Your Guide to Unique Outdoor Adventures in Suburban Cook County

Bike race at Big Marsh Park

Did you know you could zipline through the trees in Cook County? What about renting BMX bikes for the whole family at a nature preserve and trying out a pump track? No need to book a trip or drive very far; unique outdoor adventures are actually awaiting you right here in the Chicagoland area.

Self-proclaimed thrill seekers – or those simply interested in trying something unique – can find a variety of new adventures conveniently located nearby. They’re great ways to get up, get outside, and take a break from the everyday.

In fact, we’re told that trying something new is good for our bodies and our minds. (Instant shot of dopamine – the feel-good chemical in our brains, thank you!)

Take a look at these fun ideas sure to get your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and your head looking for even more.

Bemis Woods

You can experience the Cook County Forest Preserves from new heights…literally…at the Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park at Bemis Woods-South. Just how high? 40-foot-high treetop crossings, to be exact. More than a simple high ropes canopy tour, the Treetop Adventure features suspended obstacles, Tarzan Swings and multiple ziplines. (The longest is 553 feet.)

If you’re not so sure, you can also try an introductory tour with lower elevation and less obstacles. Younger kids (and the kid in all of us) will enjoy the Treetop Nets…basically a playground in the sky complete with treehouses, bouncy nets and giant slides.

As if the treetop adventures aren’t enough, this Western Springs fun zone also offers axe throwing (hint: it’s about technique, not strength) and an escape room challenge, where the forest is your “room” but you still have to rely on your friends or family members to work together to solve riddles and crack codes.

Bemis Woods Ropes Course with a boy on it.

Big Marsh Bike Park

There’s biking, and then there’s biking at Big Marsh. This world-class bike park features two state-of-the-art asphalt pump tracks, three jump lines (with different levels of difficulty) for BMX bikes, and three miles of single-track dirt trails that feature wooden rollers, ladder bridges and other features.

In all, there are six trails with different difficulty levels – something for experienced off-roaders to families with young kids. It’s the first of its kind in the Midwest.

No bike? No problem. Friends of Big Marsh rents mountain bikes, dirt jumpers and BMX bikes (in both adult and kid sizes) onsite. Visit their site for details and reservations.

Big Marsh Park is situated on 229 acres of parkland – roughly 45 acres are reserved for biking and eco-recreation. You can also find the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, a picnic and grilling area, and opportunities for bird and wildlife viewing.

Big Marsh Park Aerial View

Meinke Park Challenge Course

Calling all wanna-be American Ninja Warriors! The Challenge Course at Meinke Park in northwest suburban Schaumburg is a fun obstacle course complete with ninja steps, a traverse wall, floating boards, vault wall and 40-yard dash.

But families – or anyone with a competitive streak – will love timing themselves on the built-in timing system and scoreboard. (Hmm…Parent vs Parent? Teen vs Teen?) Or you can simply compete against your own time, trying to improving your balance and agility with each attempt.

This synthetic turf course is located in a park with a playground, tennis courts and basketball court. It’s also adjacent to Meinke Pool.

Meineke Park Challenge Course

Commissioners’ Park

Why watch it on YouTube if you can get outside and do it yourself? You can also find another amazing ninja-style obstacle course at Commissioners’ Park in northwest suburban Streamwood.

Like Meinke’s, it’s a great way to get outside and blow off some steam. It’s also a great low-stakes way to find out what it takes to conquer the rope wall or ladder bridge. (Don’t worry, we’re not watching.)

This newly renovated park is nestled in a quiet treelined area. You can make a day of it by taking time to also enjoy the playground, basketball court, fustal court, football/soccer field, tennis/pickle ball courts, gazebo/shelter, and walking path.

Commissioner's Park

P.S. No judgment if you’d like to try something new that’s a little more low-key. (Maybe you’d like to try your hand at nature photography) Even a picnic or a walk somewhere new in the 70,000 acres of the Forest Preserves of Cook County works too.