
Lakewood (Lake Co.)
27277 Forest Preserve Rd., Wauconda
(847) 367-6640 (Lake County Forest Preserve offices)
Lakewood is Lake County’s largest forest preserve, offering 3 miles of trails, as well as a lighted winter sports area. The forest preserve is open from 6:30 a.m. to sunset. Parking is available west of Ivanhoe Rd. and Brown Rd. near Rt. 12, or off Rt. 176.
Lockwood Park (Winnebago Co.)
5201 Safford Rd., Rockford
The snowmobiling trail, operated by the Rockford Park District, is part of the Tri-County trail system and connects to many other trails in surrounding counties. Winnebago County has about 150 miles of snowmobiling trails. Parking and toilets are available at the park’s Trailside Centre.
Great Western Trail (DeKalb Co. and Kane Co.)
The trail is a 17-mile abandoned railway that runs between Sycamore in DeKalb County and St. Charles in Kane County and closely follows Rt. 64. Snowmobiling is allowed on the trail when there is 4 inches of snow. Parking is available at the trailhead in Sycamore and at the trailhead in St. Charles.
Glacial Park Prairie Trail (McHenry Co.)
6316 Harts Rd., Ringwood
Nine miles of snowmobile trails await guests at Glacial Park’s Prairie Trail, which connects with many other County trails, including the Prairie Trail. The snowmobile trails are open from sunrise to sunset. Parking is available at the visitor’s center. The 3,432-acre park also features a sledding hill and cross-country skiing trails.
Jane Addams Trail (Stephenson Co.)
2636 W. Fairview, Freeport
(800) 369- 2955
The 17 mile trail runs from Freeport to the Illinois-Wisconsin border, where it meets up with the Badger Trail. At least four inches of snow must be on the ground, and the trail is also open to cross-country skiers and hikers. Parking is available at the West Blockhead trailhead in Freeport or at the Richard Creek trailhead in Orangeville.
White River State Trail
W4097 County Road N., Elkhorn, WI
The trail spans 19 miles of abandoned railroad tracks across Walworth and Racine counties, and connects to miles of other county trails. Snowmobilers will encounter scenic vistas, wetland, meadows and farmland. Parking is available in Dover on Vandenboom Rd., in downtown Lyons, or off Highway 120 in Springfield.
Walworth County, WI
This popular trail passes by Lake Geneva, and spans several towns in Walworth County, from Twin Lakes, west to Lake Geneva and Fontana and north to Darien. Most of the trail is flat farmland. Because this trail is close to Lake Geneva, it’s a great option for a weekend getaway where you can also enjoy many other area resorts and amenities. Parking is available on County Highway H, near Pell Lake in Genoa City or in the city of Elkhorn.
Badger State Trail
Green and Dane Counties, WI
This 40-mile trail begin in Madison and the Illinois-Wisconsin border. The trail’s scenery includes rolling hills, farmland, meadows and ravines. Parking is available at the southern trail end at Purcell Rd., Dawley Park on Seminole Hwy. and Library Park in Belleville. Snowmobiling is allowed in Dane County when there are 6 inches of snow and in Green County when there is 4 inches of snow.
In addition to registering snowmobiles with the state, Illinois snowmobilers who ride in Wisconsin must have a Wisconsin trail pass. More information about snowmobiling in Wisconsin can be found online at www.dnr.wi.gov.