Why We Love Illumination

The Morton Arboretum has always been one of my family’s favorite places to explore. I mean, where else can you search for giant trolls or admire intricate Lego sculptures that mimic the nature around them? But if you ask me (and my boys), their crowning glory is ILLUMINATION. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful, interactive, and dazzles visitors of all ages. Here’s why we love Illumination and you will too:

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The Unique Effects

You can find tons of dazzling light displays at private homes across Chicagoland, but to see and hear trees actually BREATHING?!?!? It’s UNREAL. Tree Imagination uses a grove of trees as a viewing screen and features dramatic projections that drench the trees with saturated fields of color, amazing geometric patterns, and stunning simulated movement. Through Tree Imagination’s innovative technology and creativity, it reminds visitors that trees are alive, even when dormant in the winter.

The Colors

The Morton Arboretum’s Illumination is a mile-long path of vibrant COLOR. Through interactive lighting effects, visitors are swathed in shades that coincide with seasonal music and highlights the majestic trees within the Morton Arboretum property.

Pink, orange, even PLAID lighting is included in the gorgeous Illumination exhibit, with each explosion of color even more exciting than the next. The Crown of Light is particularly colorful and creatively represents the seasonal color changes you see on many trees throughout the Midwest.

The Interactive Elements

Instead of having a pre-programmed light display like at other gardens and arboretums, Meadow Lake Magic is activated by WIND in the Windy City! Seriously. Hundreds of sensors capture the wind’s speed and direction and this data is used to create a type of “pixel cloud” map that controls the floating lights. I know that might seem complicated, so just think of it in this way—the lights change as the winds change. The result? Pure magic.

The Subtle Glow

While Illumination might have giant and impressive displays, it also showcases subtle artistry through both the Crystal Promenade and Woodland Wonder. In a new, more secluded grove of sycamore trees, Woodland Wonder showcases a visual interplay between thousands of luminous, rotating points of lazy lights and star-like sparkles from dozens of gently rotating mirror balls.

The subtle magic continues in the Crystal Promenade, where soaring evergreen branches hold chandeliers to light your way—and make for the PERFECT Instagram backdrop.

Before planning your Illumination visit, check out these tips to make your experience much more enjoyable:

  1. Plan to arrive 25 minutes early to park, use the restroom, and purchase a warm drink, and find the Illumination entrance.
  2. Allow 90 minutes for your journey through the mile-long path.
  3. Wear layers, touchscreen-friendly gloves, and appropriate footwear (no heels, no matter how much you don’t like your winter boots!).
  4. Dress in themes to score discounts! Show your festive gear (a calendar of themes is available here) at the Member Services Desk to receive a coupon for one free general daytime admission to the Morton Arboretum (save it to see the redbuds in the Spring!). Here are my picks for Chicago sports night, as well as ugly sweater day.
  5. Combine your Illumination visit with Supper with St. Nick. Click here for more information regarding the buffet dinner and open bar.
  6. Use the warming areas to rest and enjoy a snack or two by the cozy fires.
  7. Put lights (glow sticks work great) on your stroller or wagon so other Illumination-goers will not trip over your kids while walking the Illumination path.
  8. Purchase a 8 p.m. time slot ticket for a less crowded experience.

Interested in more light displays? Then definitely check out Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as my popular article on where to find the Best Christmas Lights in Chicagoland.

Enjoy the Lights!


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  1. Monica says

    We are members of the MA. We love it there but honestly we have never gone to Illumination. Every year I say this will be the year. Thanks for your tips because this year truly might be the time we finally go.

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