This post created in partnership with Backcountry and Shopstyle. All opinions, as always, are my own!
As you’ve probably heard me say before, now is the time of year I start getting cabin fever during a NORMAL year. Take away being able to see friends, restaurants, bars, and any semblance of a normal social life? Needless to say, this is a really hard winter, so if you’re feeling the same way, you’re not alone! Long winters are something all Chicagoans bond over, but especially this one! 😂
5 Places to Get Outdoors Near Chicago (and What to Wear!)
One thing that helps is getting outside–and when we can, out of the city in general! Luckily, there are some great areas to get outdoors that are just a short drive away (and very safe, too!) So if you’re local, I hope this post can help give you some great ideas to lift your spirits! And if you’re not local, you can feel free to skip to the outfit section. 😉
Speaking of the outfit section, today I’m excited to be partnering with Backcountry.com to share some great items to keep you warm and cozy during your city escapes. We have actually gone back and forth over partnering together for a couple of months now, but the timing never quite worked out. (Wouldn’t they have been GREAT to work with for our road trip camping trip earlier this fall?)
Why is Backcountry worthy of your business?
I’m kind of a tough customer when it comes to convincing me to shop at a new retailer, so I think it’s important to note why I think they are worthy of our business! There are a few reasons: first would be their massive selection–so many great brands (the heavy hitters like North Face, Patagonia, and also some lesser-known, budget-friendly brands I hadn’t heard of before!) They have gear for literally EVERY possible outdoor activity imaginable–from skiing, snowboarding, to hiking, camping, and more.
They also have a 24/7 chat feature with a real, super knowledgable member of their team to help you figure out the right gear for what you need! (And they have different support staff you’ll be assigned to according to their specialty and expertise!) Whether you need reccos or just have a question on a specific item, it’s so nice to be able to talk to someone who knows what they’re doing!
I also love that Backcountry partners with The Nature Conservancy to support protected lands and waters–raising more than $650,000 in donations, helping to advance legislation to further protect national monuments, and showing support through corporate volunteering initiatives.
For all the above reasons, plus many reader requests for cute (and warm!) winter essentials, not to mention, the fact that we’re ALL spending a lot more time outdoors this year–I knew this partnership would be a great fit!
Anyway, first, let’s jump into a few thought starters of where to go to get some fresh air!
5 Places to Get Outdoors near Chicago
You’ve likely heard me talk about the Dunes before, because that’s where Neal’s family (parents, aunts and uncles) have been going for decades to escape the city. We are so lucky that his parents own a lake house there and it’s provided the best escape for us during lockdown no matter what the season.
Luckily, you don’t need to own property to enjoy the area that is comprised of both lakefront beaches and wetlands! There are many hiking trails from short and easy to longer and more moderate in difficulty, and it’s only about an hour outside of Chicago!
If you want to get a good view of the marsh, I recommend starting with the Great Marsh Trail, which is about 1.5 miles and easy for all levels. (It’s very close to where these photos were taken!) It’s just down the street from the train station! After you’re done exploring, pick up a sandwich to go from the Goblin and Grocer for lunch. (Or, if it’s nice weather and they have their patio and firepits out–stay for a beer!) If you like architecture, there’s another hidden gem you’ll love–the 1933 Worlds Fair Century of Progress Homes were moved to Beverly Shores after the World’s Fair–and there’s a small strip of them along the beach that you can admire from the street. It’s a beautiful walk along the lakefront. More info here.
Our go-to! Rarely a week goes by where we don’t make it to Humboldt Park. It’s one of my favorite spots in the city and is a great place to walk/run to for anyone that lives west. Not exactly what I’d describe as an all-encompassing nature getaway, but it does the trick when you’re short on time! I love walking around the pond and sitting by the water watching the ducks.
Make sure to explore it all (both sides of the boulevard!) If you have kids with cabin fever, there’s a great sledding hill, and in the summer they have a little swimming beach you can bring your kiddos! (Two great playgrounds, too!)
I’ll admit I definitely thought this place would be bigger, but it was still a really nice escape and a chance to see some wildlife right in the city! (I’ve read to go in early morning for the best chance at spotting families of deer!) The trail is only about a mile or so long, but it’s really pretty and it was a nice excuse for us to get out of our own neighborhood for once! (You could also tack on a visit to the iconic Superdawg drive-in, which is only a short drive from there!)
Chicagoland is full of beautiful forest preserves (most in the suburbs) so depending on where you live, you can google the forest preserve closest to you! Neal grew up spending tons of time in Bemis Woods and the Salt Creek Trail system near La Grange (you can see a map of trails here!) Also popular (and a little closer to the city) is the Desplaines River Trail (not far from OHare) which spans for over 34 miles and through 12 different forest preserves!
I haven’t made it here yet, but it’s been on our list for a while now! About an hour and a half drive outside the city, but has 13 miles of trails, beautiful canyons and waterfalls! (We’ve also considered camping here when it’s warmer!)
Quick shop products in this post:
Remember to use code GOLDEN15 for 15% off your first purchase at Backcountry (exclusions apply).
What to wear–for the guys:
Use code GOLDEN15 for 15% off your first purchase at Backcountry (exclusions apply).
Many of you ask for warm coat reccos for your guys each winter, and we are happy to report this one is 110% Neal approved. (Which is a REALLY hard rating for a puffer coat to achieve. 😂) It comes in multiple colors–also in olive and a black, if the vintage two-toned colorway he’s wearing here is a little loud for your guy.
It’s 700 fill-power (a measure of insulation and warmth), which is INCREDIBLY warm and comparable to say, Canada Goose. It’s waterproof and it has great touches, like a fleece lining at the sleeve openings to lock in your body heat, an addition to insulated hand-warming pockets, and many other pockets for all of his essentials. It also has a hood (which Neal took off, for aesthetic reasons, but awesome that it comes with that option for poor weather conditions).
Sizing: True to size, Neal is a true Medium in everything and took the same size here
Also similar: If you’re looking for something easier on the wallet, Stoic (the brand I’m wearing here!) makes some great looking men’s parkas and is up to 60% off right now!
Awesome pants he can wear everywhere–super comfortable, practical and durable enough for an outdoor adventure, but stylish enough to wear to lunch, dinner, walking around town, etc. (Making them excellent pants for travel, too!) They have tons of pockets (even one for a pocket knife, which outdoorsy Neal AKA Gaston appreciated).
Sizing: These run BIG. Go down a size.
More gear on sale: Backcountry branded gear is up to 30% off right now, so if you’ve got a ski trip or other outdoor adventure planned this year, definitely peruse their selection!
A great stylish beanie to keep your guy toasty–this one comes in tons of colors and is so soft!
Neal’s outdoorsy boots of choice. He’s loved Redwing work boots for years and wears them exclusively when we’re outdoors at the lake and loves wearing them in the city, too! Here he’s wearing their moc boots which are a winter favorite because of their no-slip traction.
Sizing: Size down by 1/2 size if you’re in between. Neal usually wears an 11 and he takes a 10.5 in Redwing.
Okay, not pictured here because our weather conditions called for boots, but I wanted to call out Neal’s hiking sneakers here too (that he bought for hiking earlier this year) because he loves them so much! If you live in a warmer climate, or are searching for footwear for a trip when the weather is more mild, we definitely recommend this Danner pair. (Danner is a great brand if you’re looking for hiking boots/shoes, I have the women’s version!) Neal wore them scaling up some intense rocks in the Badlands and the traction is amazing. Plus, no break-in necessary–they were comfortable from the first wear!
What to wear–for the gals:
Use code GOLDEN15 for 15% off your first purchase at Backcountry (exclusions apply).
This might be my favorite piece of the bunch–it’s a lightweight, but warm, and great for layering over and under. The material on the front portion is also helpful for blocking the wind and it brushes off easily. (As a horse girl growing up, I said to myself “this would make a perfect barn pullover!”) I love the way it looks and will definitely get a lot of use out of it year-round–including cool nights camping in the summer!
Sizing: I took my regular size (small) but if you want it extra roomy for layering you could size up!
Note: This brand, Stoic, is currently marked down by up to 60% and they have so much great stuff for both women and men!
Baselayers are an absolute MUST if you’re spending any time outside in the Chicago winter. I love that Backcountry has an entire section of their site dedicated to baselayers. Here (not pictured, obviously 😂 but you can take my word for it) I’m wearing this Underarmour 2.0 baselayer long-sleeve crewneck (which is basically just a cooler word for “long underwear”) and it kept me toasty warm!
Sizing: TTS, I took a small
Okay I will admit, I was mostly motivated to buy this because it was really cute. I don’t have a short puffer and this one was just too good with the sale price and cute little marshmallow ivory color! (Comes in light pink and olive, too!) It had great reviews so I added it to my cart and I think it’s perfect for a mild winter day. (Not sub-zero temps, that’s for sure–but on a nice winter day or during the shoulder seasons, it’s perfect). It’s also great for layering and I think it’s functional enough to wear on a hike, but cute enough to wear with jeans and booties to meet your friends for an outdoor, socially distanced happy hour.
Sizing: I sized up to a M for layering and I think it was a great call!
I chose these trail tights because I was looking for a pair of functional leggings that were substantial, durable, and warm (i.e. wouldn’t easily snag when sitting on a rock or walking through tall grass) and that had pockets for when I wanted to wear them sans coat once the weather warms up a bit! They absolutely fit the bill and are so comfortable, too! I wore them around the house the rest of the day/night after we went on our walk and shot these photos! I also really like supporting Patagonia as a brand, as they are highly eco-conscious and socially responsible!
I know you all are always on the hunt for cute, functional winter boots, so when I saw these Sorels were on sale I jumped at the chance to test drive them! Sorel is a brand I have worn ever since moving to Chicago, and it has never failed me! These boots are as practical as they are stylish–I love the sherpa detail, they are fully waterproof, and have incredible traction. Great for both hiking and navigating icy Chicago sidewalks.
Sizing: Run TTS. I would say they are maybe a bit narrow, so if you have wider feet you may want to consider going up a half size
I always get questions on the best winter socks to wear with boots, and I have several pairs of SmartWool socks that I’ve worn for years. They come in a variety of thickness levels and I like these in particular because they are warm but not TOO thick that they make your boots too tight. They make both men’s and women’s socks and I highly recommend them!
I love a good pom pom beanie, and I recommend buying a few neutral colors (rather than colorful hues) to make your winter outfits more cohesive rather than like a mismatched kid at recess– you’ll always have a beanie that goes with any outfit! Oatmeal has been my shade of choice lately because, again, it really goes with everything! This one also comes in a black/grey combo!
One of you recommended this blanket to me for staying cozy while dining outdoors this winter! I love that it rolls up and comes with a leather carrying strap to make it easy to bring with you everywhere from a beer garden to a bonfire, to a camping trip, or a picnic! I knew it was something we’d get a ton of use out of. (Granted, seeing as there was snow on the ground this time, we didn’t get to use it in THIS specific instance, but it still deserved to be in the photos. 😂)