16 Best Nature Places for Kids in Chicago

Posted: April 11, 2024

The weather is warming up this weekend - it's the perfect time to get out for a spring hike! Check out our roundup of some of the Chicago area's best nature places for kids, where you can hike, explore, and even have a picnic. Plan an outing and explore the Chicago area's natural outdoor beauty with these nature centers, hiking trails, forest preserves, biking trails, forest preserves and other nature locations. Here are some of the areas best family-friendly nature destinations that your kids will love.

Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary
200 W. Montrose Harbor Dr., Chicago
The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary attracts tens of thousands of migratory birds to rest, eat, and shelter each spring and fall. Within the natural area is "The Magic Hedge," a 150-yard stretch of shrubs and trees, so-called because it attracts a curiously high number of migratory birds. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary and the adjacent Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area, making it an internationally recognized area for birding. It also offers easy hiking and scenic views, perfect for little ones.

Fort Sheridan
300 North Central Park Avenue, Chicago
Relax on the sandy shore and enjoy 3.65 miles of trails for recreation and nature observation. There's a 1-mile Hutchinson Trail that features interpretive exhibits and viewing stations; 0.2-mile Lake Overlook Trail along the top of the bluff; and 0.75-mile Parade Grounds Trail that features interpretive exhibits and views of the surrounding Fort Historic District.

Waterfall Glen
Northgate and Cass, Darien
Waterfall Glen is part of the Des Plaines River Valley that was formed by glacial meltwaters and drainage from a postglacial lake. Your family can hike, bike and even ride horses through the trails, enjoying scenery consisting of the Rocky Glen waterfall, Sawmill Creek bluff overlook, and extensive trails. Learn more.

Lincoln Park Conservatory
2391 N. Stockton Drive, Chicago
Located right next to the Lincoln Park Zoo, this is a true oasis in the city. Families can have a tropical experience within the four display houses: Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House and Show House. The Conservatory offers an escape to nature in the heart of the city.

Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe
The Chicago Botanic Garden offers acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and walking paths. Stroll through the expansive rose garden; cross over to the islands of the Japanese Gardens, explore the lush English Gardens and more. Learn more.

Skokie Lagoons
Bordered by Lake-Cook, Willow, Edens, and Forest Road
The Skokie Lagoons offer a wide variety of outdoor activities in a setting of lagoons that wind through Winnetka, Glencoe and Northfield. Explore the water with boating, kayaing and fishing. You can also enjoy biking, hiking, birdwatching and scenic picnic areas.

North Park Village Nature Center
5801 North Pulaski Road, Chicago
This 46-acre nature preserve and educational facility offers trails that wind through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna. Kids can get hands-on with nature in the discovery room, handling natural objects and learning with interactive displays.

Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago, Chicago
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a nature gem in the heart of the city, and is one of Chicago’s most family-friendly museums. Visitors can check out everything from live native animals to nature-inspired art, from toddler-friendly play spaces to dozens of exotic butterfly species, with something for guests of all ages.

Garfield Park Conservatory
300 North Central Park Avenue, Chicago
The Garfield Park Conservatory showcases thousands of plant species in 8 indoor display gardens, and offers visitor the opportunity to immerse themselves in lush flora and tropical temperatures indoors year round. The ten acres of outdoor gardens provide play space for childre, including a water lily pond.

Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle
The Morton Arboretum boasts more than 1,700 acres of gardens, plant collections, and beautiful natural areas. Kids can splash in the Children's Garden's secret streams, climb enormous acorns, slide down giant tree roots, and explore among the trees and nature. Learn more.

Independence Grove
16400 W Buckley Rd., Libertyville
Independence Grove is located in a beautiful on a 115-acre lake, and offers a variety of hiking trails where you could spot deer, raccoons, beavers, owls, deer and more. Families can hike, bike, boat, and plan on the huge playground. Learn more.

Emily Oaks Nature Center
4650 Brummel Street, Skokie
Emily Oaks Nature Center is an oasis in Skokie with a 13-acre savanna and nature center, with a 2-acre pond, hiking trails and native wildflowers. Turn your trip into an adventure with the Woodland Bingo Scavenger Hunt map available on the web site. Learn more.

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
9800 Willow Springs Rd., Willow Springs
The Little Red Schoolhouse offers paths that connect to the Palos Trail System, and you can get there via three different unpaved walking trails, or by way of the paved garden trail. The vistas include rolling hills and deep ravines, with stunning views of the landscapes.

Indiana Dunes
1215 SR-49, Chesterton IN
Just across the border in Indiana is Indiana Dunes National Park, which runs along fifteen miles of Lake Michigan. Explore along the lake or on the sandy bluffs, in the wetlands or the prairies, through forests and along rivers. Enjoy over 15,000 acres of beautiful scenery and 50 miles of trails that pass over and through rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers and peaceful forests.

Buffalo Creek
18163 West Checker Road, Long Grove
Buffalo Creek is a 408-acre preserve with over five miles of gravel trails that you can walk or bike. Walking the trails, you'll cross creeks and prairie and pass by the reservoir - if you want, you can stop and fish in the reservoir!

Glacial Park
6705 Route 31, Ringwood
Glacial Park takes up more than 3,400 acres, with nearly 500 acres of dedicated nature preserve. The park offers a variety of landscapes including rolling prairie, delta kames, oak savanna and the meandering Nippersink Creek. Within the nature preserve, you'll find 40 state endangered or threatened plant and animal species. And this is one of the region's top 5 areas to view migratory wetland birds.

There are more ways to explore nature in and around Chicago. Visit ChicagoKids.com for more nature destinations!