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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
fall 2014 -005e

Winter Wonderland

Winter in Illinois can be miserable, cold, frustrating or, as is the case this year, a little confusing. I do not know if it is spring, fall or winter right now. But despite all of the negative aspects of winter in Illinois, there are some positive aspects to winter for the nature lovers out there.

There is plenty to do to enjoy nature throughout the winter months. Here are a few suggestions on activities to get out and enjoy nature:

  1. Go out and look for birds. There are birds that stay in Illinois year round. These birds can be seen better in the winter months, particularly when there is snow on the ground. The lack of leaf cover and the white background makes these birds stand out. It is also an opportunity to take some beautiful pictures of these birds. Winter also offers the opportunity to see some birds that you do not ordinarily see. Snowy Owls occasionally make their way down to Illinois during the winter. If you would like to see one of these rare birds, check with you local birding or Audubon groups. They often post locations of good and rare bird sightings on their Facebook pages.
  2. Track an animal. Snow offers the ability to easily see animal tracks and signs. You can look for tracks of a rabbit and find out where it has been. Even find its home. This could again lead to some very interesting photography opportunities. The snow also makes some of the larger and less common animals more visible. Red foxes are exciting to see and their coat often makes them stand out in the snow. They can also be tracked in the snow. They have a distinct track with four circular toe pads and an oval heel pad. They will be hard to sneak up on, as they are wary and clever animals, but you might be lucky enough to see one in the snow.
  3. Go ski. I know you are probably thinking "you can't ski in Illinois", but I am not talking about downhill skiing. I am talking about cross country skiing. There are several Cross Country Ski clubs and organizations throughout Illinois, including one in Peoria. Many golf courses groom trails in the winter for skiers to use, and in the Peoria area when there is at least four inches of snow on the ground Donovan Golf Course has groomed trails to use. Even without the trails being groomed, you can still ski as long as there is 2-4 inches on the ground. Wildlife Prairie Park also has trails in the winter; however eight inches of snow are needed for their trails. They will post on Facebook when the trails are ready.
  4. Go to a State Park. There are a number of spectacular places to see how beautiful nature can be in winter. Taking a hike at places like Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks will reward you with frozen waterfalls and a great opportunity to see some eagles on the Illinois River. Illini State Park offers an outdoor skating pool, as well as hiking and other winter sports. Mississippi Palisades offers some spectacular views and also the opportunity to see eagles along the mighty Mississippi. There is no better time to see the animals at Wildlife Prairie Park. The animals are active and easily spotted in the snow.

The weather outside might be frightful, but you should forgo the fire, bundle up and get outside and… let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

If you have any questions about winter activities, contact Jason Haupt ( for more information.  Share your favorite winter activity in the comments.

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