5 Best Nature Centers With Free Admission

The weather has been beautiful and looks like it’s going to be for a while now! When I think fall, nature centers and hikes through the forest preserves definitely come to mind. So the past couple weeks my daughter and I went to all of the nature centers you suggested in the survey… Here are all the best finds with highlights and photographs.


Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

9800 Willow Springs Road, Willow Springs, IL

The original Little Red Schoolhouse building, built in 1886, is still on the property, however a new large building was built in 2010 and is full of learning opportunities, activities for children and space to walk around and explore. On the right when you walk in, there is a large activity room where kids can play and events are held. To the left you can find a replica of a wigwam, live and taxidermied animals, a ramp with footprints from throughout the ages, a turtle habitat and many tanks with live animals. There are more birds outside as well as winding paths.


Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center

3609 Spring Road, Oak Brook, IL

The treehouse is a big draw for kids at Fullersburg, along with many hands-on activities, such as making animal footprints in putty and birds hanging from the ceiling that kids can make fly by pulling on the cord. The trails around the nature center are also winding and beautiful. You can admire the fall colors, ducks and waterfall along your journey. This forest preserve also made the top of the list of the Best Forest Preserve Trails For Kids.


Willowbrook Wildlife Center

525 S Park Boulevard, Glen Ellyn, IL

This nature center is free, however requests a $1 donation as they take in and rehabilitate over 8,000 animals each year. In lieu of cash, items are also accepted such as paper towels, pet food, acorns and others from their wish list. This forest preserve district location is the only one that welcomes injured animals and also has the most live animals inside and outside for your kids to watch and learn about. When we were there we had the opportunity to watch a baby squirrel feeding, which was fun. There is a great circular path that leads around the outdoor animal cages, butterfly garden where there are laminated sheets to identify butterflies and a sensory garden.


Lake View Nature Center

17W063 Hodges Road, Oakbrook Terrace, IL

This nature center has unique features such as a playground outside with rubber chips instead of mulch or dirt, which makes it easy to play on and not muddy after all the rain. There is also a pond with swan paddle boats that the park district rents out on select days over the summer (keep that one in mind for next year!). The inside of the building is full of activities for children and animals to check out. My daughter’s favorite station was the table full of parts to make your own bug.

Update: This nature center is now closed to the public.


Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens

7402 Lake Katherine Drive, Palos Heights, IL

The grounds around this nature center are beautiful. You are welcomed with a stream leading to a pond and as you follow the path around you see huge flowers around the building. On the top floor inside there are interesting displays, such as sand from around the world and different types of rocks. There is a reading and activity corner as well as a lower level with animals, including many snakes, a bunny and other interesting creatures.


You might also like:

10 Best Parks and Playgrounds in the Near Western Suburbs

6 Best Forest Preserve Trails For Kids

About the Author

Annie Tandy
Annie loves making great memories with her kids and started Kidlist so she can help others do the same! Besides finding fun and exciting things to do, Annie, her husband, and their kids enjoy caring for their chickens and hanging out with them in the backyard. Click here to read about Annie's chickens and see pictures! She also finds joy in gardening, home improvement projects, knitting, soap making, and painting along with being active in her community, church, and as a board member of the Western Springs Business Association. You can follow Annie on Instagram here.

5 Comments on "5 Best Nature Centers With Free Admission"

  1. dolores Scaletta | September 23, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Reply

    Very interesting.

  2. please come out and see us at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Bolingbrook, we are also free and have activities for children a nature scape play area, live reptiles and trails. Our sister park is Hiiden Lakes Historic Trout Farm.

  3. love these nature centers! I had so much fun with my campers at the Lake View Nature Center, and I’ve brought my share of animals over to Willowbrook from drop offs at my work. But I will definitely have to visit the other two! If you and your daughter are ever near Park Ridge, stop by and visit Wildwood Nature Center and say hi! Thanks for sharing!

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