This weekend in Chicagoland is expected to be snowy and cold. While you may not be able to take a long hike or go camping, there are many natured-oriented places, museums, and even an auto museum you can visit to get out of the house and stay out of the snow and cold. Try the following places this weekend or during any other cold or snowy weekend in Chicagoland.
1. The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Wonderland Express is an annual holiday extravaganza that features model trains journeying around and above dozens of Chicagoland’s major landmarks—from Wrigley Field and the Baha’i Temple, to Sears Tower and The Bean—all lovingly created with the use of leaves, wood, and other natural products. There are also water features, snowflakes occasionally falling from the indoor “sky,” and holiday music. Click here for my article about the Wonderland Express.
The Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022, 847/835-6801) also has three amazing greenhouses—two filled with exotic tropical plants (pruned in the summer so that they bloom in the winter to wow us sad-sack shivering Chicagoans) and another arrayed with an amazing medley of cacti and succulents—some more than 10-feet tall.
The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Wonderland Express is open through January 6, 2019, with the following hours:
November 23 – December 21, 2018, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
December 22 – January 6, 2019, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
December 25: CLOSED
NOTE: The exhibit closes early on certain days. Click here for details and to order tickets.
Here are the admission prices:
Adults: $11 members/$13 nonmembers
Children ages 3 to 12 and seniors over age 62: $8 members/$10 nonmembers
Children 2 and under: Free
Tuesdays are half price.
There is also a $25/car entry fee.
2. The Field Museum (1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, 312/922-9410): Great historical and nature-oriented exhibits including Underground Adventure (open through December 31, 2020) and Mummies (open through April 21, 2019). Permanent exhibits and features such as Inside Ancient Egypt; Evolving Planet; The Crown Family PlayLab; Fossil Preparation Laboratory; Meteorites; and Pawnee Earth Lodge.
3. Volo Auto Museum (27582 Volo Village Road, Volo, IL 60073, 815/385-3644). The museum features 33 distinct exhibits in 12 buildings on 35 acres. It also features a restaurant and a large antique mall. There’s literally something for everybody at the museum. It’s a family-owned and -run museum and collectibles auto market. More so, it’s a sweet exhaust blast of kitschy Americana. There are hundreds of vintage and famous cars, but the museum also features everything under the sun—from 1950s jukeboxes and arcade games, to military aircraft and 100-year-old trains, to antique bikes, scooters, tractors, and snowmobiles. Unless you’re a chronic grump, you’ll find something that will make you smile, laugh, or simply say wow (like I did when I saw the 28-foot-long guitar car and the 14-foot-tall roller skate car). Click here for my article about the museum.
4. Pullman National Monument (11141 South Cottage Grove Chicago, IL 60628, 773/785-8901): One of the National Park Service’s newest monuments is located on the far south side of Chicago. You won’t find nature in abundance, but rather a wealth of history about the first model, planned industrial community in the United States and the Pullman Company, the founder of the community. Another noteworthy site in the Pullman Historic District is the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, which explores African-American labor history. A. Philip Randolph was a labor and civil rights leader, and the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that represented African-American railroad porters during contentious battles with the Pullman Company over worker rights.
5. Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center (3609 Spring Road. Oakbrook, IL 60523, 630/850-8110): This nature education center is top notch. When you walk inside, you’ll be greeted by friendly staff, tons of exhibits (including one that shows birds that have been recently spotted in Fullersburg Woods), books, informational maps and flyers, and other resources. The kids can view live animals (snakes, toads, etc.), learn about the prints made by different types of animals in the woods via a hands-on exhibit (this was one of my eight-year-old son’s favorites), check out the skeleton of a 13,000-year-old woolly mammoth, and use microscopes and spotting scopes to study various animals and organisms. Kids can play with all types of hands-on exhibits in the kids’ area and climb into a “bird’s nest” (another favorite of my son). Also: good hiking, river views, and much more. Click here for my article on the nature center.
6. Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center (9800 Willow Springs Road, Willow Springs, IL 60480, 708/839-6897): One of the crown jewels of the many great nature centers in Chicagoland. The center offers a large and fun kids’ indoor play area with live animals, a reading section, games, and much more; an outdoor play area for kids; a two-story museum that traces the geological history of the area and features live snakes, turtles, frogs, fish, and other fauna; and the actual Schoolhouse. There’s also good hiking and a 6,000-square-foot garden for those with disabilities. Click here for my article about the nature center.
7. North Park Village Nature Center (5801 North Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60646): A nature preserve and educational facility that offers a hands-on exploratory room of natural objects (antlers, shells, pine cones, fossils, etc.); a reading room for kids; and public programs for preschoolers, school age children, families, and adults. If the rain holds off, take an easy walk through its woodlands, wetlands, prairie, and savanna. Click here for my article.
8. River Trail Nature Center (3120 Milwaukee Avenue, Northbrook, IL 60062, 847-824-8360): A nature center that features beautiful views of the meandering Des Plaines River; friendly and helpful staff; a Noah’s Ark–menagerie of other animals for viewing—from flying squirrels, frogs, turtles, snakes galore, and lizards indoors, to a coyote, bald eagle, owls, and an impressive bee colony outdoors. (Sorry, no elephants or giraffes.); and a large children’s indoor play and exploration area where kids can climb into an “eagle nest,” crawl in a “fox den,” view Native American artifacts, play checkers on a tree stump, read nature books, climb through massive logs (just outside one of the center’s doors), and do much more. If the skies are clear, head outside for great birdwatching and three easy-to-hike trails through forest and wetlands. Click here for my article about the nature center.
9. Galena, Illinois, Area (about 155 miles northwest of Chicago): Nestled on bluffs above the Galena River, Galena is a beautiful historic town (which has more than 1,450 buildings on the National Historic Register, including President Grant’s home), and one of my favorite weekend destinations. This charming town features great restaurants, antique shops, bookstores art galleries, live music, and much more. Nearby, the town of Elizabeth offers the Elizabeth’s Grand Antique Co. (28,000 square feet of antiques; the Apple River Fort State Historic Site (a re-built fort that was the site of a battle in the Black Hawk War of 1832, and at which Abraham Lincoln and his militia supposedly were present; great for kids—especially during the warm months when reenactments and other events are held); the Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum, and Apple River Canyon State Park, which is about 17 miles from Elizabeth. A good hiking option is Mississippi Palisades State Park. Finally, Dubuque, Iowa, an underrated city 25 minutes from Galena, has many interesting attractions, including the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, the Dubuque On Ice Brewfest, and the Dubuque Museum of Art.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes