This blog often focuses on unique or off-the-beaten-path nature destinations, but there’s nothing secret, but a lot that’s special, about today’s blog destination. The Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center (LRSNC) in Willow Springs, Illinois, has been a school field trip destination for decades, and tens of thousands of people visit each year. But the LRSNC is a far different place than I remember from when I was a little boy. In fact, an entire new facility was built in 2010. It’s now one of the crown jewels of the many great nature centers in Chicagoland.
My seven-year-old and I visited on Columbus Day. Here are eight reasons why we had such a good time—and you will, too:
1. A large and fun kids’ indoor play area with live animals, a reading section, games, and much more.
2. An outdoor play area for kids.
3. A two-story museum that traces the geological history of the area and features live snakes, turtles, frogs, fish, and other fauna.
4. The actual Schoolhouse, which was built in 1886 in a nearby area and hosted classes until 1948. It was moved to its present site in 1952. The Schoolhouse now serves as a time capsule of education from another era. My son liked sitting in the old desks. He had no clue what the inkwell holders were in the desks.
5. Great scenery. The LRSNC is situated on the banks of Long John Slough, a pretty body of water surrounded by dense forests. Tip: the trees have barely started changing colors, so the next few weeks or so will be a great time to see the fall colors in all their glory.
6. Easy and enjoyable hikes. The Farm Pond Trail (0.25 miles) is an easy hike for families. The Black Oak Trail (1.75 miles) is the longest trail, but there were gaggles of kids and their moms and dads walking this trail, too. It follows the slough for a portion of the trail, giving hikers the opportunity to view wildlife and the fall colors from an observation blind. Then it heads through a rolling glacial highland of prairie and oak woods. Another option is the White Oak Trail (1 mile). Hikers seeking longer hikes can connect to other trails that weave through the 15,000-acre Palos Preserves.
7. A 6,000-square-foot garden for those with disabilities, or just those who want to immerse themselves in nature.
8. Plenty of events such as an annual art fair, bird walks, stargazing and solstice events, and much more; click here for the latest info.
Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center is located at 9800 Willow Springs Road in Willow Springs, Illinois. Call 708-839-6897 or click here for more information.
Important Points to Remember:
- All nature center buildings are closed on Fridays, but the trails are open.
- Bring good walking shoes and lots of water.
- Bug repellant will also come in handy during the appropriate season.
- Hours vary by season; visit the LRSNC website for the latest information.
Here are some more nature centers in the Chicago area to check out:
- Crabtree Nature Center: 3 Stover Road Barrington Hills, IL 60010, 847/381-6592
- North Park Nature Center: 5801 North Pulaski Road, Chicago, Illinois 60646, 312/744-5472. Click here for my blog post about this destination.
- River Trail Nature Center: 3120 Milwaukee Avenue, Northbrook, IL 60062, 847/824-8360. Click here for my blog post about this destination.
- 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