Black Friday is a week away, and we’re excited to continue one of our favorite seasonal traditions. The Foundation and our partner REI are pausing the holiday to-do lists to #optoutside instead of shopping on Black Friday. Spending your day off in nature is always an excellent way to unplug and unwind during a busy season. This year, however, choosing to #optoutside is an especially safe and healthy option. As COVID-19 levels continue to rise, spending Black Friday in busy stores not only risks the health of shoppers, but retail and service employees as well. Furthermore, the increasing popularity of online shopping means you can get the same deals without the risk, leaving your Friday open for an adventure in the Forest Preserves.

While some programs and activities in the Forest Preserves of Cook County have been canceled due to tightened public health and safety guidelines, there is still plenty to do in the Forest Preserves. Here are a few excellent choices for your #optoutside adventure. (please check the Preserves’ COVID-19 page for closures and restrictions before planning your day.)

Get Active

If you want to explore the preserves while improving your health, consider going for a hike, run or bike ride. With over 350 miles of trails, The Preserves make it easy to get your cardio while staying socially distant. Follow along Cook County’s historic waterways on paved multi-use trails such as the North Branch River trail and the Centennial trail. Get little wilder by hiking or mountain biking the unpaved Des Plaines or Palos trails systems. If you really want to get your heart racing, the infamous Swallow Cliff fitness stairs are open as well, though the parking lot is operating at 50% capacity.

Get Educated

November is Native American Heritage Month, and Thanksgiving break is a perfect time to learn more about the history and traditions of Indigenous Americans. While brick-and-mortar museums may be off-limits right now, The 4000N trail, an outdoor walking museum created in collaboration with the American Indian Center of Chicago, is open and free to enjoy. This walking path, which runs parallel to Irving Park Road, features elements of Native American art, history, and culture. 4000N spans from Serpent Twin Mound in Schiller Woods to Coil Mound in Horner Park, connecting two of the region’s busiest precolonial trade highways, the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers. 

Get Away 

If you want more of an escape, Forest Preserve Campgrounds are the place to go for a night under the stars. Camp Sullivan in Oak Forest, Camp Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs, and Camp Reinberg in Palatine are open and booking online. Forest Preserve campgrounds offer safe, clean campsites with easy access to trailheads. Tent, RV, and cabin sites are available at all three locations, with reduced off-season prices from November to March. Make sure to book your site soon, as these campgrounds are currently operating at 25% capacity.

Figuring out how to safely navigate this tense and uncertain holiday season will be a challenge. Instead of stressing out over a busy shopping trip, #optoutside with us for some much-needed recreation and respite in the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

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