Cantigny Park in Wheaton is a destination for history- and nature-lovers alike. Of course, like every other kid who grew up in this area, I remember it most for the giant tanks you can climb on!
I took my kids (4 and 2) to Cantigny this morning to see what a visit is like now that the park has reopened. It was the best $5 I’ve spent in a long time! We had a great time, and I’m excited to share what you can expect and tips for your trip.
A Visit to Cantigny Park in Wheaton
First opened in 1958, Cantigny Park is the former estate of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, a World War I veteran and longtime editor/publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Its 500 acres of grounds include nature walks, museums, golf, and more.
Cantigny is pronounced can-TEE-nee and is named after Cantigny, France. McCormick fought with the First Division at the Battle of Cantigny.
How Cantigny Park is Keeping Guests Healthy
Right now, Cantigny’s gardens, grounds, restrooms playground, and tanks are open, as is the Visitors Center. You can also visit the First Division Museum with a reservation. When you visit the park, you’ll find the following precautions in place:
- Signs up around the park encouraging everyone to stay at least six feet apart, and to wear a mask whenever distancing isn’t possible.
- Masks required in all buildings, including bathrooms.
- Hand sanitizers stations available around the park.
- First Division Museum requires a free reservation for entry; register in advance.
- Seating capacity limits inside Bertie’s Bistro (outside service is also available).
- McCormick House remains closed.
My kids loved the playground, which has plenty of places to climb, slide, swing, and more. The main structure is recommended for ages 5 to 9; my 4-year-old had a blast climbing up, while my 2-year-old stuck to the smaller places to climb.
The Tank Park at Cantigny
The tanks are open again! My 4-year-old thought it was the height of cool to climb on these giant vehicles. Each tank has a placard with more about its history, including where it was used for fighting.
Some of the tanks are truly huge, and I spotted several adult couples out climbing up and exploring — so bigger kids and teens will have a challenge, too! We stuck to the smaller tanks. My 2-year-old is not very interested in climbing, but he loved the cannon by the museum.
These are real tanks, so you’ll want to watch out for sharp spots or places to get caught and be sure to keep a close eye on the climbing.
The First Division Museum
The First Division Museum is an incredibly immersive museum that brings the history of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division to life through interactive displays, simulations, sound, and more. It made a huge impression on me when I went on a field trip . . . and that was 15 years ago!
We didn’t check out the museum today because my kids are pretty young for it. However, Meghan took her kids to check out the museum after its renovation in 2017. Here are her boys on a simulated ride in a military vehicle:
Gardens and Grounds
Cantigny Park has gorgeous grounds, with lavish garden beds, a variety of paths, artfully landscaped prairie grasses, bubbling fountains, and more. (It’s a wedding venue, as well as a favorite backdrop for local photographers!)
You can learn more about nature walks on Cantigny’s website. Some areas are currently closed due to a large construction project.
The short trip up the Butterfly Hill (near the Tank Park) is worth it for a fun surprise at the top: a giant butterfly-shaped flower bed you can only see from up high! Plus, we saw plenty of real butterflies in the grasses, too.
There is a ramp to get up onto the playground’s fort and bridges and an accessible swing on the swing set. There are quiet a few picnic tables with shortened benches to allow for wheelchair seating.
As I pushed our stroller around, I noticed that the smooth paths and plenty of curb cuts made rolling through a lot easier. There are also push buttons to open doors into the Visitor’s Center. You’ll find additional specifics on Cantigny’s accessibility page.
There are multiple bathroom buildings on the grounds, including private family restrooms. You’ll need to wear a mask inside the bathroom.
What to Bring to Cantigny Park
- Masks for going inside buildings, or for playing on the playground if other kids are around. (We didn’t wear masks to play on the playground when we arrived at 8:30 a.m. because it was empty, but we did when we came back and it was busier around 9:30.)
- You could go either way on a stroller depending on your kids’ ages and willingness to walk. The playground, picnic tables, gardens, and tanks are all fairly close together. I brought a single stroller and most often used it to carry our lunch around, but my 2-year-old decided to ride in it towards the end of our visit.
- Water bottles and something to refill them with. Vending machines selling beverages are open, but all the water fountains have been shut off.
- Food to enjoy at the many picnic tables. (You could also purchase food from Bertie’s Bistro, which has a cafe open from 9:30am to 4:00pm, and table service from 11:00am to 2:00pm daily.)
- Hand sanitizer and/or alcohol-based hand wipes. They have stations available, but I used plenty of our own, too.
- The online map on your phone. They don’t have paper maps.
Parking at Cantigny
Admission is always free to Cantigny, but parking is $5 per car. You can pay via credit card at a booth on the way in. If you want to park near the playground and picnic grounds, head towards the left once you’ve paid; it’s very close to the entrance. You could also turn right and go down towards the front of the parking lot near the Visitor Center and butterfly hill; this is much closer to the tank park and First Division Museum.
Cantigny Park Hours
Cantigny is open daily from 7:00am to sunset.
I highly recommend going as early as you can! Not only will you beat the heat, but the park will be much less crowded.
We got there at 8:30 on a Monday and had the playground to ourselves for about 20 minutes, which was great. When we came back to the playground later, there were many more children, but all wore masks so we put ours on and played for a while. When a group of families came with older kids wearing no masks, I decided it was time for us to head out; the playground’s bridges and ropes mean kids will inevitably be near one another. I was glad we had already gotten so much playground time in before that!