This winter has changed me. Instead of dreading going outside in the cold, I actually look forward to going outside ESPECIALLY if there is snow on the ground! In fact, my new mantra is: Embrace the snow. With this newfound outlook, I couldn’t wait for our next winter adventure to Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington, Illinois. Our objective of the day? Hiking and snowshoeing! We quickly found out that Crabtree Nature Center is one of the best spots to try snowshoeing and a wonderful place for a winter hike.

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Please note: Nature Center was closed but bathrooms were open.

Interested in more spots to go snowshoeing for free or cheap near Chicago? Check out this awesome list!

Winter hiking and snowshoeing fun at Crabtree Nature Center

Download the map

As always whenever we go hiking, I always download a map if my All Trails app doesn’t work. Here’s a link to the map.

Getting started at Crabtree Nature Center

Crabtree Nature Center has a few parking lots. But due to COVID, they have limited parking.

Get your snowshoes 

We love that Crabtree Nature Center offers free snowshoes on a first come, first served basis. Before you make it out there, make sure to call for trail conditions as you will need at last 4″ of snow. You will need a license to rent, and yes, they have kid sizes! This was our first snowshoeing experience so we didn’t know what to expect. But the staff was great and gave us a brief overview.

Tips for snowshoeing

As I mentioned previously, it was our first time snowshoeing so had no clue what to expect. Here are my thoughts. 

  • Try it out first. The short Giant’s Hollow Trail was PERFECT since it was only .2 miles. It was enough time to determine how we liked it (or not liked it). After this time, we found out that the kids’ snowshoes kinda sucked and had to reattach it every few minutes. Next time, I would try something like this instead. The adult ones were awesome though (Cabela’s brand) and were secure the entire time. Even so, my husband quickly decided that snowshoeing was not for him.

Snowshoeing tip: Try the short Giant's Hollow Trail first to get acclimated to snowshoeing.

  • Snowshoeing is a workout! I reached a stride and quite enjoyed it but let me tell you after mile one I was just about D-O-N-E. If I had to do this again, I would stick to something closer to a mile. We ended up going around the Bur Edge Trail and in the end did a little less than 2 miles.
  • Plan for more time than you need. When borrowing the snowshoes at Crabtree, there was no time limit. But if borrowing elsewhere, I would allot more time than you think. During our entire time, we were probably snowshoeing for about 2 hours.

Snow play fun

Before embarking on our adventure, the kids spotted the shovels, snow paint, and more by the area where we put on our snowshoes. It took them a bit of coaxing to leave this area.

See animals

Just around the nature center are a few animal enclosures. We saw owls and a red tailed hawk. Unfortunately, the indoors were closed. I know they have other animals there too.

Tip:Looking for another fun winter experience. Try a candlelight hike. There’s another free candlelight hike coming soon.

Nature play area

My kids love their nature play areas and Crabtree Nature Center’s is no exception. Although most of the nature play area was covered under snow, the kids had a blast here. So much fun! 

Tip:There is a capacity of 20 people allowed in the Nature Play area.

Looking for more nature play areas? A few more for you to check out: Lincoln Marsh, Lake Katherine

Winter hiking fun at Crabtree Nature Center

After our fun at the nature play area, it was time to get hiking! After the short Giant’s Hollow Trail, we connected to the Bur Edge Trail. Very pretty scenery through the woods, prairie, and snow-covered. 


Explore more places to go snowshoeing for FREE or cheap here.

Nitty Gritty:

Location: 3 Stover Rd, Barrington Hills, IL 60010
Cost: Free
Parking:  Limited parking but still plenty of room 
Crowded:  Not busy at all when we visited on Saturday afternoon

Winter family fun including snowshoeing and a peaceful hike at Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington, Illinois.