The Winners are Here! 2020’s Top 10 Best Nature Centers in Chicagoland

Our nature loving readers have voted and these are your top 10 nature centers in Chicagoland! Nature centers can be visited year round and have indoor spaces for your kids to explore and learn about animals, plants, habitats, and geology! Nature centers are amazing destinations that are kid friendly and the best part . . . 9 out of 10 nature museums on our list are FREE!

10 Best Nature Centers in Chicagoland

1. Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
9800 Willow Springs Road
Willow Springs, IL 60480
(708) 839-6897

Your number one pick for the best nature center in Chicagoland is the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs . . . and that’s no surprise! This is a huge facility with live animals, interactive exhibits, indoor and outdoor nature-themed play areas, a historical school, and miles of hiking trails to explore. It’s definitely a local favorite for families. The big indoor space makes it a great year-round destination, too. Read Jill Kowalski’s full review.

2. Willowbrook Wildlife Center

Willowbrook Wildlife Center
525 S Park Boulevard
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
(630) 942-6200

Willowbrook Wildlife Center is an active native wildlife rehabilitation facility where the staff cares for injured or orphaned animals. The visitor center showcases native animals, plus offers a peek inside the kitchen and nursery where baby animals are cared for. There are also animal exhibits outside, as well as a butterfly garden and hiking trails.

3. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Photo Courtesy of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Website

Willowbrook Wildlife Center
2430 N. Cannon Dr. 
Chicago IL 60614
(773) 755-5100

New to the list for 2020, our readers love the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago. This museum does charge per person, but the extensive exhibits make up for the cost. The Peggy Notebaert Museum offers live animal exhibits, butterfly releasing, story times, art exhibits, toddler friendly play areas, water play, bird houses, a nutrition exhibit, and nature walks. The cost is $9 per adult, $7 for seniors and students, $6 children ages 3-12, and free for children under 3. If you are a Chicago library member, you can check out a Kids Museum Passport from the Chicago Public Library and it is good for free on-site admission for two adults and two children.

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4. Knoch Knolls Nature Center

Knoch Knolls Nature Center
320 Knoch Knolls Road
Naperville, IL 60565
(630) 864-3964

Knoch Knolls Nature Center is a newer center in an impressive LEED Platinum facility. The building itself teaches kids about sustainability and the wise use of resources: they can see solar panels, a water cistern, a “living wall” of plants, and more in action. Interactive displays rotate out regularly, and there are also small animals to visit. The center itself is on the smaller side and can be explored top to bottom in under an hour. The outdoor playground is nice and big, and Knoch Knolls has great hiking onsite, too. Read Rachel’s review of Knoch Knolls Nature Center.

5. Fullersburg Woods Nature Center

Fullersburg Woods Nature Center
3609 Spring Road
Oak Brook, IL 60523
(630) 850-8110

The tree play house is definitely a fun feature here! Fullersburg Woods also features woolly mammoth bones from more than 13,000 years ago, as well as hands-on activities with microscopes and other equipment. The building is a great home base for hiking the preserve. You can also pair a visit here with seeing the Graue Mill and Museum and the Frederick Graue House, which are also within the preserve.

6. Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens

Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens
7402 Lake Katherine Drive
Palos Heights, IL 60463
(708) 361-1873

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You’ll find small animal exhibits, nature-themed books, and plenty of natural artifacts inside the Lake Katherine Nature Center. Grab a scavenger hunt before heading out to explore. Lake Katherine itself has gorgeous grounds for hiking, a vibrant butterfly garden, and a lake where you can rent canoes and kayaks!

7. Red Oak Nature Center

Red Oak Nature Center
2343 S River Street
Batavia, IL 60510
(630) 897-1808

Red Oak Nature Center is really kid-friendly! The interactive exhibits teach about nature through play and exploration. As Katie notes in her review of Red Oak Nature Center, the center’s Wildlife Room is home to a variety of animals displayed at a great level for kids to check everything out without standing tip-toe.

8. Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Kids playing a match-the-smell game at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Bolingbrook

Hidden Oaks Nature Center
419 Trout Farm Road
Bolingbrook, IL 60440
(630) 739-2600

Hidden Oaks is another very kid-focused spot. The lower level centers on a huge tree display and is full of interactive exhibits and live local animals. Upstairs, the Discovery Room has materials for reading, coloring, and exploring through nature-themed activities. In nice weather, you can bring your lunch to the rooftop patio or check out the nature playground. Click here for Jill’s review.

9. Vera Meineke Nature Center at Bison’s Bluff

Photo courtesy of Vera Meineke Nature Center website

Vera Meineke Nature Center at Bison’s Bluff
111 E. Schaumburg Rd.
Schaumburg, IL 60195
(847) 985-2100

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The Vera Meineke Nature Center is adjacent to the Bison’s Bluff outdoor natural play area for children. Inside the Meineke Nature Center interactive exhibits included local plants and animals, a children’s activity area, library, and living turtle pond display. During the spring and summer seasons, the kid’s vegetable garden and a new monarch education gardens are open. If you are going to the nature center during nicer weather, check out Annie’s review of Bison’s Bluff Nature Playground for a unique play opportunity.

10. William F. Sherman, Jr. Interpretive Center at Lyman Woods Nature Center

Photo courtesy of the Lyman Woods Nature Center Facebook

Lyman Woods Nature Center
901 31st Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 963-9388

Inside the William F. Sherman, Jr. Interpretive Center you will find changing exhibits such as beehives, native plants, butterfly areas, and programs taught by volunteers. Outside, there are 150 acres of prairie, marsh, and oak woods. Explore the rain fall garden and butterfly release on a nice day. They also offer nature camps and birthday parties through the Downer’s Grove Park District.


Thanks again to everyone who voted! Be sure to check out our big list of all the nature centers in Chicagoland for more ideas to explore.

About the Author

Nicole Majewski
Nicole and her family live in Bloomingdale. She is a former teacher and now stay at home mom of three adorable kids. Her family loves to be outside, exploring nature and getting dirty. In the winter months, you will find them at the local library or an indoor play place.

8 Comments on "The Winners are Here! 2020’s Top 10 Best Nature Centers in Chicagoland"

  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!

  4. New one to check out: The Grove Interpretive Center in Glenview! It JUST re-opened last Saturday. I had a pleasure to work (Wight & Company) on this one as well as Hidden Oaks and Knoch Knolls. If you like theses two – you will LOVE The Grove: giant turtle island with live turtles and waterfall (one is over 100 years old, his name is Al – local celebrity :). Water snakes, huge aquarium and beautiful trails.

  5. Betty Prestler | February 28, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Reply

    I love Nature Centers! Red Oaks is my favorite as is so close to where I live! I love learning more about the area I live in! My grandchildren have been
    facinated by the incredible displays! Love the cave too!

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