The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum–An Insider’s Guide

Why in the world would you need to go to a museum to appreciate nature? Well, when you live in an area as unique as Chicago, there is so much to learn and appreciate about the most prominent city in the Midwest. And the perfect place to learn? The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum!


Located near the beautiful Lincoln Park Zoo, the Nature Museum is nestled in the heart of one of my favorite neighborhoods, Lincoln Park, and next to one of my absolute favorite restaurants, North Pond.

A Natural Standout

What makes a nature museum stand out among the likes of The Shedd Aquarium and The Museum of Science and Industry? Its hands on exhibits that engage young and old alike. If there was one word to use to describe the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, it would be interactive, and these pictures should tell you why.


Upon entering the museum, you are welcomed into a warm and airy hall with floor to ceiling windows that showcase the picturesque outdoor setting. I love the fact that you can check your coat or stroller in this area so you aren’t bogged down when visiting, especially during our frigid Chicago winters.

The Exhibits


Undoubtedly your children will be beckoned into the exhibits, starting with the River Works exhibit, which teaches all about the complicated system of water ways that are used in Chicagoland in order to provide drinking water and flush out waste for millions of people. My boys might have been too young to care and instead focused on studying how levees affected how they played with boats in the water tables within the exhibit.


If you have been a reader of my website for a while, you know that my boys are obsessed with anything and everything related to water, so this exhibit was a dream for them. The only slightly annoying thing is that there are only a few step stools in the area for little ones to use so they can reach the tables, so be sure to share them with other museum patrons as often as possible.


We spent tons of time going back and forth looking at the Instock Family Look in Lab, which featured tons of different small animals. While some were simply asleep in their cages, others such as the turtles and bunnies were extremely active (it must have been lunch time) and it was so interesting to watch. Since we typically go to traditional zoos like Brookfield or Lincoln Park, it was fun to see smaller animals up close and able to watch them undisturbed for however long our little hearts desired.


The next exhibit we visited, the Mysteries of the Marsh exhibit, was a hit with my boys who love slippery and slimy animals that tend to make their mama squirm. Since I didn’t want to check out any of the snakes, I stood back, took my picture, and encouraged them to move on.


Our visit turned from great to AMAZING once we found the little cave entrance to the kids’ area. The Hands-on Habitat was climbing structures and slides to thrill your little one, all themed around some of the most fun things in nature. The boys had a blast spinning butterflies and dragonflies, helping worms dig out of mud, and of course, crawling like a spider up the web rope.


By this point, we could have just stayed in the Hands-on Habitat because it was so perfectly suited for our two and three year old, but we decided to keep exploring. We checked out the Wilderness Walk and Green House before heading upstairs, where there were more hidden gems hiding.


Many people recommend visiting the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, and I must admit that it just might be the best way to spend a cold and wintry day in Chicago. The sun shines through the windows and warms you, while the rushing waterfall and sweet scents from the flowers makes you feel like you are escaping the city on a little getaway.


But the most amazing part of the Butterfly Haven is, of course, the butterflies. I couldn’t keep track of how many species of butterflies I was able to observe, but each one was more exquisite than the next. It was so great for my little butterfly viewers that there were areas with fruit and other food to lure the butterflies to sit and stay for awhile so that we could take pictures and simply enjoy them.


Once we got too hot, we left the butterfly exhibit and entered the vast Rainforest Adventure. Yet another great exhibit with interactive games and toys to help little naturalists learn about the vast rainforest. My guys especially loved taking a ride on the tree swing, as well as doing some butterfly art projects.


Learning Programs

Every day there are a multitude of special events going on, from animal feedings to special shows and talks featuring some of the exhibits’ main attractions. You can also check out their programming page and sign up for children and family programs. Many are free with admission, so be sure to check the calendar of events before you plan a museum visit.



Thursdays are a “suggested donation” day for Illinois residents.

You can bring your own snack/lunch to enjoy in the café or on the outdoor grounds of the Nature Museum.

Typically you can find parking on Cannon drive, just be sure to watch the signs for tow zones and street sweeping.

Since the museum is so small, you might want to leave your stroller at the coat check…or better yet, opt to baby wear.

Bring a change of clothing since the water exhibit can get a little…well…WET.

Plan to spend AT LEAST a couple hours at the museum. You could spend an entire day there enjoying the museum and its outdoor areas.

Looking for other nature based fun?

Search “nature centers” in the search box.

Want to visit other museums?

Get insider’s guides by searching “museums.”

Have fun exploring!
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  1. Natasha says

    Great post. I would add that strollers are not allowed in the butterfly haven so a wrap or carrier is recommended for babies. There’s also a free Mr. Singer concert the first Thursday of the month.

  2. Kirsten says

    I agree with everything in your post. I would highly recommend searching for street parking on Cannon Drive because the parking lot (while convenient) is pretty pricey (I think $16-$20). Looks like you had a great time!

  3. Sage says

    What a cool museum! I love butterflies and have always wanted to go into a butterfly room, but haven’t had the opportunity.

    We have a Rainforest museum nearby, but I haven’t been because I’m scared to death of bats, and the bat exhibit is supposedly one of the main attractions. No thanks!

  4. Fi Ní Neachtáin says

    This museum looks like such a fun day out. I know my little one would love the exhibits, especially the river works and the slide 🙂

  5. Liz Leiro says

    What a beautiful place to learn while having fun! Butterflies give me the creeps if I look at them too long, but I’m sure that’s a non-issue for most little kids 😉

    • amandasimkin says

      My boys were partly in awe and partly terrified of the butterflies…they freaked me out when they were dive bombing me a little bit. I like to watch them when they are still.

  6. michele d says

    The butterfly haven would of been my favorite as well. My kids love museums like this. They enjoy more hands on activities.

  7. Reginia Cordell says

    We had an interactive museum near my home town call Mid-America Museum. It was such a treat. Being able to truly engage with the exhibits really made it memorable. If I’m ever in the Chicago area, this museum is on the list. I’m sure it was a great learning experience for your boys.

  8. Lauren says

    What a cool looking museum! I bet my son would love this place!

    Also, do you think you could make your pictures look bigger? It would make your blog a lot better!

  9. Rebecca Swenor says

    It looks like an amazing time indeed. My boys would have loved it here when they were little. It is awesome that it is a hands on museum. I would have stayed back from the snakes too. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Kristen says

    I am from the Chicago area, and have never heard of this place! I might drag my brother and sister in law next time we visit! ( my sis in law blogs at Chicago jogger) 🙂 nice to find your blog!

    • amandasimkin says

      Hi neighbor! There are tons of hidden gems that I keep learning about through my blogging adventure…stuff I never knew about (which is embarrassing because I have lived here FOREVER). Checking out your SIL’s blog right now!

    • amandasimkin says

      If you need any specific recommendations, let me know. I just set another blogger up with bar, restaurant, and “insider favorites” for her upcoming visit to my hometown.

  11. Travel Addict says

    What an amazing museum, I have no doubts this would keep my kids occupied for hours! Plus the tips are spot on and will definitely come in handy. We’ll be stopping by here next time we go visit Grandma and Grandpa!

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