The Run Down

For many of us Chicagoans, wintertime means hibernating inside, curled under a heavy blanket, and waiting for the worst of winter to pass.  Well for this guide, we won't be hiding from mother nature -- instead we'll be venturing outside for a winter weather hike and seeing for ourselves how beautiful this season can be.  Head to the Northwest suburbs to visit a small herd of elk at an elk pasture, and then take a peaceful hike through the woods. Here are the details.

1. Visit Elk @ Busse Forest Elk Pasture

2. Winter Hike @ Busse Woods Trail

1. Busse Woods Elk Pasture

Just Northwest of O’Hare airport is the Ned Brown Forest Preserve  — also known as Busse Woods. The entire forest preserve is a massive 3,558 acres with biking/walking trails, picnic groves, and a large lake right in the middle of it. Our first stop, however, is on the east side of the forest preserve, where you can find a herd of elk grazing in a 17-acre enclosed pasture.

Right outside the elk pasture is a small parking lot where visitors can park, and from there, you’ll see a tall chain link fence, which marks the outer boundary of the elk pasture. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see some elk immediately upon arrival.From the parking lot, you can walk towards the trailhead, which follows along the elk pasture’s fence line. On a snowy day like the day we went, the trail is quiet, and you basically get it all to yourself.  You’ll also get more opportunities to see even more elk that might be hiding behind the tree line. We were able to snap a few up-close portraits.

The first elk came here by train in 1925 from Yellowstone National Park.  Today there are about 15 elk that call this place home, and they’re cared for by veterinarians from Brookfield Zoo. While we missed it, if you ever have the chance to come during October – November, you’ll be there for the rutting season, where the male elks battle over females.

You can also see something very similar on Friday nights in Wrigleyville — boom, roasted, good night, and tip your waiters.

2. Busse Woods Trail

The Busse Woods trail continues in a long 8-mile loop that will bring you to every part of the forest preserve. This is a paved path; on a typical spring or summer day, the trail can get busy with bikers and runners.  In the middle of a winter snowstorm, not so much. But for us, that was the allure of coming here on a snowy day. Not only do you get the trail pretty much to yourself, but the snow absorbs a lot sound, which creates a very calming nature experience.

As you walk along the paved path, you may notice entrances to small trails that take you deep into the woods. Take this opportunity to get off the paved trail and explore.