The Ultimate Guide to Extreme Sports in Illinois

<a href="" target="_blank">Jet skiing on Lake Michigan | © VV Nincic / Flickr</a>
<a href="" target="_blank">Jet skiing on Lake Michigan | © VV Nincic / Flickr</a>
Photo of Tim Marklew
21 April 2017

Despite being one of the flattest states in the union, Illinois has its fair share of activities for thrill-seekers. Lake Michigan offers an abundance of water, and Chicago has a number of skate parks, while central and southern Illinois have state parks for mountain biking and rock climbing in the summer, snowmobiling and ice climbing in the winter, and established skydiving and racing options.


The Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle, a couple of hours west of Chicago, offers jumps for all experience levels. It specializes in first skydives but also offers jumps up to 18,000 feet (5.5 kilometers), the highest in the Midwest. Its staff are skilled and safe, and the facilities are among the best in the country. A free shuttle even runs to and from Chicago on a first come, first served basis; the usual pick-up/drop-off point is the University of Chicago Gleacher Center.


Illinois’s harsh winters can be a positive for those into winter sports. Spread across the state are more than 2,500 miles (4023.36 kilometers) of snowmobiling trails, created and maintained by local snowmobile clubs, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and local municipalities. The sport has strict guidelines, so the best way to get started is to join one of the 80 local clubs that make up the Illinois Association of Snowmobile Clubs.

Jet skiing

Of all the water sports available on this side of Lake Michigan in the summer months, jet skiing is, without doubt, the most exhilarating. A number of places rent jet skis to take out onto the lake in Chicago: Chicago Water Sport Rentals at 31st Street Harbor and Windy City Watersports in Uptown are open Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Jet skiing on Lake Michigan | © VV Nincic / Flickr

Mountain biking

Illinois has a number of state parks offering great opportunities for mountain biking, the best being situated in the hilly south and around the banks of the Illinois, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers. Mountain biking website Singletracks has information on 75 trails, and members rate Marshall’s The Fay Pickering Memorial Trails, Oakwood’s Kickapoo State Recreation Area and East Peoria’s Farmdale Reservoir Recreation Area as the best the state has to offer.


Chicago is well equipped for skateboarders, bladers, and BMXers with free skate parks all around the city. Logan Blvd. Skate Park, located under the Kennedy Expressway, features a bowl, hips, a funbox, spines and rails, and artwork (including sculptures by artist Lucy Slivinski). Grant Skate Park offers similar facilities with the city skyline as your backdrop, while Burnham Skate Park is just off the Lakefront Trail near the 31st Street Beach.

Grant Skate Park | © West Door/Flickr

Rock climbing

Illinois’s highest point is Charles Mound, a gentle 1,235-foot (376.4-meter) hill, but rock climbing’s and rappelling’s growing popularity means there are several options to do both: southern Illinois has Jackson Falls in Shawnee National Forest, Devil’s Standtable cliff and Shelter #1 bluff in Giant City State Park, and Big Rocky Hollow and Cedar Bluff in Ferne Clyffe State Park; in the north, 150 climbing routes overlook the Mississippi River at Mississippi Palisades State Park—don’t miss ice climbing in the winter, too.

Auto racing

The first ever automobile race in the U.S. was the Thanksgiving Day Chicago Times-Herald race from Chicago to Evanston, held on November 28, 1895. Looking for a little more speed than the 7 mph averaged by the winner of that race? The Chicagoland Speedway has the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience: the 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) oval track has 18-degree banks in its turns, and its NASCAR- and Cup-Style race cars manage speeds of 150 mph and more.

Chicagoland Speedway | © tequilamike/Flickr

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