Unstructured play outdoors and the discovery of the natural world play an important role in the healthy development of children and provide unmatched physical and emotional well-being for adults and children alike. Outside activities include:


Bicycle Riding –   

Bicycle riding can be done throughout New Trier Township, and with the proper equipment and the right weather conditions almost year round.  It is a wonderful way to explore the streets, parks and natural areas of the local communities. Although Sheridan Road in Wilmette has created a bike lane, there are various paths in the area designated for pedestrians, runners and bicyclist. Local Stores are T.L. Fritz in Winnetka and Alberto’s and Higher Gear in Highland Park. Please wear helmets, and have proper lights if bicycling at night.



Green Bay Trail- A combination asphalt and crushed limestone path that runs along the North Line of the Metra tracks as far north as Highland Park and south through Kenilworth and eventually down through Wilmette to Shorewood Park (1390 Elmwood Avenue). For more information and the history of the path go to http://home.comcast.net/~cmorhiker/GBTrailBike.html.

Skokie Lagoon Path- A 1.6 mile asphalt bike path runs to the west of the lagoons between Willow Road and Tower Road, and a 4.2 mile loop encircles the lagoons between Tower Road and Dundee Road. This path can be extended North to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Forest Preserve District of Cook County: http://www.fpdcc.com 


Bird Watching – Children and parents alike will be amazed at the variety of birds they can spot during a leisurely stroll, boat ride or watching from a window into their own backyard. Every season marks the arrival of new birds, especially the fall and spring migrations which bring birds not often seen in this area.  There is also the wonderful familiarity of seeing the birds that stay here year-round. All you need are good-quality binoculars, a field guide, comfortable clothes, and walking shoes. Two wonderful resources regarding birds in this area are the Chicago Botanic Garden (www.chicagobotanic.org/birds/index.php) and the Chicago Audubon Society (www.chicagoaudubon.org). 

Camping – Although the New Trier Township does not boast of any campsites, there is nothing to stop anyone from pitching a tent in their own backyard.  Listen to the sounds at night, and awaken in the morning by the first rays of sun or the early morning sounds of the birds. Camping gear can be purchased locally at REI in Northbrook/Glenview, L.L. Bean at Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, or Uncle Dan’s in Highland Park.



   A quiet canoe and or kayak ride on the waterways of the Skokie Lagoon or the shores of Lake Michigan is a perfect getaway. Discover the sounds and sights of New Trier Township’s greatest asset its waterways. There is no better way to enjoy the wildlife of the Lagoons or experience the vastness of the Lake. Kayaks and Canoes can be rented at a number of sites, (see below) and both REI in Northbrook and LL Bean in Old Orchard are stores where kayaks and canoes can be purchased.                                     kayak fishing

Rental: Chicago River and Paddle,  1-847-414-5883, http://chicagoriverpaddle.com/sklagoons.html and for Instruction: Northwest Passage in Wilmette, 1-800-RECREATE or 1-800-732-7328,  www.nwpassage.com

Or at the following park districts:

Wilmette Park District: Gillson Park, www.wilmettepark.org/lakefront/sailing-beach

Glencoe Park District–Lakefront Park, Park Street and Longwood, Hazel Avenue and Longwood, Kayaks can be rented and stored at this site. For more information: Glencoe Park District  www.glencoeparkdistrict.com

Winnetka Park District-Lloyd Beach, Lloyd Street and Sheridan Road, Kayaks can be stored and launched at this site, no rental. For more information you can contact Winnetka Park District www.winpark.org/boating/boating.htm


Cross Country Skiing/Snow Shoeing – There’s nothing like the quiet of snow falling or the perfect snow after a snowstorm that makes you want to get outdoors and enjoy the conditions. Walking in Snow Shoes can be done anywhere, but for a true feeling of the outdoors head to the Skokie Lagoons or any number of public golf courses in New Trier Township. The same is true for Cross Country skiing where you can either make your own trails or ski in the trails of others in any of these locations. While you are out take a look at the snow and notice what signs of winter wildlife are around you. Look for tracks in the snow, scattered seeds or nuts on top of the snow, or the signs of a hawk or an owl that landed in the snow cover.

In Wilmette:
    Gillson Park:  59.2 acres at Sheridan Road and Michigan Avenue
    Wilmette Public Golf Course: 3800 Fairway Drive, Wilmette

In Winnetka:
    Winnetka Public Golf Course: 1300 Oak Street, Winnetka

In Northfield:
    Willow Park:  at Wagner and Willow Road

In  Glencoe:
    Glencoe Public Golf Course: 621 Westley Road, Glencoe

Frisbee Golf – Playing Frisbee can be done in any open space, and a perfect way for two or more people to enjoy the outdoors. Frisbee Golf is an activity that can be played by yourself as well as others.

       At Watts Park in Glencoe (between Vernon Avenue and Randolph, just North of Jackson Ave, and South of Madison) is a nine hole disc Course. Each hole is numbered with a corresponding basket some 30 yards away. The first tee is just left of the tennis courts. Special Frisbee Golf disc can be purchased at most sporting goods stores, but for the novice any Frisbee will do. Take the time when you are playing to notice that this is a remnant of an ecosystem that was found throughout New Trier Township, an oak savanna. Many of the Frisbees shots are made throughout an old stand of oak trees, many of which are older than the houses surrounding the park.




One of the fastest growing hobbies in the United States is gardening, from planting beautiful perennial gardens, native gardens as well as vegetable gardens. This is an excellent way for both adults and children to learn about insect and plant life cycles, have fun, and grow food for the dinner table. Although some children think fruits and vegetables come from only the grocery store, more families are now planting seeds and trees to obtain their own fresh produce. 


    Project BudBurst – this is a website and organization that engages the public in making careful observations of the phenophases (first leafing, first flower, and first fruit ripening) for example of a diversity of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses in their local area . For more information go to www.windows.ucar.edu/citizen_science/budburst/


Ice Skating – Skating outdoors is a perfect way to enjoy a beautiful winter day or evening. There are four parks in New Trier Township that actually flood the ground to create and ice skating pond. In Glencoe there is an outside skating rink as well, the ice will be maintained throughout the winter, late November to mid-March. Please note although the Skokie Lagoons are frozen for most of the winter, SKATING AND WALKING on the ICE is not allowed and very dangerous.

There are three parks in Winnetka where the grass is flooded for seasonal ice skating:
   1. Northfield Park (Frontage Road to Lockwood Avenue and Sunset Avenue
   2. Hubbard Woods Park (Merrill Street to Gage Street just east of Green Bay Road)
   3. Indian Hill Park (Hill Road to Winnetka Road, Wilson Avenue to Bertling Lane)

In Northfield:
    Clarkson Park (1950 Willow Road) There is a shelter at this location.

In Glencoe:    
    Watts Ice Rink (Randolph Avenue just north off of Jackson Avenue). This is an outdoor skating rink, open throughout the winter. Food and beverages are available. There is a charge to skate here. Check with the Glencoe Park District for hours of operation and fees.

    Gilson Park 

Kite Flying – Flying a kite can be done in any open space, and can be enjoyed by yourself or with friends. Along with the parks found throughout New Trier Township, the various beaches found in each suburb are a great place to fly a kite. Kites can be purchased seasonally at local hardware stores or REI (call stores first for information regarding availability). Discover the types of wind that make a successful flight, take notice of the weather….is a storm approaching?

Some recommended parks:

Watts Park
Lakefront Park
Fields behind West School

Clarkson Park

Fox Meadow Park

Willow Park

Gillson Park
Centennial Park
Around Wilmette Park District

Village Green


Nature Exploration – Exploration around the parks and natural areas around New Trier Township is the fundamental idea of BackYard Nature Center including ones own backyard. To experience the wonderment of nature you don’t need to travel far, just your own curiosity to the natural trail and opening your senses to what you may see, hear and feel as you walk down any given path or turn over any given rock. Here are two examples of popular nature exploration activities that can be done at any of the following locations.

Nature Journals – like photography, another way to record the natural world is through a journal. If it wasn’t for Lewis and Clark’s journals there would be no record of everything they saw or experienced on their journey across our country over two hundred years ago. Capture your thoughts on paper, or draw what you see, or write down what you hear, smell or feel. 
Nature Walks – a stroll through the park, the woods , the prairie. There is no better way to enjoy our natural surroundings then to walk through our beautiful parks.
                   Walk in the Woods

Please view the Resource Packets for natural areas that BackYard Nature has identified in detail. They include the South and North parts of the Skokie Lagoon, Crow Island Woods, Everly Wildflower Sanctuary, and Keay Nature Center. We recommend visiting other areas as well, such as Gilson Park in Wilmette, Bell Woods in Winnetka, and the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. The Chicago Botanic Gardens includes many areas in which to view natural habitat  including McDonald Woods, Prairie and Evening Island, just to name a few. 


Outdoor Games -
    Capture the flag - is a traditional outdoor sport often played by children or sometimes adults where two teams each have a flag (or other marker) and the objective is to capture the other team's flag, located at the team's "base", and bring it safely back to their own base. Enemy players can be "tagged" by players in their home territory; these players are then, depending on the agreed rules, out of the game, members of the opposite team, or "in jail". (One variation of the game includes a "jail" area in addition to the flag on each team's territory.)
    Hide and Seek - is a variant of the game tag, in which a number of players conceal themselves in the environment, to be found by one or more "seekers". There are many versions of this game including a night version being, Flashlight Tag, see directions below:
    Nature Treasure Hunt – a list of common and uncommon items that can be found in nature is put on a list and a group is set out to find as many of the items on the list as possible. These items can either be gathered, or checked off a list.
    Flashlight Tag – a combination of hide and go seek and tag that is played outdoors with flashlights, and players may frequently change their hiding places during the course of the games. One player is designated "it" and given a flashlight. "It" counts to 50 while the other players hide. When "it" finds someone, he or she shines the flashlight on the other player. That player then becomes "it," and the first player is free to go hide. There are dozens of different rules and variations for playing Flashlight Tag. Some say that the flashlight must remain on at all times, so that the hiders can see "it" approaching and may change their hiding places. In another variation, "it" puts the tagged players in "jail," where they can be rescued by other players. This variation is sometimes played in teams, almost like Capture the Flag.


Black and white or color, there is no better way to capture moments of natural beauty than through photography. Get out early or venture out at dusk to capture the perfect light. Try your luck at taking photographs of wildlife.  It involves patience and being at the right place at the right time.



                  Goose with chick

 Sailing – there’s nothing like a bright blue sky and just the right amount of wind, to make you want to get out on the water and sail. Like Canoeing/Kayaking the various park Districts on the lake rent, store and offer instruction in sailing. For those who do not want to venture out on Lake Michigan, sailing is allowed in the Skokie Lagoon waterways. Also, before you venture out be sure you have the correct equipment, and safety requirements involved (life jackets, training etc). For further information visit the various websites below:

Wilmette Park District: Gillson Beach: www.wilmettepark.org/lakefront/sailing-beach.
Winnetka Park District: Lloyd Park and Beach: www.winpark.org/boating/boating.htm
Glencoe Park District: Lake Front Beach: www.glencoeparkdistrict.com

Sledding – New Trier Township is not noted for its serious sledding hills, but wonderful childhood memories have been made on two little sledding hills from the first snowfall of the winter to the last:

In Winnetka:  Skokie Playfield at Hibbard at Elm Street, behind the AC Nielsen Tennis Center

In Glencoe: Watts Park, on the Southeast corner near Jackson and Randolph Street. Randolph Street is a one way street heading north.


Swimming/Beach Time - Each of the Park Districts and Suburbs having Lake Michigan as their Eastern Boundary, have a Beach where swimming is present. Lifeguards are made available at these public beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day, outside of those dates swimming at these beaches is at your own risk. Each park district charges a daily fee and or seasonal fees. Please check each Park Districts websites for hours, rules, fees, and parking. On and off season the Beach is a wonderful place to explore for fish, plant life, shells and sea glass that wash ashore. As well as noticing the many bird and plant species unique to the shores of Lake Michigan.

Wilmette: Gillson Park Beach 59.2 acres at Sheridan Road and Michigan Avenue) and Langdon Park Beach (3.4 acres at 1398 Sheridan Road). www.wilmettepark.org

Kenilworth: A park at the east end of Kenilworth Avenue

Winnetka: Elder Beach (  4.6 acres at Elder Lane and Sheridan Road, Maple Street Beach (  2.7 acres  at Maple Street and Sheridan Road) and Tower Road Beach ( 1.8  at Tower Road and Sheridan Road): www.winpark.org

Glencoe: Lakefront Beach and Park at the intersection of Longwood Avenue/ Park Avenue and Longwood Avenue/ Hazel Avenue: www.glencoeparkdistrict.com