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Where to Cross Country Ski near Chicago

If you find yourself longing for the outdoors during winter but you’re intimidated by downhill skiing, try cross country skiing. With many fitness benefits and without the steep hills, cross country skiing is easier and safer to try than classic downhill skiing. Fortunately for you, Chicago sits within close driving distance to many cross country skiing areas. Thanks to lake effect snow, you can always bet on freshly groomed trails in many areas of Wisconsin & Michigan. Read on to learn where to cross country ski near Chicago.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Driving Time from Chicago: 5.5 hours 

Situated on the northeast coast of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s trails provide adventure for all abilities. Offering both classic and skate style cross country ski trails, the park allows you to choose your preferred technique (or both!). As you can deduce from the name of the park, some of the trails involve trekking up the dunes, but once at the top, you’re rewarded with views of the frozen Lake Michigan. With the sound creaking lake ice and miles of frozen lake in view, you’ll question if you’re standing in Michigan or trekking the Arctic Circle.

Park Conditions: For the latest trail conditions, visit the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes blog.

Where to Stay: Located on East Bay, Cherry Tree Inn and Suites provides rooms with views of the water and a cozy place to thaw after a day outside. For another option on water, try Bayshore Resort in Traverse City. 

Marquette Area – Upper Michigan

Driving Time from Chicago: 6.5 hours 

Due to lake effect snow from Lake Superior, the Marquette area guarantees a satisfying cross country experience throughout the winter months. About thirty minutes from Marquette, Hiawatha National Forest offers 90 miles of cross country ski trails. The park is divided into two sections–east and west. The west section borders two lakes–Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and the east section also borders Lake Huron, all of which provide many miles of shoreline for exploration. For beginners, start with the Noquemanon Trail Network in Marquette before heading to Hiawatha. You can practice your moves before adventuring into the national forest.

Park Conditions: Hiawatha trail conditions can be found here.

Where to Stay: A popular town, Marquette has plenty of hotel options to choose from. For a place with free breakfast, try Hampton Inn Marquette-Waterfront. You can enjoy a hot breakfast if staying at the Country Inn & Suites as well or head out to try a local restaurant before starting your winter adventure.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Photo credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Driving Time from Chicago: 7.5 hours 

The largest state park in Michigan, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park’s 60,000 acres provide endless opportunities for discovery. Twenty-five miles of cross country ski trails are groomed for winter fun, but you can try your own adventure on the over 90 miles of ungroomed trails. Trails take you through old growth forests to discover frozen waterfalls and panoramic views. Bordering Lake Superior, this park allows you to experience many environments–from a shoreline ski to zooming down the mountains.

Park Conditions: While geared towards alpine skiing, the Porcupine Mountains Ski Area report conditions on how much snow is in the region.

Where to Stay: AmericInn by Wyndham Silver City provides you close access to endless wilderness. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, try the AmericInn located in Ironwood.

Hartman Creek State Park, Wisconsin

Driving Time from Chicago: 3.5 hours 

Halfway up the state of Wisconsin lies Hartman Creek State Park. With 6 miles of classic groomed cross-country ski trails and almost 4 miles of skate groomed trails, this park provides plenty of opportunities to sweat out your stress while soaking in the crisp winter air. The relatively flat trails are great for beginners, and pass through pine and hardwood forests, open fields, and many small lakes. 

Park Conditions: See Friends of Hartman Creek State Park for the latest trail conditions and park events.

Where to Stay: Ten minutes from the park, the Ramada by Wyndham Waupaca offers a convenient location to both the park and equipment rentals. For a less commercial experience, check out the Lindsay House Bed and Breakfast. You’ll have to drive about 30 minutes from the park, but this cozy B&B provides the perfect environment to warm up after spending a day in the snow. 

Potawatomi and Peninsula State Parks/Door County

Photo credit:

Driving Time from Chicago: 4 hours 

A popular summer escape, Door County often is overlooked for winter activities. With many parks in the county offering cross country skiing, you can find as many trails as desired to properly wear yourself out in the snow. Potawatomi State Park offers several miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, all of which conveniently start by the picnic area shelter. The XC trails consist of 9 miles of classic groomed trails and 8 miles of skate groomed trails. Peninsula State Park also has 16 miles of groomed trails on the northern part of the peninsula.

Park Conditions: Visit the park’s page for the latest trail conditions and park updates.

Where to Stay: Staying in Sturgeon Bay affords a convenient location near rentals and trails. The Best Western Maritime Inn presents a great value for a place to crash after hitting the trails. For a cozier option, try Inn at Cedar Crossing. The Inn also has a restaurant onsite, which will reduce the amount of driving and decision-making you’ll have to make when worn out from skiing.

High Cliff State Park

Photo credit:

Driving Time from Chicago: 4 hours 

Near Appleton, Wisconsin, High Cliff State Park’s groomed cross-country ski trails make the perfect escape from Chicago. With over 1,100 acres, this park grants beginners easy access to snow from the city with plenty of miles of trails to explore. Located on Lake Winnebago, you can expect to ski along the shoreline as well as through forests.

Park Conditions: Visit the park’s page for the latest trail conditions and park updates.

Where to Stay: Choosing Appleton as your base provides easy access to the park, dining, and hotel options. The Hampton Inn Appleton-Fox River Mall Area offers free hot breakfast every morning to keep you energized for your outdoor adventures. The nearby Copperleaf Boutique Hotel and Spa provides a more posh experience with granite countertops in the room and a spa onsite.

Huron-Manistee National Forests

Photo credit: United States Forest Service

Driving Time from Chicago: 4 hours 

Located in the northwestern corner of the lower peninsula, the Huron-Manistee National Forests comprise almost 1 million acres of forest for exploration. The six groomed cross country ski trails encompass over 100 miles of available cross country skiing. A mere four hours from Chicago, these forests top the list of easy cross country ski trails for a weekend escape.

Park Conditions: Visit the park’s page for the latest trail conditions and park updates.

Where to Stay: For easy access to the forests, try Harrington Inn in Fremont. The Hilton Garden Inn in Grand Rapids provides more dining options but you’ll have to drive farther to reach the forests. 

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