Want to get out in nature more? We always feel so refreshed when we go outside all year round. Sometimes it’s harder to get out than others, but nothing beats fresh air.
There are so many nature places to go in the Chicago area. Some of these ideas are bigger outings or road trips and others are simple and quick, but all of them involve the beauty of natural attractions and places to go to enjoy nature.
We also have an amazing map of things to do with kids in Chicagoland, so check that out if you need more ideas!
There are some wonderful places that are rooted in nature experiences.
The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum, located in Lisle, has an award-winning children’s garden, maze garden, and 16 miles of hiking trails. We have been there many times throughout the years and written about the areas and activities at the Arboretum. They have been doing large-scale art installations each summer, so you can also head to our article about The Morton Arboretum to get more details on that too.
Cantigny Park is a beautiful place to stroll around gardens, play at the tank park and playground, and visit the museum. At only $5 per car, it’s also a great deal! Check out our insider’s guide to Cantigny Park for more details and tips.
St. James Farm
St. James Farm is a free local outing for families looking to stretch their legs, learn a little history, and enjoy the gorgeous outdoor landscaping. Rachel’s family took a lot of pictures to give you a sneak peek!
Visiting Elwood Garden is an unexpected treat. There’s a Peter Rabbit’s Garden with kids activities, playground, sandbox, pretend play, a little playhouse, and more. It’s ideal for little kids. Click here for more details.
Peck Farm Park
A nature area in Geneva, Peck Farm Park has a butterfly house, nature playground, nature center and museum, observation silo, and sensory garden.
When you think of Chicago, you don’t often think it’s possible that we have waterfalls, but there are some great ones! Okay, our local waterfalls aren’t like Niagara Falls, but they are beautiful and relaxing to watch.
A couple of the waterfalls are tricky to find, so we created guides with photos and directions:
You can also go directly to our article about all of the waterfalls in Illinois to see the full list.
Have you heard about creek stomping? It’s more common in other areas of the United States, but we happen to have the perfect creek to stomp in around here too! In downtown Oswego you can go creek stomping in the Fox River. Click here to find out all about this fun way to cool off.
Did you know that there are many farms in our area that are open to the public? Some give tours and others are open for you to explore on your own. Visit with the farm animals or learn a little about farming at these working farms.
We also have insider guides for a few farms that we have been to and taken photos so you can get a sneak peek:
Best Forest Preserve Trails
We rounded up the best forest preserves to take a walk, ride your bike, or meander the paths. Readers voted on their favorites and we also scoped all of them out to give you insight about what you will find at each one.
If you prefer to jump directly to one of these, you can:
Most nature centers in the Chicago area have both indoor and outdoor spaces to explore, so it’s a great place to go year round. You can find animals, taxidermy, bones, rocks, fossils, and other learning opportunities at nature centers.
We have visited most of them, so you can check out our detailed articles below.
- Red Oak Nature Center
- Lake Katherine
- Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum
- Knoch Knolls Nature Center
- Little Red Schoolhouse
- Pilcher Park Nature Center
- Hidden Oaks Nature Center
- Springbrook Nature Center
If you would like to see all of your options, click here for our full guide to all of the nature centers in Chicagoland with photos and descriptions of what you will find there.
Plant conservatories are underrated! You can enjoy fresh air and warmth all year round in these greenhouses full of plants, flowers, trees, and more. They are fun for all ages.
One of my favorite things to do with my kids is walk around a plant conservatory. They are beautiful places to explore… and free! We tend to go on rainy or dreary days because the warm, fresh air lifts my spirits and we feel like we’re on vacation!
My kids really enjoy walking on the winding paths and taking time to appreciate nature. Did you know that there are areas and events especially made for kids at some conservatories? There are also beautiful areas outside the greenhouses to walk and play!
Oak Park Conservatory
615 Garfield Street
Oak Park, IL 60304
Oak Park Conservatory is closed on Mondays and open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am-4pm. The conservatory is also closed on select holidays. Please note that groups of 10 or more need to register in advance at the number above.
There are three garden showrooms, a water feature, and outdoor native plant garden. Besides beautiful flowers and paths, there are talking parrots! Guided tours are available for a fee.
Rehm Park is also across the street, which makes a great combo trip. There is a variety of playground equipment, and in the summer the hand-powered trains are out and children can propel themselves around the park on a track.
Wilder Park Conservatory
225 Prospect Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126
Wilder Park Conservatory is open April through December from 8am-6 pm and January through March from 8am-2:30pm. In 2023, it will be closed on March 27-31, October 23-27, and November 27-December 1.
Wilder Park Conservatory has the smallest greenhouse on this list, but it is worth checking out. It is located in Wilder Park, which is also where Elmhurst Public Library, Elmhurst Art Museum, and Wilder Mansion sit.
Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N. Central Park Avenue
Chicago, IL 60624-1996
Open Wednesday from 10am-8pm, and Thursday through Sunday from 10am-5pm. Admission is free and you are welcome to give a donation.
Garfield Park Conservatory is the largest conservatory we’ve ever been to with eight indoor display gardens and more than 10 acres of outdoor gardens. There is even a nature play space for kids.
We love to walk around the different houses, ducking under arches full of hanging plants, enjoying waterfalls, stepping over streams, exploring moss covered stones, and watching fish in the ponds.
2391 North Stockton Drive
Chicago, IL 60614-3419
Parking available for a fee
There are four display houses, including the Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House and Show House, which is home to the annual flower shows.
Bird Haven Greenhouse
225 N Gougar Road
Joliet, IL 60432
One of the great aspects of Pilcher Park is that there is a paved path between the conservatory and nature center. It’s about a one mile walk, so if you wanted to visit both, it’s a nice way of getting exercise and enjoying nature along the way. The conservatory is small, but it makes a great combo trip.
Friendship Park Conservatory
395 W. Algonquin Road
Des Plaines, IL 60018
Outdoor courtyard and indoor three-story atrium. As of September 2023, public hours are Monday: 10:00 AM-3:00 PM, Wednesday: 10:00 AM-3:00 PM, and Friday: 10:00 AM-3:00 PM
Seasonal Places to Go for Nature Activities
There are also several opportunities to spend time in nature depending on the season. Here are some nature activities that we enjoy seasonally.