Stressed out and need a place to unwind? Looking for a way to get rid of EVERYONE’S grumpies? Then take a trip to my favorite Chicagoland refuge, The Chicago Botanic Garden. This gem is nationally recognized for its unique exhibits, programs, and activities that help you slow down, unplug, and simply reconnect with the beauty of nature.
Obviously, the Chicago Botanic Garden is known for its gorgeous gardens. We visit throughout the entire year and enjoy how the gardens feature different native plants appropriate for each season (the greenhouses are our favorite winter refuge). My personal favorites are the Heritage Garden, Japanese Garden, and English Walled Garden. My boys are fans of any and every garden that features a water fountain, and with so many of them spread throughout the beautiful and lush exhibits, it is easy to keep them excited when we walk from one garden to another. And since the Botanic Gardens are wheelchair and stroller accessible, you can explore all day long without worrying about any off limits gardens. When they get a little stir crazy, we have a little Nature Scavenger Hunt looking for our favorite seasonal features which keeps them engaged and excited about our hiking trails.
The Water Features
The star of the show for kids of all ages (even the 90 year olds) are the unique and beautiful water features scattered throughout the gardens. There is a huge water fountain in the middle of the lake that everyone admires (especially at sunset), and the Esplanade has gorgeous staggered fountains whose relaxing sounds echo as you walk past. Our favorite water feature is the Water Fall Garden, an interactive feature which you can climb up and enjoy from many different vantage points. The rushing of the water is so incredibly calming and the scenery is beautiful, which combines to create the perfect respite in the middle of Chicagoland.
The Model Railroad Garden
One of the most creative and intricate exhibits in the Chicago Botanic Gardens is the Model Railroad Garden. Open from May through October (whether permitting) it is a fun and whimsical exhibit that showcases 18 model trains, 50 American landmarks, 26 different bridges, and over 5,000 different plants. It can get a bit crowded on popular weekends during the summer, so I would recommend visiting during the week or during “off peak” times on the weekends. Prices are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children 3 and over. Members receive a dollar off admission, free visits on Wednesdays (Garden Plus Members) and there are also 10 visit passes available at a discounted rate. We absolutely love how each aspect of the Model Railroad Garden is constructed using natural materials, including twigs, bark, leaves, acorns and pebbles, along with tiny trees, shrubs, and other greenery. The handcrafted displays truly are a piece of art, and come alive during the holidays as part of the Wonderland Express as well.
Fun for Kids
In addition to the gorgeous gardens, creative water features, and fun filled Model Railroad Garden, Any time you visit, simply stop by the information desk for a scavenger hunt sheet that changes seasonally to add focus to your visit. There is also a newly developed area of the garden specific for children, the Regenstein Learning Campus. There are seven acres of gardens, hills, and trails to explore, as well as classrooms for learning adventures.
The Garden also hosts free story times every Monday morning at 10 a.m. Stop by for nature themed stories and activities before heading outside to enjoy the gardens.
Throughout the summer, there is a fun Dancin’ Sprouts concert series, similar to a kiddie Ravinia on the Esplanade. Different local children’s performers come every Wednesday night from 5:30-7:30. Families are welcome to pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds on these unique and upbeat nights.
There are many other drop in activities, registration required classes and camps, and other family friendly activities throughout the year at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Be sure to check out their website to see what would best suit your family.
Remember that there is a fee for parking, but general admission to the garden is free. If you can ride a bike to the Botanic Garden, it truly is the best way to get in great exercise and feed your soul.
Looking for other ways to enjoy nature? Simply search “outdoor fun” or “nature centers”.