You don't have to go far. Photo by Dornveek Markkstyrn.

Jason Wire looks at Chicago’s sweetest single-day activities for anyone headed outside in the 3rd biggest city in the country.

TEVA has teamed up with Matador’s global community of outdoors fanatics to show you how to escape to adventure in 12 cities across America. In addition to the article series, we’ll be running an ongoing photo contest. Send us a photo of yourself adventuring abroad or in your back yard and you might win a free pair of new TEVAs.

Adventure: Mountain Biking

Escape Time*: 30-50 minutes
Payoff: Surprising drops and peaks in Midwest elevation, with a good range of paved and single dirt tracks for adventure-seeking intermediate and advanced riders.

The Midwest isn’t exactly known for mountains, much less elevation change of any kind. But those Chicagoans who know head just slightly north to take advantage of the first hills before things get legitimately mountainous in northern Wisconsin. So, if you’re a north-sider, head to Deer Grove, still situated within Cook County and just a short jaunt north to Palatine. You’ll find an eight-and-a-half mile loop trail that’s mostly dirt, but unsurprisingly, the really good stuff is found in the spurs off the main section, where narrow single-tracks squeeze out as much elevation change as they can, up to 100 feet in some areas.

Adventure: Canoeing, or paddling of any kind

Escape Time: 60-90 minutes
Payoff: Floating or paddling through sandstone cliffs along some of the Midwest’s most scenic canoeing spots.

When it comes to paddle sports, look no further than the Fox River, just west of Chicago. It hits the sweet spot between being far enough away to feel ‘away’ from Chicagoland’s urban sprawl, but close enough that you can spend at least 4 or 5 hours in the water and be home just after dark. The scenery is pretty straightforward, but what’s always interested me has been the area’s deep history: it was one of the most important Native American trade routes for nearly 1,000 years, and dozens of battles between the Blackhawk nation and encroaching settlers occurred in the mid-1800s.

Adventure: Skeet Shooting

Escape Time: 45-70 minutes
Payoff: Whether it’s your first shot or your ten-thousandth, the sweet sound of “pull!” followed by a loving shotgun blast and recoil never fails to break even the toughest bouts of monotony.

Scenario A: Your most recent experience with a gun involved the words “Super Soaker,” and just the thought of holding a shotgun feels intimidating. You arrive at SkeetChicago, where the owner, Steve, explains that skeet shooting is basically like golf, except better (because you get to shoot things). He and his wife lay down the basics of the shotgun and the game of skeet–it’s much different than you expect–and then drive you to one of the area’s closest skeet ranges where you suddenly discover your inner John Wayne.

Scenario B: You are John Wayne. You own more than one gun, and you know about skeet, but the thought of such a controlled shooting experience just doesn’t seem as outdoorsy or adventurous as you’d like. You reluctantly arrive at SkeetChicago, and fire off your first round. It’s more difficult than it seems, but the repeated buckshots keep you going, and you eventually find your groove, and the fact that it’s a group activity makes you even more competitive. Ignore your friends who later tease you for yelling “pull!” in your sleep.

Adventure: Dune Hiking, Skiing, and Sledding

Escape Time: 60 minutes
Payoff: Climbing sand dunes over 100 feet high, looking out over Lake Michigan, and hopping on a silky smooth sled ride straight down.

Head east, crossing the Indiana border and you’ll find 15 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, where the water takes on a Sisyphian task of lapping at the heels of towering sand dunes. Indiana Dunes National Shoreline has been admired since the days of Carl Sandberg, but only in 1966 did it become an official National Park.

No instructions are necessary to enjoy your day at such a place, but I’m personally attracted to the huge sand dunes that stretch out like a pop-up lakeshore desert, where you can hike, ski, or sled just about anywhere. Unlike hiking in a forest, there’s nothing but sand in your way, and the combination of hundred-foot dunes and beaches isn’t one you’ll find on either of the country’s other coasts.

*Estimated travel times do not include traffic delays.

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