Nature Centers in Chicagoland: Bring the Outdoors Inside

Indoor Activities

Nature centers are the perfect stop for any wildlife lover. These family-friendly stops are a win no matter what the weather. Bundle up to go outside in the winter, cool off inside during the summer or do both. They’re a hit year-round. No matter what mother nature has in store for us, you can stop in to one of these visitor centers where you can meet animals, learn about native plants, and so much more.

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

Nature Centers in Chicagoland

Times and hours are current as of July 16, 2021. Due to the smaller-sized facilities and hands-on approach to learning at nature centers, they have been slower to reopen. Call ahead to confirm hours before you go.

Bartlett Nature Center

Photo from the Bartlett Nature Center Facebook page

Bartlett Nature Center
2054 W. Stearns Road
Bartlett, IL 60103
(847) 608-3120

Animals including reptiles, insects, birds and amphibians can be found both indoors and outdoors at the Bartlett Nature Center. Guests are welcome Monday through Friday, from 9:00am – 4:00pm, and Saturday from 9:00am – 1:00pm.

Red Oak Nature Center

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

Red Oak’s Wildlife Room includes a 500 gallon turtle and fish habitat, as well as frogs, salamanders, snakes, and more. We visited this nature center a few summers ago, check out my full overview of Red Oak Nature Center. Current hours are Monday through Friday from 10:00am – 4:00pm. Saturday and Sunday from 10:00am – 2:00pm.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center

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

This big, fun center boasts interactive exhibits and hands-on discovery.  Kids can explore the Habitat Tree exhibit, match up animal sounds and scents, or check out rotating activities in the Discovery Room. There’s a rooftop garden with cafe tables that’s gorgeous in warm weather. Outside, you’ll find an intricate Wooly Mammoth statute made from twisted reclaimed steel, a buried car, and a nature-themed playground. As of July 16, 2021, they are open on weekends from 10:00am – 4:00pm. Get a full view of Hidden Oaks Nature Center in our review for all seasons!

North Park Village Nature Center

Photo from the North Park Village Nature Center’s Facebook page

North Park Village Nature Center
5801 N. Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60646
(312) 744-5472

This Chicago nature center features a discovery room, a table for hands-on play with natural objects, and interactive displays. Outside, trails cover a wide range of scenery, from wetlands to savannas. Check their website for the most up-to-date information regarding visiting hours.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago - photos of butterflies and koi fish in a pond

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N Cannon Drive
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 755-5100

The crowning jewel of this museum is its 2,700 square foot greenhouse with more than 1,000 butterflies fluttering among trees and above a koi pond in a mini tropical paradise. There are tons of other kid-friendly exhibits, including RiverWorks, a really cool working river that lets kids reverse the flow of the river, turn it into a lake, and more. We’re so excited to see that they’ve recently reopened their doors to visitors, with guests welcome Thursdays through Saturdays, from 10:00am – 4:00pm. Visitors will pay $9 per adult, $7 for students and seniors, $6 per child 3-12, free for children under 3. Suggested donations days throughout the summer are listed on their website.

Lyman Woods Nature Center

Photo from the Lyman Woods Nature Center Facebook

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

This sustainably built center has grass growing from the roof in spring, when you can also catch the butterfly garden in bloom. Check out the landscaping and rain gardens outside, then head inside to tour the exhibits, see an active beehive at work, or borrow an Adventure Pack for exploring the woods. As of July 16, 2021, Lyman Woods Nature Center is closed to the public for summer camps and recreation programs. Check their website for details about reopening.

Willowbrook Wildlife Center

Willowbrook Wildlife Center
525 S Park Boulevard
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

This spot made our list of the 10 Best Nature Centers with Free Admission! 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. There is a great circular path that leads around the outdoor animal cages, a butterfly garden where there are laminated sheets to identify butterflies and a sensory garden. As of July 16, 2021, the building at Willowbrook Wildlife Center was still closed to visitors. The outdoor exhibits are open daily from 10:00am – 3:00pm.

Spring Brook Nature Center

Spring Brook Nature Center
130 Forest Avenue
Itasca, IL 60143
(630) 773-5572

Kids can check out a big aquarium with fish and turtles or put together free crafts inside this nature center, which looks like a big red barn. A butterfly and hummingbird garden grows in warmer weather. If you’ve gone in the past, they’ve recently remodeled the inside to include new exhibits. Hours vary by season; see website for details.

Sagawau Environmental Learning Center

Photo from the Forest Preserve of Cook County’s website

Sagawau Environmental Learning Center
12545 West 111th Street
Lemont, IL 60439
(630) 257-2045

The center has a big, cozy space filled with tables and chairs, as well as a couch by the fire—perfect for getting warm after a winter walk through the woods. The displays, which span topics like geology and habitat management, are mostly text and pictures, perfect for elementary-aged visitors and up. Open daily from 9:00am – 4:00pm.

Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum

Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum
Benedictine University
5700 College Road
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 829-6545

Check out their impressive collection of over 3,500 mammals, birds, sea creatures, reptiles, amphibians, insects, skeletons, and more to examine and learn about throughout the museum! They also have Discovery Boxes to check out and guided tours for groups and families by appointment. Click here to read more about Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum. Note: As of July 16, 2021, the museum is closed to visitors. When open, hours vary by season; see website for details.

Knoch Knolls Nature Center

Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville

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

This newer center sits on the edge of the DuPage River and has a large deck that extends out over the water for fabulous views. Outside, there’s a really neat mud-free playground; inside, there are exhibits about the river, a huge aquarium, a “living wall” of plants, a hands-on display of natural objects, and more. Check out their calendar to search for kid-friendly events. Hours vary by season; see website for details.

Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center

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

This spot made our list of the 10 Best Nature Centers with Free Admission! The treehouse, which is a big draw for kids at Fullersburg, was locked when we visited in early July. There is still plenty to see and do as you learn about native plants and animals. 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. Their current hours, as of July 16, 2021, are 10:00am – 3:00pm Mondays through Saturdays.

Lake View Nature Center

Lake View Nature Center
17W063 Hodges Road
Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181
(630) 941-8747

Lake View Nature Center is currently only open for programming and private rentals. Make sure to check the Oakbrook Terrace Park District’s program guide for information about their free open house events.

Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens

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

This spot made our list of the 10 Best Nature Centers with Free Admission! Make sure to find time to explore the grounds outside. 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. As of July 16, 2021, all visitors are required to make an appointment by calling ahead.

Trailside Museum of Natural History

Photo from the Trailside Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page

Trailside Museum of Natural History
738 Thatcher Avenue
River Forest, IL 60305
(708) 366-6530

Kids can see live native animals, tour wildflower gardens, learn about local wildlife and their habitats, and more—all inside this historic Victorian mansion from the 1870s. Check the calendar to find events like their regular free Story Trails, which includes a craft kit to-go. Hours vary by season; see website for details.

Creek Bend Nature Center

Creek Bend Nature Center
37W700 Dean Street
St. Charles, IL 60175
(630) 444-3064

Creek Bend has interactive displays and hands-on exhibits centered around local ecology, including a Prairie Ecology exhibit starring a bison from the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Guests are welcome from Monday through Thursday 10:00am – 4:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 12:00pm – 4:00pm.

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center
3795 Campton Hills Road 
St. Charles, IL 60175
(630) 513-4399

A visit to the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center includes a stop at the turtle pond, as well as countless other native animals. The grounds around it, which features over 130 acres of land, are full of wetlands, woodlands, and prairies to explore. Current hours as of July 16, 2021, are Monday though Saturday from 10:00am – 4:00pm.

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

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

This spot made our list of the 10 Best Nature Centers with Free Admission, and is our family’s favorite! 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. Hours vary by season; see website for details.

Looking for other ways to explore nature? Check out our list of the Best Forest Preserve Trails for Kids.

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