Where: 5801 North Pulaski Road, Chicago, Illinois 60646, 312/744-5472, www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/North-Park-Village-Nature-Center
Open: 7 days a week (excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays) from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Quick Review: A nature preserve and educational facility that offers easy walking trails through woodlands, wetlands, prairie, and savanna; a hands-on exploratory room of natural objects (antlers, shells, pine cones, fossils, etc.); and public programs for preschoolers, school age children, families, and adults. A perfect place to spend a few hours hiking, picnicking, and learning about nature.
DO YOU HAVE young children who are going stir crazy at home? Older kids who want to learn about nature and geology? No kids, but looking for an easy hike amidst nature—all within Chicago’s city limits? Interested in taking a class on yoga, writing about nature, or other self-improvement topics? If so, the North Park Village Nature Center is a good destination. It’s the only nature center in Chicago—46 acres of oak savannah, prairie, pond, and wetland surrounded by busy roads and hidden in the summer and fall by dense stands of trees and foliage.
The Nature Center is a popular destination for our family. It served as an excellent way to introduce our now six-year-old son to wildlife and nature. Wildflowers and wildlife abound in the late spring, summer, and fall. On a visit last summer, we saw fish, water spiders, frogs, turtles, chipmunks, racoons, squirrels, and even a young buck, who came around a bend suddenly by the wetland boardwalk and walked toward us nonchalantly as if we were just three other deer. My son loved exploring the trails (which provide an easy hike except for one optional big hill that’s fun to climb), laying down on the boardwalk to investigate the inhabitants of the wetland, and looking under logs for worms and bugs.
It may not seem like winter is the best time to visit a nature center, but I highly recommend a winter visit—especially after a heavy snowfall. The Nature Center will most likely be your own for a peaceful walk as the wind blows through the barren tree branches, snow coats the ground like a comfy blanket, and all types of wildlife slumber underfoot and deep beneath the ice-covered pond.
The nature center itself is pretty cool (if I may use a sophisticated word)—filled with “you can touch” specimens such as antlers, giant pinecones, bones, and rocks, and a real “beehive” in the window. There’s a kid’s activity room with nature books and animal puppets. The Center offers many programs and special events such as the Maple Syrup Festival, Harvest Festival, Winter Solstice, and City Wilds Fest.
Finally, be sure to pack a picnic lunch. Several picnic tables are available as you enter the woods.
If you don’t live on the north side of Chicago, there are nature centers near you. Here are a few in the Chicago area to check out. I’ll cover some of these in future blog posts.
- Crabtree Nature Center: 3 Stover Road Barrington Hills, IL 60010, 847/381-6592
- River Trail Nature Center: 3120 Milwaukee Avenue, Northbrook, IL 60062, 847/824-8360
- Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center: 9800 Willow Springs Road, Willow Springs, IL 60480, 708/839-6897
- Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum: 738 Thatcher Avenue, River Forest, IL 60305, 708/366-6530
- Sand Ridge Nature Center: 15891 Paxton Avenue, South Holland, IL 60473, 708/868-0606
- Sagawau Environmental Learning Center: 12545 West 111th Street, Lemont, IL 60439, 630/257-2045
In addition to the aforementioned nature preserves in Cook County, visit the websites of the following forest preserve districts for information on their nature centers:
- Lake County Forest Preserves
- McHenry County Conservation District
- Forest Preserve District of Kane County
- DeKalb County Forest Preserve District
- Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
- Forest Preserve District of Kendall County
- Forest Preserve District of Will County
Thanks for reading my blog, Nature in Chicagoland. I’d appreciate it if you could share my blog with anyone who loves nature and is looking for some great destinations in Chicagoland.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
Coming next time at Nature in Chicagoland: A post about Mississippi Palisades State Park