Think the Morton Arboretum is only focused on trees? You’re wrong. Completely wrong, actually. The gorgeous mecca in Lisle does have a stunning amount of trees on display, but there is so much MORE to explore. There are beautiful gardens, restaurants, paths, but most importantly there is the fun filled childhood mecca simply called “The Children’s Garden” at the Morton Arboretum. It is a place where kids can explore nature in their own way, whether through climbing, splashing, or digging. So before you write off the Morton Arboretum for being “just trees,” read this guide to exploring the Children’s Garden at the Morton Arboretum.
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The Children’s Garden
Judging “The Children’s Garden” by its name, you would think that it is a simple place with some flowers, simple trails, maybe even a water fountain. That would be quite the understatement. Instead, there are ten different exhibits to explore. Just one warning…it will take you a while to check it all out. So plan for an entire day at the Morton Arboretum, pack comfy shoes, and of course, don’t forget the snacks.
The Central Plaza is a bright and colorful way to begin interacting with nature in a hands on way that peaks little ones’ curiosity and senses. It connects the two main parts of “The Children’s Garden,” also known as the Backyard Discovery Gardens and the Adventure Woods.
Backyard Discovery Gardens
The Backyard Discovery Gardens have four different parts:
- Bloom, Zoom, and Sprout
- Every Which Way
- Windmill Garden
The Backyard Discovery gardens are exactly that: things that you would discover in your own backyard. My boys had such a blast figuring out how to use different water pumps in order to help water the plants and flowers, as well as playing an acorn and nut game in order to learn about the journey each nut or acorn experiences before plopping down in our backyard.
Each one of the exhibits in the Backyard Discovery Gardens is designed to engage and prompt children to interact with nature. After about 25 minutes we finally pried our boys away from the “hands on” water fountain springs to go and get messy at the mud art station.
They were also able to get their wiggles out by climbing all over the play structures and winding walkways throughout the gardens. My boys had a blast going down the tree themed slides…and possibly even more fun scaling the wall in order to get back up to the top of the slides. My boys clearly were in garden heaven.
As much fun as we had in the Backyard Discovery Gardens, the Adventure Woods were even more fun. Think I’m over exaggerating? Not even close.
The Adventure Woods consist of:
- Wonder Pond
- Under the Trees
- Grotto and Secret Stream
- Grassy Meadow
- Evergreen Walk and Lookout
Upon entering the Adventure Woods, you will undoubtedly come across a crowd at the Wonder Pond. Why? Because you are encouraged to ditch your shoes and walk on stepping stones throughout the pond to catch tadpoles.
And guess what? It was as awesome as it sounds. Just be sure to pack an extra change of clothes just in case your little explorer missteps.
Other interactive exhibits include the different telescopes and webbed climbing mazes under the trees, as well as the rope bridges that are high off the ground as part of the Evergreen Walk and Lookout. This exhibit was labeled as “Not Appropriate for Toddlers” but I am proud to say that our two year old rocked it on his first try.
Our favorite exhibit at the Morton Arboretum, outside of “The Children’s Garden” is the maze. There is a toddler version (thankfully you can see their cute little faces above the hedges) next to the huge hedge maze. I highly recommend that you try out the big maze with your little ones…just be sure that they are holding your hand or are only a few steps ahead.
Must Haves for your visit to the Children’s Garden at the Morton Arboretum
Here are some things that you should have on hand to make your trip to the Morton Arboretum even more enjoyable:
–A stroller. Everything is very spread out (you park far away from the arboretum, especially on weekends) so a stroller or baby wearing will benefit you immensely. You can learn all about my favorite strollers here.
–Bug spray. You are going to walk in the forest, where the bugs live. Be smart and bring bug spray and dress in long sleeve loose clothing if the weather allows.
–Water bottles. The Morton Arboretum only sells boxed water. You can close it using a cap, but it is a tricky drinking experience for toddlers and preschoolers. There are some great sippy cup options here.
–Your Chicago Botanic Garden (or other Botanic Garden) membership pass for free and discounted admission. Since we are members of the CBG, we enjoyed a few free entries to the Morton Arboretum.
-An extra change of clothes. As mentioned before, the Wonder Pond is truly WONDERFUL and the curiosity garden will undoubtedly help your child learn what it feels like to be splashed.
-Research the featured exhibit. From Lego structures to paper cranes and massive trolls, there is always something neat to hunt for at the Morton Arboretum.
If you are nature lovers, be sure to visit some of these wonderful and FREE nature centers across Chicagoland, as well as our beloved Chicago Botanic Gardens. Check here for a complete list of outdoor fun in the city and the surrounding suburbs.