Editor’s note: We’re making every effort to provide you with the most up-to-date information. However, sometimes closures occur at the last minute due to circumstances beyond our control, such as the spread of Covid-19. We highly recommend that you call ahead or check websites before you pack your kids (and all those snacks, and diapers…) and haul them across town. Stay safe!
Chicagoans are no strangers to being stuck indoors for long stretches with our oftentimes unpredictable weather. But this COVID-19 is a whole new beast that will test the patience of even the most resilient cabin-fever battlers. Take a midday recess from schoolwork, art projects and sibling rivalry to take a walk outside to stretch those legs. Illinois State Parks are closed until further notice, but read on to learn where you or your child’s caregiver can feed your soul with a touch of nature.
The Morton Arboretum in Lisle has closed all their buildings and Children's Garden through Mar. 29, but their 1,700 acres of trees and outdoor space are still available for midday brain breaks. Be sure to go potty before you go because restroom availability is limited and the more this can be simply about going on a walk and the less contact you have with facilities and people, the better.
Support Morton Arboretum at mortonarb.org.
Maple Grove is the largest remaining remnant of the vast maple forest that became present-day Downers Grove and is both a rare historic forest and a valuable natural area. Categorized as a globally endangered ecosystem, this preserve has multipurpose and interpretative trails where hikers can appreciate wildflowers and hundreds of plant species, some of which are threatened or endangered. The variety of birds and the great-horned owl will definitely maintain the attention of little hikers. Visitors are welcome to bring their own grills to expand the hike into a fun family picnic.
Lee Ave. & Gilbert Ave., Downers Grove
What was once a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp is now an urban wildlife haven that plays host to a variety of animals with the original visitor center and several of the shelters still standing. Fullersburg maintains two trails manageable for families to hike or bike. A 1.3-mile interpretive trail follows Salt Creek through lowland woods and restored prairies and includes information on DuPage’s natural history.
3609 Spring Rd., Oak Brook
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
Hikers, bikers and stroller jockeys can take advantage of this 2,492-acre forest preserve created long ago by meltaways from the Wisconsin Glacier. Adventure seekers can trek as many as 11 miles of limestone and turf-covered routes via four mapped trails through Waterfall Glen’s most scenic areas which include overlooks and a man-made waterfall.
Cass Ave. & Northgate Rd., Darien
Kettle Moraine State Forest
Thanks to the Wisconsin Glacier over 10,000 years ago, this beautiful playground for outdoor adventurers exists. Kettle Moraine consists of 6 units that display a variety of ecosystems with everything from lakes to bogs and rivers to swamps and activities that range from bird watching (that can be done from the comfort of a stroller) to mountain biking. While the number of trails is expansive, there are quite a few half-mile trails that are home to bullfrogs and cattails which are perfect for little ones just lacing up their first pair of hiking boots.
S91W39091 State Rd. 59, Eagle, Wi
North Park Nature Village
North Park Nature Village, a 46-acre nature preserve, offers a big breath of fresh air in the middle of the city.
Pass through the Nature Center, making sure to visit the discovery room, a hands-on table of natural objects, and the other interactive exhibits, and head out the back door, where the start of the loop hiking trail awaits. At a slow pace, it takes about an hour to hike the entire loop, making this a great hike for little legs.
The best part of this trail is that it provides a beautiful snapshot of Illinois' diverse flora and fauna, carrying hikers through wetlands, tallgrass prairie land, forests and even oak savanna. Wood ducks, geese, garden snakes, painted turtles, deer, raccoons, foxes, bullfrogs, kingfishers, crayfish, and great blue herons all call this corner of the city home. Step atop the observational area, raised up from the Main Loop trail about halfway along the wetlands, where you'll have a better view of the stunning native landscape.
5801 North Pulaski Rd., Chicago
Brookfield Zoo's indoor animal exhibits, the Discovery Center, restaurants and gift shops will be closed through at least Apr. 1, but they're leaving their grounds open (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) so you can peek at the outdoor animals, learn from their placards and stretch your legs—all for FREE.
Support Brookfield Zoo at czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO.
It should be noted that while the Chicago lakefront is normally a great place to take a run or walk, much of it is closed because of the high lake levels. Check the City of Chicago Lakefront Closures and Caution Areas map before going to see which sections are open and walkable. Lincoln Park Zoo has also closed it grounds to visitors in response to COVID-19.
— Maria Chambers & Amy Bizzarri