Step Outside - Illinois WELCOME TO STEP OUTSIDE! Find the best outdoor fun near you! en-us 30 http://stepoutside.org/ Step Outside - Illinois 144 144 http://stepoutside.org/ https://cdnstep-americantownscom.netdna-ssl.com/img/stepoutside_logo.gif Sat, 23 Mar 2019 14:15:54 -0500 5 Best Ski Destinations for Families in Illinois It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced skier or a complete newbie, skiing with the family is a fun way to enjoy the winter season. Illinois’ ski areas offer pristine conditions, lessons for all experience levels, and an abundance of other amenities. Enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and even some tubing, at these five great ski destinations for families in the state.  

Known as the most beautiful ski area in Illinois, Chestnut Mountain Resort offers both indoor and outdoor activities for the whole family. This premier ski and snowboarding resort offers beautiful views of the Mississippi River, exhilarating activities, and abundant amenities. The mountain features 3,500-foot slopes, a 475-foot vertical drop, and a variety of lifts. 

It was a bright, bright, bright sunshine-y day. Peace out, Galena.✌🏼

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Located near the Quad Cities, Snowstar Winter Park is a family-friendly ski area featuring 15 trails and 11 snow tubing lanes. Their massive terrain park offers something for everyone including novice and experienced “snow athletes.” They also offer lessons for both kids and adults. Snowstar is the perfect spot for skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing, and all snow sports. 

Villa Olivia is located near Chicagoland and offers fun winter sports for the entire family. Relax at the ski cafe or practice your skills on the slopes. Skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing are popular activities here. They also offer ski and snowboard lessons including group lessons for all skill levels. 

Raging Buffalo is known for being the world’s first exclusive snowboarding area. The terrain park changes regularly, so the hills stay fresh. The beginner’s hills feature two rope tows, table tops, half pipes, a staircase, and magic carpet. Raging Buffalo also offers lessons on the hour. 

Four Lakes is the ideal place to learn the ski or snowboard in the Lisle area. The hills are great considering the natural terrain is flat. Both newbies and experienced skiers appreciate the park. According to user reviews, the lessons are the best aspect of this ski resort. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/5-best-ski-destinations-for-families-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/5-best-ski-destinations-for-families-in-illinois Fri, 01 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0600
Best Winter Weekend Getaway at Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Northwestern Illinois is home to some of the state’s most stunning terrain. Rolling hills, forests and towering river bluffs along the Mississippi make this part of Illinois especially gorgeous in the winter months—and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is an awesome place for a great winter weekend getaway in the Land of Lincoln.

Main Street Inn has everyone raving over its location, beyond-hospitable staff, gorgeous interiors, and prime location. What more could you ask for? Right on Main Street in Galena, south of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, you won’t be able to miss this historic inn. You won’t want to leave once you enter the luxurious family-run building (circa 1850). Be sure to book your room with enough time in advance, as there are only six rooms available. Head to the inn to drop off your luggage and begin your winter getaway in style!

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Under half a mile from the Inn along Main Street you’ll find this quaint restaurant with nothing short of mouth-watering dishes to fuel you up on your day of wintery adventures. The owners gave Galena the best French and German food in the area. If you’re a garlic lover you’ll love Poulet Roti, and if you’re a meat-eater, grab a plate of corned beef. There’s something for everyone here, the locals and visitors from out of town can both agree!

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The state’s premier ski destination is Chestnut Mountain Resort can be found in the vibrant town of Galena. The resort offers 19 ski trails, a seven-acre terrain park and nearly 500 feet of vertical over more than 220 acres of rolling hills and bluffs. And there’s plenty of opportunity for some apres ski fun at the resort’s restaurants, bars and lodge.

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Not only will you find sweeping vistas up and down the bluff-lined Mississippi River Valley in the refuge, you’re sure to encounter many of the birds and other species that use the river as a flyway during the winter months. Be sure to bring your camera and check some migratory species—such as bald and golden eagles—off your list of birds to see.

The waters of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge include the massive river itself, as well as the backwaters, sloughs and lakes that have been created by millennia of flooding, sediment build-up and channel alterations. This creates unique winter angling opportunities like ice fishing on the frozen backwaters (when ice is thick enough) or chasing leviathans in the channels. Make sure you have all the appropriate licenses and know where you can fish before you go. 

The Galena River Trail, just outside the refuge and near the historic city of Galena, follows the river of the same name for six scenic miles. It makes for a perfect day of out-and-back cross-country skiing. If you don’t feel like skiing the entire 12 miles, you can always follow one of the shorter trails in junction to the trail

One awesome way to experience the winter majesty of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge is by rolling through the refuge on two wheels. The best place to do so is the stretch of the Great River Trail that cuts through the refuge, away from highways and most vehicle traffic, southward from the town of Savanna. If you bike the length of the 10-mile segment to Thomson, you’ll see plenty of what the refuge has to offer—without much elevation gain. Keep going if you want to challenge your quads. 

Mississippi Palisades State Park is contiguous with the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, and during season, 1,500 acres of the park is open for hunting. Licensed hunters can take deer or wild turkey during archery seasons. A limited firearm hunt is also offered to a small number of hunters every year. Be sure to check the Illinois DNR website for current seasons, regulations and restrictions before you go.

Some of the best hiking or snowshoeing in the refuge is located in the contiguous Mississippi Palisades State Park. Lace up your boots, and depending on the snow depth, strap on your snowshoes, and head out on the Bittersweet Trail. When it meets up with Deer Trail, follow the loop around and return to the trailhead via the Bittersweet Trail for an under-five-mile round trip trek.

After a long weekend of adventure, you’ll definitely want to unwind at Galena Brewing Company. With an exciting menu full of cheesy goodness, this place is perfect for capping off the weekend. There is an array of different beer to choose from, such as Miner’s Treasure Amber Ale and the award-winning Famer’s Blonde Ale. Be sure to come on an empty stomach because the giant pretzels and cheddar biscuits will be calling your name! 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/best-winter-weekend-getaway-at-upper-mississippi-national-wildlife-and-fish-refuge http://stepoutside.org/article/best-winter-weekend-getaway-at-upper-mississippi-national-wildlife-and-fish-refuge Mon, 04 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
10 Best Ski and Snowboard Stores in Illinois Although it may not be as mountainous as other areas of the United States, Illinois is home to several top-notch ski and snowboard shops to make your next skiing expedition perfect! Beginner to advanced skiers can appreciate the product selections, professional services, and excellent customer service from the following shops. For the best in ski and snowboarding gear and expert advice, check out these 10 awesome local stores in Illinois. 

This full-service snowboard and ski shop is one of the few to receive recognition from Snow Industries America. Viking Ski Shop has been in business for over 50 years, providing excellent customer service and a wide selection of quality products. They also offer services such as custom boot fitting, expert tunings, and much more. 

If you want expert advice, look no further than Alpine Accessories. The owner has decades of experience with ski, snowboard, and other snow sports equipment. So whether you just need your board tuned or custom ski boot fitting, you’ll be in good hands at this shop.

Aline Shop is known for the high-quality gear and unsurpassed customer service. They offer a great selection of skis and snowboards, with staff members willing to help anytime without pressuring you to purchase. They provide honest suggestions and provide a pleasant shopping experience. 

This shop specializes in cross-country ski and bike equipment and services. They offer rentals and helpful assistance for all your questions. Customers appreciate the non-salesy atmosphere, competitive prices, and accommodating customer service. No upselling here, just a helpful environment. 

Known as the largest snowboard shop in the Midwest, Shred Shop is a must-visit if you’re in Skokie. The staff members are super helpful and very knowledgeable on boards, plus willing to answer any questions. They also offer a fantastic selection of boards, so plan on spending at least an hour here. 

For an impressive selection of winter sports equipment, check out Boardsports Unlimited. They sell snowboards, helmets, jackets, bags, and accessories while also offering services and rentals. Their staff members are very knowledgeable on the equipment, resulting in a very loyal customer base. 

Windward 82 may be the coolest snowboard shop on this list. The store looks very hip and has a comfortable, laid-back vibe. The board selection is also impressive, and customers rave about the staff. They’ll let you try out the boards even if you aren’t planning on buying. 

Snowbird Ski & Patio is another gem shop for purchasing ski and snow gear. They offer a notable selection of gear and accessories, rentals, and services. Their professional, knowledgeable staff members also do a great job of servicing boards and skis. You can always trust this shop for your snow sport needs. 

If you’re looking for a great selection of reasonably priced ski gear, look no further than Winter Globe Sports. The staff here is also extremely accommodating and very knowledgeable on the products. Plus, their full tune-ups are serviced very well and highly recommended by patrons. 

You’ll find a wide variety of name-brand ski equipment and accessories at Scandinavian Ski Shop. Their prices are slightly higher than other shops, but you can still pick up high-quality equipment here. However, customers have noted difficulties returning items on occasion. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-ski-and-snowboard-stores-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-ski-and-snowboard-stores-in-illinois Fri, 04 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0600
SPOTLIGHT: Things to Do in and Around Fox Ridge State Park Sprawling across thousands of acres with twinkling lakes and lush vegetation, Fox Ridge State Park is the ideal escape. Whether you’re looking for a camping getaway, pristine hiking trails, or unmatched scenic views, check out all the best things to do in and around Fox Ridge State Park. 

Located in East Central Illinois, Fox Ridge State Park is known for its lush valleys and steep ridges. This 2,064-acre park is a beautiful destination year-round and offers a variety of recreational activities including hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing. So, whether you’re planning on a short hike and picnic or an extended vacation, Fox Ridge State Park is sure to provide a relaxing and memorable outdoor experience. 

Trails are a great way to view the abundant wildlife and vegetation at Fox Ridge State Park. The Loop Trail is nearly five miles long and is moderately difficult due to the steep descents and numerous steps. It’s accessible year-round and features many wooden bridges, which are sometimes out of service. Several rest benches are available. 

Every park features a scenic spot, and Eagle’s Nest is one you can’t miss at Fox Ridge. Eagle’s Nest is located on top of a very steep bluff overlooking the river below. You’ll have to climb 144 steps to access the deck and experience the amazing panoramic views year-round. 

Fox Ridge offers ample camping including two rustic cabins and over 40 campsites with access to a sanitary dumping station, toilet facilities, and shower building. Picnic tables, drinking water, and cooking grills are also available for campers. 

Take a look into the past at the Dudley House in Charleston. This historic home was built in the late 1800s and features Queen Anne style architecture, which is rare in Illinois. The home is completely restored to its original splendor with fixtures, furniture, and art dating back to the late 19th century. 

Known as the oldest house in Coles County, the Five Mile House is a tourist attraction offering a glimpse into the 19th history. The home was built around 1840 and has a rich history worth discovering. This landmark was restored to its original appearance with modern updated added for functionality. 

Built around 1860, the Greenwood School building is a one-room schoolhouse that held classes from 1895 to 1948. The schoolhouse has undergone restoration since 1975 and is now open to the public. This museum is another piece of Charleston history and interesting attraction near Fox Ridge State Park. 

Located nearby Fox Ridge State Park, Mac’s Uptowner is a great place to relax after a long day of recreation. They offer a large drink selection, friendly bartenders, and live music most weekends. This joint is Charleston’s main music venue. You’ll also find pool tables, video games, and great food. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/spotlight-things-to-do-in-and-around-fox-ridge-state-park http://stepoutside.org/article/spotlight-things-to-do-in-and-around-fox-ridge-state-park Fri, 02 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Cool Spots for ATV Off-Roading in Illinois The Illinois off-roading scene is a burgeoning one, with several independent parks scattered throughout the state catering to ATVs, motocross, and other off-roading vehicles. Whether you prefer a long weekend camping on-site or a quick afternoon jaunt, one of the following five parks will have what you need. Beginners, intermediate, and advanced riders, look no further than the following five cool spots for ATV off-roading in Illinois. 

The Cliffs in Marseilles, Illinois, offers 300 acres of “pure insane terrain” from April 1 to November 1, Monday-Friday. Day passes are available and range in price based on age and whether or not you’re riding or viewing. Consider the year pass for particularly enthusiastic riders. Feel free to peruse their many trails on your own, or join one of their Trouble Maker’s Adventure Tours, which will take you through the trails with a guide. 

Little Egypt Off Road in Marion, Illinois, is a private, family-friendly park covering 900 acres. Terrain ranges depending on the trail. Choose from over 50 miles of routes. Fees differ depending on age, how many passengers, and whether or not you’ve decided to camp for the night. Ride through forests, mud, creeks, and more.

Fox Valley Off Road near Ottawa, Illinois is situated on 100 acres of race-ready terrain. Become a member to participate in regular races, or simply stop by to enjoy the park without paying membership fees. Of course, fees apply per vehicle. Make sure to call or check their website if the weather is bad, because the park may close to prevent damage to vehicles. Kids can take advantage of the beginner track to learn the basics, whereas veterans are encouraged to try the trails or secondary track. 

Rocky Glen OHV in Rockford, Illinois is one of the premier riding areas in the state. Closed Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, riders shred it up on long weekends starting Friday. Riders must wear safety gear and adhere to the rules of the park, available on their website. The site has miles of trails covering 120 acres with tracks for beginners, intermediate level riders, and advanced riders. Open terrain, as well as winding courses, are both on-site.  

While Ki Tracks is a motocross park, it is accessible to ATVs as well. Ki Tracks regularly hosts exciting events like races, but if you’re just looking to have a little fun on a nice day—this is your spot! Their main track is regularly watered and groomed. There is also a peewee track available for the little ones! If you get hungry, there are concessions on-site as well.

*Note: Age restrictions, special licenses, and other requirements for off highway vehicles vary from state to state. Before heading out on your OHV, please consult your local regulations.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/5-cool-spots-for-atv-offroading-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/5-cool-spots-for-atv-offroading-in-illinois Thu, 01 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Stunning Foliage Hikes in Illinois Illinois’ state parks and forest preserves feature miles of hiking trails offering scenic views of lush foliage, native wildlife, and interesting landscape formations. Hikers have the opportunity to experience the stunning foliage colors from hundreds of native plant and tree species in the spring, summer, and fall months. The following foliage hikes are free to the public and provide close-up views of unspoiled nature. 

Known for its moss-covered boulders and bubbling brook, Dixon Springs State Park features the tallest tree in Illinois: a 165-foot-tall red oak. Aside from this cool fact, this beautiful state park is home to other giant, century-old trees, abundant wildlife, and huge boulders. Several beautiful foliage hikes are available throughout the park including Pine Tree Trail, Oak Tree Trail, Bluff Trail, and Ghost Dance Trail. 

Kankakee River State Park is known for its rich cultural history, unspoiled natural beauty, and clean streams. Hikers can take advantage of the miles of beauty foliage scenery along the north side of the Kankakee River via the park’s trail system. The hiking trails offer stunning views of limestone canyons, beautiful foliage, and a waterfall. 

Matthiessen State Park is the ideal spot for anyone interested in geology or passionate about recreational activities. This unique park features a diverse landscape that ranges from prairie to canyons and forest. The park offers five miles of marked hiking trails featuring stunning views of foliage, wildlife, and rock formations. Hikers should always remain on the trails and exercise caution near the steep cliffs and canyons. 

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve is an ecological haven featuring 740 native plants species and hundreds of animal species includes mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. This nearly 2,500-acre park features 11 miles of turf and limestone-covered trails through a variety of habitats including grasslands, wetlands, woodlands, and savannas. Unmarked footpaths are also found through the Waterfall Glen, but they may not connect with the mapped trails. 

Known for its magnificent views of the Illinois River, Pere Marquette State Park is the recreational lover’s paradise. This state park is rich in local history, geology, wildlife habitat, and year-round recreational activities. Hikers can take in stunning views of the wooded ravines, towering river bluffs, and lush forests along 12 miles of marked trails. These trails are suitable for both experienced and beginner hikers. 

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ATV Off-Roading Adventure at Little Egypt Off Road Off-roading is an adventurous activity for people who are ready to leave the pavement behind. There are several off-roading areas throughout Illinois, but among the very best is Marion’s Little Egypt Off Road. For an excellent adventure through the wilderness, check out this itinerary. 

Located in a historic building that was once a bank, the Vault Cafe on the Square offers a unique dining experience in Marion. The warm, inviting atmosphere and historic charm attracts many diners, but the delicious food keeps them coming back. Menu favorites include the pancakes and Eggs Benedict (they serve breakfast all day). The staff here is also very friendly, as well, making this a great way to start an off-roading adventure. 

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Little Egypt Off Road offers the ultimate off-roading adventure with approximately 900 acres of diverse terrain. Located just east of Marion, this family-friendly off-road park features over 50 miles of open trails and numerous dirt bike trails. A kid’s track is also available for the little ones to have fun. This is the perfect spot to bring your dirt bikes, ATVs, and off-roading vehicles year-around. 

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge offers 44,000 acres of recreational activities, making it a perfect place to visit on this off-roading adventure. Here visitors can view a variety of wildlife including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bald eagles, waterfowl, and more. Trails, points of interest, fishing, hunting, and environmental education programs for kids are available at this beautiful refuge. 

John Brown’s on the Square is a great place to stop in the evening after an awesome off-roading adventure. This small-town bar offers over 100 beers and live music every Friday night. Guests love this spot because of the comfortable atmosphere, friendly service, amazing music, and great beer selection. The John Brown Ale is a favorite here. 

A visit to the historic Olde Squat Inn ends this off-roading adventure. Guests can stay in the original log cabins from the 1800s, explore the outdoors, and enjoy home-cooked breakfast by a sandstone fireplace. Bobcats, wild turkeys, bucks, and woodpeckers have been spotted near the cabins. Olde Squat Inn allows you to experience authentic Southern Illinois history.  

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http://stepoutside.org/article/atv-offroading-adventure-at-little-egypt-off-road http://stepoutside.org/article/atv-offroading-adventure-at-little-egypt-off-road Thu, 01 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Awesome RV Campsites in Illinois RV camping provides the perfect opportunity to get away from the daily mundane routines and stresses of our modern lifestyles. Illinois offers many beautiful forests and scenic areas that feature some awesome RV campsites full of activities and amenities. Many of these campgrounds offer swimming pools, lakes or rivers, family-friendly activities, and attractions in nearby local communities. 

Crow Valley Campground is the perfect spot for family camping on the Rock River. They offer spacious RV sites equipped with water and electricity at very affordable nightly, weekly, and monthly rates. Campers have access to plenty of amenities including a pool, game room, Wi-Fi, playground, and store. Choose from a plethora of family-friendly activities such as volleyball, basketball, horseshoes, fishing, and more. 

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For modern amenities in rustic resort environment, look no further than Whittington Woods Campground. This RV campground offers full hook-ups and a salt water pool for registered campers. They also offer a fully-stocked store, pavilion with several picnic tables and fire pit, playground, and basketball. Campers can also take advantage of the nearby attractions, which include museums, shops, and dancing. 

Located in scenic western Illinois, Driftwood is nearby the Mississippi River and also surrounded by many lakes and streams for plenty of recreational activities. This beautiful RV park offers full hook-up sites, free hot showers, clean bathrooms with private dressing rooms, and a swimming pool for relaxing. Hiking, boating, fishing, and hunting are all nearby this family-friendly campground. 

Sycamore RV Resort provides a quiet, relaxing getaway for the entire family. This lakeside campground offers a full range of camping activities including boating, swimming, fishing, picnicking, and more. The campground is also conveniently located near many local attractions such as the Sycamore “Turning Back Time” Classic Car Show, Sycamore Speedway, and Great Western Trail. 

This family-owned RV park is open year-around and provides a scenic spot for anyone wanting some peace and quiet. Archway provides a variety of full hook-up sites, laundromat, handicap-accessible bathrooms, Wi-Fi, a playground, and fishing pond for campers. It’s also conveniently located near restaurants and retail stores. 

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5 Perfect Fall Camping Spots in Illinois Fall in Illinois means pumpkin patches, local festivals, and camping in the beautiful state parks throughout the state. The dense forests, lush vegetation, and charming rivers provide picturesque spots of camping in the fall. Campers can experience nature’s vibrant autumn colors at the following perfect fall camping spots. Whether you prefer full hook-up camping or more rustic adventures, you’re sure to enjoy these relaxing campsites. 

As the “Trail Riding Capital of Illinois,” Eddyville offers many scenic trails throughout the Shawnee National Forest area. Hayes Canyon Campground features 32 RV campsites with electric hookups, cabin rentals, and a few pens for horses or mules. This award-winning campground is also conveniently located near recreational activities and scenic areas including Little Creek Archery, Bell Smith Springs, and Millstone Bluffs. The abundant trees and vegetation are beautiful in the fall at Hayes Canyon Campground. 

Located on 1,000 acres of crystal-clear water in Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Little Grassy Campground and Marina is the perfect fall camping spot. Little Grassy Lake is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in southern Illinois thanks to the woody rocky shoreline and translucent waters. The campground offers a variety of options including full hook-up, water and electric only, tent, and a tent group site for campers. This scenic area offers stunning views in the fall. 

The dense vegetation and forested bluffs of Fox Ridge State Park are extra beautiful in the autumn when they display brilliant orange, yellow, and red hues. This 2,064-acre park features lush valleys, steep ridges, and miles of scenic hiking trails with several picturesque wooden bridges. Campers have access to many picnic areas, fishing on Ridge Lake, boating, and public hunting. 

Although known for its beautiful wildflowers in the spring, Pecatonica River Forest Preserve is just as beautiful in the autumn. It’s located on 466 acres of oxbow swamps and woodlands, featuring a 130-year-old limestone barn on the preserve. It offers 15 non-electric campsites, 133 picnic tables, restrooms, playground equipment, canoe access, and nearly 10 miles of hiking trails. 

Trail of Tears State Forest is abundant in wildlife and used mainly for ecosystem preservation. Camping in the Trail of Tears State Forest is a peaceful experience with lush vegetation and scenic hiking trails nearby. Campers also have access to picnic shelters and game hunting (seasonal). More primitive campers appreciate the tent campsites and log shelters for rustic camping in the forest with gorgeous autumn views. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/5-perfect-fall-camping-spots-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/5-perfect-fall-camping-spots-in-illinois Tue, 30 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Energizing Hikes in Illinois Working out at the gym can get mundane for outdoor enthusiasts, so many decide to pursue invigorating hikes in nature. From rock formations to scenic canyons, Illinois offers several challenging trails for hikers seeking a refreshing outdoor experience. Many of these hiking trails are located within state parks, but each is scenic and offers a fantastic cardio workout for fitness lovers of all experience levels. Here are five energizing hikes throughout the state. 

Experience the ultimate lower body workout at Swallow Cliff. This natural area features a 100-foot-tall bluff, drawing visitors seeking a challenging hike or run up the steep limestone stairs. The trail also passes through an 800-acre forest preserve with hilly terrain. 

Known for its steep limestone bluffs. Apple River Canyon State Park features a scenic canyon area formed by a vast sea that used to exist in the area. The park offers five hiking trails that wind through the woods. These trails are several miles long and can be hazardous, so they’re more suitable for advanced hikers looking for an energizing workout. 

Giant City State Park is famous for its huge rock formations and lush landscapes. Although hikers can enjoy several trails through the park, the Red Cedar Hiking Trail offers a more challenging 12-mile hike with an overnight campsite. This hike is ideal for an invigorating workout for more experienced hikers. 

Garden of the Gods is one of the most beautiful scenic areas in the state. Located in Shawnee National Forest, this natural wonder was created from over 300 million years of erosion. Now hikers can experience these sculptured rock formations and breathtaking views from the Observation Trail, which offers an energizing hike for all fitness levels. 

There are three unpaved and two paved trails at the Deer Grove Forest Persevere. The Yellow Trail is the longest in the area at 5.4 miles. According to its site, this historic 1,800-acre preserve attracts everyone from “serious botanists to weekend joggers.” This is an excellent place for a refreshing hike among beautiful wildlife. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/5-energizing-hikes-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/5-energizing-hikes-in-illinois Mon, 29 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500
10 Best Archery Outfitters in Illinois Illinois is fortunate to have a great selection of high-quality archery gear stores throughout the state. No matter your archery style or experience level, the following archery stores will meet your needs. They all feature personalized customer service, very experienced staff, and a wide selection of bows and archery accessories. If you need your bow repaired, customized, or serviced in any way, the following archery outfitters are your answer. Here are the best in the state.  

Select Archery is one of the best archery gear stores in Central Illinois. The friendly staff treat all the customers with respect, offering honest recommendations and personalized attention. Their tech department is extremely knowledgeable and capable, plus the archery lessons are very reasonably priced. 

This full-service archery shop and range is a local favorite for many reasons including their top-notch coaching, excellent customer service, and fair prices. The staff members at BowDoc Archery are very accommodating to customers and provide a safe environment for kids to learn archery. They do a great job of getting you set up with a bow suitable for your skill level and needs. 

Whether you just need your bow restrung or desire to purchase an entire new bow, Fox Valley Archery is worth the visit. It’s run by people who are passionate and knowledgeable on everything related to archery. They are very helpful at restoring and servicing bows, answering archery questions, and offering honest advice. 

For personalized attention, look no further than Archers Alley in Decatur. The staff spends as much time as necessary to ensure your archery needs are satisfied, from setting up your bow to making sure you know how to use it. Their huge variety of merchandise and long distance range also make Archers Alley a great local archery store. 

If you’re new to archery, check out Archery Custom Shop in Forest Park. They offer personal service, competitive prices, and honest recommendations on archery gear. Their expert staff members are very seasoned on everything archery-related and also offer archery lessons for every style of archery. Don’t forget to check out their indoor shooting range, as well. 

Another Central Illinois gem, Wolf Hollow Archery in Chillicothe is recognized for their outstanding customer service and archery knowledge. They offer a fantastic selection of inventory and will set up your bow the same day. Whatever your archery needs, they will take care of you and answer any questions you have. 

This family-owned company is known for friendly, helpful customer service and insightful recommendations. Their certified bow techs are able to service any bow, perform arrow repairs, customizations, and anything else you could possibly need. They also offer archery lessons by certified archery instructions and have an indoor 20-yard shooting range. 

For a professional archery shop with superior customer service, look no further than Chicago Archery. You’re always in good hands as the staff is extremely knowledgeable, caring, and helpful. They make honest suggestions and don’t try to push expensive products on you. Patrons highly recommend the lessons here, as well. 

T.A.Z. Archery is a one-stop shop for all your archery needs. Their staff members are very patient with beginners and willing to spend extra time helping with bow set-ups, repairs, and customizations. The laid-back range environment makes T.A.Z. an awesome place to shoot, as well, and they sell top-quality bows. 

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Strictly Archery offers a wide selection of leading bow brands and provides services such as bow repairs and adjustments. Located in Shorewood, Strictly Archery also offers affordable archery lessons for both adults and children. Their new indoor archery range features 3D and portable targets, allowing archers of all experience levels to sharpen and perfect their skills. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-archery-outfitters-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-archery-outfitters-in-illinois Mon, 29 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500
10 Best Bait and Tackle Shops in Illinois Illinois’ locally-owned bait shops offer fresh, high-quality bait and expert fishing advice. What more could you ask for? Whether you’re a seasoned angler or just learning to hold a fishing pole, the right equipment is important for a successful trip on the water. Find helpful service, insider tips, and all of the best gear at the 10 best bait and tackle shops in Illinois. 

Anglers International Resources is known for their vast selection of fishing gear and live bait. The staff members are super friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable on the products. Whether you’re new to fishing or have decades of experience, they will treat you with respect and give you personalized attention. 

Dave’s Bait, Tackle & Taxidermy has everything an angler needs for a fishing trip. Not only do they carry an impressive selection of fishing gear and live bait, they also clean and oil reels and offer free advice for new anglers. The employees are very helpful and knowledgeable, offering honest recommendations of tackle, reels, rods, and everything else fishing related. 

For a great variety of high-quality live bait, look no further than Jim’s Bait & Tackle in Fox Lake. This little bait shop is run by very dependable, knowledgeable folks who know the area. They don’t try to sell you want you don’t need, but provide honest advice and friendly conversation. 

Located on Lake Michigan, Park Bait has been providing bait, tackle, and honest fishing advice since 1958. You’ll find a great selection of live bait, lures, tackle, rods, reels, buckets, tackle boxes, and other fishing equipment at this little shop. They’re also happy to provide updated fishing reports with the latest lake conditions and fishing recommendations. 

Whether you’re just looking for the typical live baits or need a special order, Triangle Sports and Marine can help. They carry all the top brands of fishing gear and a wide variety to choose from, as well. You can also get up-to-date fishing reports, hard-to-find tackle, and quality bait. Patrons describe this little roadside shop as a “mini Bass Pro.” You’ll love their friendly, personalized service. 

Live bait vending machine?!

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Barnard’s Bait Shop is a one-stop shop for everything fishing-related. They carry live bait, fishing tackle, and offer fishing licenses. You’ll find nightcrawlers, crickets, minnows, wax worms, and other live bait throughout the year. And if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for in stock, they’re happy to order it for you. 

For a great selection of live bait and friendly customer service, check out Lee’s Bait & Tackle. They carry large suckers, bulk minnows, hot baits, and much more in stock. Patrons appreciate the knowledgeable staff, large bait selection, and reasonable prices. They inspect your live bait and can re-line your reels, as well. 

Until next year, the first and best job I ever had πŸ‘

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If you want advice from experienced anglers, look no further than Fishtech in Morton Grove. They carry everything fishing related and are happy to order anything they don’t have in stock. Their outstanding customer service, expert advice, and product selection make this shop a local favorite. 

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Chicago Bait and Tackle is known for their friendly, accommodating staff and reasonable prices. They offer great deals on bait and even a rewards program. You’ll find a great selection of fishing gear including lures, rods, reels, combos, tackle, fishing line, and much more. Their knowledgeable employees are willing to help answer any questions, as well. 

Tom’s Bait Shop has been open for many years and offers extremely reasonable prices on bait and fishing gear. This no-frills shop is a local favorite because of the old-school atmosphere, high-quality bait, and dedication to the community. The owner is very knowledgeable on fishing and willing to answer any questions you may have. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-bait-and-tackle-shops-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-bait-and-tackle-shops-in-illinois Mon, 29 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Start Your Trek: 10 Best Hiking Retailers in Illinois Before undertaking any hiking trip, one must be equipped with all of the proper equipment. From the right boots, the right layers, to the right hydration gear, you’ll find all you’re looking for and more at the great hiking retailers of Illinois. Here are our 10 favorites in the state. 

This family-owned sporting goods business has been a local favorite for years. Presleys offers plenty of high-quality hiking gear such as shoes, backpacks, canteens, and more. Patrons appreciate the large gear selection, knowledgeable staff, and friendly customer service. 

For a wide selection of hiking gear at affordable prices, check out Army Navy Sales. This military surplus store has been in business for many decades and offers high-quality military gear. Check out their tents, apparel, camping equipment, flashlights, and other outdoor gear. 

This family-owned business has been serving the Champaign area for three generations. Champaign Surplus carries a wide variety of brand-name hiking apparel, accessories, and gear. Customers appreciate the price-match policy, helpful staff, and high-quality merchandise. 

Grab everything you need for your next hiking trip at Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitters. Known for its friendly owner, this local sporting goods shop carries a wide selection of brand-name hiking gear at affordable prices. The owner will price match any price, whether online or another local store.

Angelo’s Outdoor Sports Center is recognized for its friendly staff and great prices on all outdoor gear. Pick up your sunscreen, sunglasses, water bottle, apparel, and other hiking equipment here. Aside from hiking gear, they also carry a wide variety of bait and are very generous with it. 

Camping Comfortably offers high-quality camping gear and customer service. You’ll find hiking backpacks, camping tents, cookware, binoculars, personal care items, and other hiking essentials here. Patrons appreciate the affordable prices, pleasant store environment, and kind owner. 

WildCountry carries all the gear you need for a rugged outdoor hiking expedition. They offer the best brands in outdoor gear such as the North Face, Columbia, and Woolrich. Their knowledgeable staff really cares about providing customers with the best information on all the products.

Known for their welcoming and knowledgeable staff, Arc’teryx is the go-to local shop for outdoor gear in Chicago. They carry very high-end products and go out of their way to help you find what you need. Although their gear is on the expensive end, it lasts for many years and is worth the price. 

Although primarily known for bicycles, Bushwhacker carries a lot of great hiking and outdoor gear. This locally-owned store offers a wide selection of outdoor clothing, footwear, backpacks, tents, water bottles, and camping accessories. Patrons appreciate the patient, knowledgeable staff and consider the store an asset the area. 

Sierra Trading Post is the perfect place to shop before you next hike. The carry high-quality hiking boots and shoes, clothing, trekking poles, walking sticks, backpacks, daypacks, hydration packs, and more. Customers love finding name-brand products at discounted prices here. 

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http://stepoutside.org/article/start-your-trek-10-best-hiking-retailers-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/start-your-trek-10-best-hiking-retailers-in-illinois Mon, 29 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500
8 Best Outdoor Fall Activities in Illinois In a state with one of the nation’s great cities and a deep-rooted agricultural history, fall is a time of year to celebrate. That’s why folks in Illinois get outside and look for some action in the crisp, cool autumn months. If you’re looking for something to do this autumn, check out some of these ideas—they’re our favorite fall activities in Illinois.

When the water temperatures cool down, the muskie bite heats up in Illinois. And if you’re a muskie hunter, you won’t want to miss November’s IMTT Championship Tournament on the Fox Chain of Lakes. Launch for the tournament (or quench your thirst and wait for the weigh-in) at the Thirsty Turtle Bew & View Pub.

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The Cannonball Ride fall off-road cycling series, including the Fat Tire Fest, takes place throughout October and November at various locations, with the last two races taking place in the Chester area. The distances are 50-plus miles, with plenty of climbing, gravel and cross-country racing. Race headquarters and the newest Cannonball sponsor is St. Nicholas Landmark restaurant on the banks of the Mississippi, in Chester.

Starved Rock State Park, carved into the bluffs of the Illinois River is one of the state’s most dramatically beautiful. Hike the carved canyons and ravines, surrounded by the colors and scents of autumn, the sounds small cascades rushing in the background. Hike to the edge of the bluff to see the foliage’s bursting with color up and down the river valley. Eat, drink or stay at the Starved Rock Lodge, located right in the park.

What better way to enjoy fall than from the deck of an historic riverboat? Head to the Quad Cities and step aboard the Celebration Belle for an authentic sternwheel experience, as you take in the crisp autumn air and enjoy the gorgeous fall colors of the tree-lined Mississippi River valley.

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Hit the roads for a 5K or half-marathon at the annual Hero Run in Mascoutah. Not only is it an awesome event, it is was founded to honor veterans and service members who are on active duty, as well to raise money to assist those who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After the run, stay for Braktoberfest, where you can recover from the run with plenty of beer and all the food you need.

If you like corn mazes, whether for the zen of getting lost, the thrill of solving the puzzle, or even the corn itself, you kinda have to visit the World’s Largest Corn Maze, which is right here in Illinois. More specifically, you can find it at Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove.

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Kickapoo State Park is home to some of the best singletrack in Illinois. The 13 miles of trails are maintained by the Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club and offer awesome experiences for all levels of riders. If you need gear or repairs, Cycles Plus in Danville is a great choice that’s close to the park.

The Sangamon River, a tributary of the Illinois in the central part of the state, is an excellent all-around fishery but is particularly good for flathead catfish. These leviathans easily grow to sizes in excess of 50 pounds. In the fall, these cats are feeding a sheltering in deep holes and other structure. Tailwaters below dams, such as the one at Petersburg, are often excellent spots to find flatheads. If you’re looking for bait, gear or local advice, stop into Big Red’s Bait and Tackle in nearby Springfield.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/8-best-outdoor-fall-activities-in-illinois http://stepoutside.org/article/8-best-outdoor-fall-activities-in-illinois Wed, 24 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Best Places to Fish in the Midwest This Fall Walleyes and a variety of salmon are on the autumn menu in the Midwest as anglers have a last chance to fish open water before the winter freeze starts to set in. Fishing for either species can be excellent; how the weather and the water temperatures line up are more critical where salmon are concerned, but the fall run extends well into November.

Walleyes aren’t so picky, and all the traditional waters such as the Mississippi River, Big Saint Germain Lake in Wisconsin, Otter Tail Lake in Minnesota and Great Lakes feeder streams give up tons of  ’eyes in the fall.

One Last Salmon Fling

The big attraction nowadays is king (chinook) salmon that make their fall spawning runs up rivers and creeks. Whether fishing from a small boat or a Great Lakes charter boat, latching on to a 20- or 30-pound king can quickly warm up an otherwise chilly fall day.

Hot Spots To Fish: Michigan’s Grand River, which empties into the eastern side of Michigan, is a prime destination for salmon. Getting Bit Guide Service (616-570-2946, gettingbitguideservice.com) in Grand Rapids is a good starting point. In fact, any port of call along Lake Michigan on either the east or west sides is likely to have plenty of knowledgeable salmon guides or charters. Fishing from jetties or piers – such as the famed McKinley Pier in Milwaukee – is also productive during the fall salmon runs.

In northwestern New York, the Salmon River lives up to its name through mid-October, but the run might linger into November in the Lake Ontario feeder, depending on the weather. Coho and steelheads also are in the mix too.

The Yankee Angler (315-963-2065, yankeeangler.com) in Pulaski, N.Y. keeps tabs on the fishing. In the big waters of Lake Ontario’s southern shore at Rochester, N.Y., give Reel Em In Sportfishing Charters (585-317-5325, reeleminsportfishing.com) a call.

Farther to the northwest, the waters and feeders of Lake Superior near Sault Ste. Marie are teeming with big salmon. One of the benefits here is that you can always slip in to the St. Mary’s River System to get away from those rough autumn nor’ westers. Live To Fish Charters (906-440-7797) can help make it happen.

New York rivers and inshore waters are teeming with big salmon in the fall.

Tackle You’ll Need: Salmon tackle and striped bass tackle (see above) are practically interchangeable. Fish might range from a few pounds to well over 20 pounds, and rods and reels should be in the medium- to-heavy range. A light- to-medium spinning outfit capable of holding a couple of hundred yards of 10- to 14-pound-test monofilament or 30- to 50-pound-test braid should do for most applications, especially when casting lures. Try the Okuma Epixor XT-20 with a matching rod.

Quick Tip: Just to hedge your bets, tie a foot-long section of 2x mono to your streamer hook and add a beadhead Prince nymph or similar pattern to the other end. When salmon are finicky, they might flash at a streamer, but not take it. Sometimes, a smaller mouthful such as a nymph trailer will seal the deal.

 

Best Lures/Bait: For the most part, spawn-run salmon hit spoons, crankbaits or roe bags out of reaction rather than hunger. Shiny lures, such as the Luhr-Jensen Twinky Rig behind a flasher, the Acme Kastmaster Spoon and a variety of soft-plastic swimbaits or hard crankbaits, will elicit strikes. Fly fishermen favor Dahlberg Divers, Wooly Buggers, Hex Nymphs and Glo Bugs.

Find the best fishing spots near you:

Find the best bait and tackle shops near you:

Walleyes Are Hungry and Willing

In similar fashion to bass, walleyes follow baitfish from the bigger lakes to feeder creeks and rivers with current.

Hot Spots To Fish: The Van Hook Arm of Lake Sakakawea (701-421-0360, vanhookguideservice.com) in North Dakota is a prime walleye destination, as is Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago (920-598-0586, walleyepatrol.com

Tackle You’ll Need: Power fishing it’s not. Though walleyes might fatten up to well over 10 pounds, 2- to 4-pound fish are more the rule. Depending on the average size of the fish, 4- to 10-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon will do.

For spinning enthusiasts, the Quantum Vapor PT with matching rod will work. If you prefer trolling to casting, or bouncing a weight and natural bait on the bottom, try a baitcasting outfit such as a Fenwick/Pflueger Night Hawk or Iron Hawk combo.

Quick tip: Trolling at night with diving jerkbaits, such as the Storm Original ThunderStick or Lucky Craft Pointer 110, is a great way to catch walleyes. Troll in patterns from deep to shallow and back again, as the fish tend to relocate up and down drop-offs and channel runs depending on bait movement.

 

Best Lures/Bait: Leeches, nightcrawlers, minnows and everything from crankbaits to spinners will find favor with hungry fall walleyes. Top picks include: Rapala’s Shad Rap, Berkley’s Flicker Shad, Mepps’ Black Fury, Rapala’s Husky Jerk and Northland Fishing Tackle’s Forage Minnow Jigging Spoon.

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Photograph Courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources Walleyes weighing more than 10 pounds apiece are routinely caught in the fall, but most fish are "good eating size," averaging about 3 pounds. http://stepoutside.org/article/best-places-to-fish-in-the-midwest-this-fall http://stepoutside.org/article/best-places-to-fish-in-the-midwest-this-fall Thu, 11 Oct 2018 00:00:00 -0500