November 17 is National Take a Hike Day, so we here at Willy’s Wilderness say go take a hike. November is the perfect time of year to lace up your hiking shoes and enjoy the brisk air and change of seasons.
You can wing it or follow some of our suggestions below. However you do it, enjoy the great outdoors!
Choose a theme
Maybe you like fall colors and want to see how many leaves you can find, or perhaps you want to count how many times you run into squirrels or chipmunks with their cheeks packed with acorns. Or you could pick a theme that is an ecosystem like prairies or wetlands. Here are a couple of theme ideas to get you started.
Pinecone stroll: Did you know that pinecones drop from September through November? There are so many out there! Compare different pinecones you find along the way. You can even keep track of all the pinecones you find. Can you match the pinecone to the tree? Pinecones are cool because they open and close depending on the weather. When it rains, open cones on the ground will close up because the water makes their cells swell shut. When they dry out in the sun, the pinecones open up again. Keep an eye out for this as you walk.
Mississippi Flyway watch: We are part of the Mississippi Flyway. Think of it as a highway in the sky for birds. November is nearing the end of migration season, but you can still see plenty of geese and ducks traveling through. This is even the time of year to spot giant sandhill cranes on their journey. Keep your binoculars handy and bring a bird guide with you. Level up by bringing a notebook to keep track of all your finds.
Hoot hike: Stroll around in the evening, just a bit before the sun sets, and you might just hear hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo. It’s the call of the great horned owl! You will never sneak up on an owl; their hearing is just too good. But you might see one if you are lucky. More likely, you will hear them. Brush up on the calls of our Willy County owls — including great horned, barred and eastern screech owls — so you have a better chance of identifying who made the call. Go at dawn or dusk for your best odds of finding — or hearing — owls.
Umbrella walk: Is there anything better than a walk in the rain? Use an umbrella to help keep you warm and dry and listen to all the sounds: the patter, the splash of drops hitting fabric. How do the colors look in the rain? What are you smelling? Just make sure to choose a trail that is wide enough to fit your rain gear.
Fall colors: Make your hike all about the change of colors at this time of year. Turn it into a scavenger hunt! Grab some paint color samples from the hardware store and see how many colors you can match in nature.
Getting ready for winter: As you hike along, see how many plants and animals are prepping for the colder months ahead. Leaves changing colors. A chipmunk with a face stuffed with food. An open milkweed pod with fluffy seeds flying in the breeze. Work together as a group or set it up as a friendly competition.
Pack the right gear
First, make sure you are dressed for a hike. This doesn’t need to be fancy equipment or even anything all that different from your everyday clothes, but be smart. Don’t wear tight shoes that don’t really fit. We suggest a pair of gym shoes. Wear layers. That way you can remove a layer when you get warm from exercise and put it back on if the weather changes. And don’t forget a water bottle.
Remember, safety first. Bring a phone or radio for emergencies and include a first-aid kit. This can be as basic as a couple of bandages and an alcohol wipe for short trips or a full kit for a more intense hike.
Make a plan
Where do you want to walk? The Will County forest preserves include miles and miles of trails for you to explore. Don’t know where to start? Check out the Forest Preserve District’s “Woods Walk” program, which runs through the end of November. Once you have a plan, let others know where you are going and when they should expect you back.
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