Do you remember when you were growing up, and your mom or dad would say, in their mom or dad way, “Turn off the TV, and get outside! The fresh air will do you some good!”
What we would once begrudgingly oblige to turns out to be some of the best advice our parents offered. We DO need fresh air.
“The typical American kid spends about 7 hours a day in front of a screen,” says Emilian Geczi, the youth and engagement coordinator for Chicago Wilderness, a local nonprofit specializing in local conservation and nature restoration outreach, in addition to connecting families with nature. “At the same time, we know from other studies and anecdotal evidence that families are spending less time outside.”
Make it your mission to reverse that trend. Here are several great suggestions for an hour, day or weekend at play.
For an hour
River Trail Nature Center: Want to see a bald eagle up close and personal? Try this free nature center located along the Des Plaines River in Northbrook. “It’s a gem that’s kind of tucked away,” says Director Sue Holt. “It’s a very serene area … we only allow hiking.” Home to a wide variety of wildlife and an interactive visitors center, it’s the perfect place for a walk in the woods and an entry point for kids to learn about nature. 3120 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook, 847-824-8360
Illinois State Beach Park: Looking for a beach that isn’t too close to your home computer? Take a short drive north and spend some time at this state park—the only one located on Ilinois’ Lake Michigan shoreline. Visitors can hike, bike, swim, fish and camp. If you’re interested in a longer stay, there is also a resort and conference center. Zion, IL, 847-662-4811
Caldwell Lily Pond: A hidden gem inside the city limits. “One of my favorite spots in the city is the Caldwell Lily Pond,” Geczi says. “There’s a lot of elevation, it’s accessible to little kids, [and] you can splash around and feel nature.” Fullerton Parkway and Cannon Drive, Chicago
For a day
Castle Rock State Park: Located just north of Dixon, Ill., about a 2-hour drive down I-88 toward Iowa, and lesser known than Starved Rock State Park, Castle Rock offers picturesque trails for walking and hiking, with places to picnic.
Indiana Dunes: Part of the National Park Service, the Indiana Dunes are a great place to tune out your daily noise and tune in to nature. With 15 miles of shoreline and 45 miles of trails, you can swim, hike, fish, bird watch and even camp. Take advantage of the park’s rangers to learn more about the natural surroundings and wildlife that make up the park. Indiana Highway 49 between U.S. Highway 20 and Interstate 94, Chesterton, Indiana, 219-926-7561
For a weekend
Wisconsin Sanctuary & Preserve: Located in central Wisconsin, this private destination lets you get away from it all—quite comfortably. The sanctuary attracts hunters with its luxury stands, but it’s drawing more families, fathers and sons and girlfriend getaways with its myriad of nature-based activities, including birding, hiking, fishing, archery, wildlife photography and horseback riding. Can’t quite disconnect? There’s high-def and Wi-Fi here, and the resort offers upscale fun, including massages, ATV rides and Segway tours. “It’s like a destination vacation,” says manager Ashley Ford. “You can make it what you want, and we’ll take care of everything.” W5734 Chicago Ave., Wautoma, WI., 888-770-4341
Mississippi River: If you’re looking to really unplug, a trip down the Mississippi River may just do the trick. Houseboating is a popular option for families that want to kick back and relax on the water—camp at night on private islands, and dock at super-cute river towns with boutiques, wine trails and fantastic antique shopping. There are many rental companies online, such as Huck’s Houseboat Rental.