If thoughts of Chicago with its many suburbs that encompass more than 11,000 square miles of city make your heart skip a beat, take a deep breath and relax. While the Northwest suburbs are home to niche shops, galleries, museums and other standard city attractions to see during your time in the city, you'll also find plenty of opportunity to get outdoors and in natural surroundings.
Take a Walk in the Woods
Chicago's Northwest suburbs are interspersed with stands of woods and wilderness preserves where you can take a hike and enjoy the natural beauty. One of the largest of these is Busse Woods -- also known as the Ned Brown Preserve -- which covers more than 3,500 acres in Elk Grove Village. Pedal or walk more than 10 miles of trail and visit an elk herd that lives in an enclosure near the entrance. Spring Creek Valley Forest Preserve is another large tract of natural land at just under 4,000 acres. You'll find mowed trails for walking and horseback riding and wetlands that team with songbirds each spring.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
In some forest preserves, you'll find lakes or streams suitable for putting a boat on the water. In Arlington Heights, head to Lake Arlington where you can rent sailboats, kayaks or paddle boats to set out on the lake's 50 acres. Busse Lake is one of the larger lakes in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. Found in the Ned Brown Preserve, you can rent kayaks, paddle boats or sailboats to explore or fish its 457 acres. You'll also find streams to paddle in the area. The Salt Creek Paddling Trail flows 20 miles through parks and natural areas from Busse Lake to the Cricket Creek Forest Preserve. You can continue paddling the stream all the way to Brookfield for a total of more than 30 miles.
Make a Splash
When it's time to beat summer heat, zip down a waterslide into a refreshing pool of cool water at one of several water parks in the northwest Chicago suburbs. Ride a tube or body slide down a snake-like complex of water slides at Rainbow Falls Water Park in Elk Grove. The park has a three-story aquatic fun house, vortex and spiral slides and a not-so-lazy river that will squirt and splash you as you float along. Itasca Park District's water park has a 180-foot waterslide, a water playground and splishy-splashy features like bubble benches, geysers and interactive squirting palm trees.
Beat Winter Blues
When weather dips down into the teens, you'll still find plenty of ways to stay active in Chicago's Northwest suburbs. Ride your sled down a snowy hill in Rolling Meadows at North Salk Park. The family-friendly hill has steps alongside that make getting back to the top easy. The hill is lit at night and uses a flag system to let you know if conditions aren't suitable for sledding. Rev up your snowmobile along designated trails at Ned Brown Meadow in Rolling Meadows or ice skate on the Busse North Pond in Schaumburg.