The perfect day: Cross-country skiing at Warren Dunes State Park

Blogger Ted Nelson, also known as Traveling TedToday’s featured writer is Ted Nelson, also known as “Traveling Ted.” He’s our favorite Chicago blogger and we admire his passion for adventure travel.

Ted’s been backpacking since elementary school and has canoed, cross-country skied and hiked all over the United States and the world.

He completed the elite Birkebeiner ski marathon, is a fan of winter camping and once swapped campfire stories with a lady boy in Thailand.

Follow Ted on, Twitter (@travelingted) and Facebook.


A perfect winter day in Chicago

Cross-country skiing in the afternoon and hitting the town at night is a sublime way to spend a winter Saturday in Chicago.

I had plans with friends for Saturday evening.  It was dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant, a Festivus party, and then out for more drinks. It was 10am when I awoke, and I had no obligations between then and 7pm.

There are many ways to waste away a Saturday afternoon: college basketball, reading, social networking on Twitter, Christmas shopping, or going outside, getting exercise, and enjoying the outdoors.

I chose the latter and grabbed the cross-country skis.

Warren Dunes State Park

The entry to Warren Dunes State Park.

In two hours I was at the Warren Dunes State Park, just north of the Indiana and Michigan border right off Interstate 94.  Even in a metropolis like Chicago, one can find a place within two hours or less to adventure.

I pulled into Warren Dunes around 1pm and there was hardly anyone there.  One would think the outdoor areas would be full on a moderately warm Saturday afternoon in December.  People must have been shopping or hunkering down indoors. I had the trails to myself.

Warren Dunes State Park

View from a trail at Warren Dunes State Park.

The trails in Warren Dunes are not groomed.  I usually prefer groomed trails, but the narrow trails snaking in between large dunes make it feel like a true cross-country experience.  Others had skied the trails before, so I was able to follow their tracks.

At one point the tracks ended, yet the trail continued up a large dune.  I decided to make my own tracks and climbed the large hill.  I skied around a corner and was rewarded with a brilliant view of Lake Michigan and the surrounding dunes.

Warren Dunes State Park

Serene landscape at Warren Dunes State Park.

I turned around and a hawk glided over the hills and the bird’s silhouette was outlined in the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky.

I could not believe I had this incredible experience all to myself and I was less than two hours away from downtown Chicago; meanwhile, on the other side of Lake Michigan, millions of people were shopping or wasting away an afternoon.

Warren Dunes State Park

The rugged trails at Warren Dunes State Park.

After an invigorating two hour ski, it was back to my car for a two hour drive to the bright lights of the city.  At Demera, the Ethiopian restaurant, I gorged myself on injera-filled tilapia, beets, and other African delicacies while drinking a few Ethiopian beers.  It was great to be among good friends in the city.

Festivus pole at a Christmas party

Ted (at left) unwinds with friends after a day spent skiing in Warren Dunes State Park.

In the back of my mind the image of a hawk flying over a dune in the bright blue Michigan sky would not go away.  This was a good thing as it was a memory I did not want to disappear anytime soon.

>> Visit the Warren Dunes State Park website for more information on this cross-country skiing destination.

>> Check out the Demera Ethiopian Restaurant website for menus and location.

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