A guide to Chicago's urban oases


Fun fact: Chicago's motto is "Urbs in Horto." Snap out of that high-school Latin class flashback - it means "City in a Garden," and the city's founders of yore and citizens of today have taken that message to heart, creating an emerald necklace that truly dazzles. But horticulture isn't for everyone, especially in the younger set, so we've picked our favorite kid-friendly urban oases. These nature nooks are geared toward families with kids, from stroller-friendly boardwalks to frequent benches, to information written in language kids can grasp.


Nature Trails at Peggy Notebaert

The newest addition to Lincoln Park's landscape is "Nature Trails," a permanent exhibit that opened in June at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. A one-third mile trail winds through prairies, savannas, wetlands and woodlands, remodeled butterfly and bird havens, and an herb garden. Stroller-friendly paths and free admission - you don't have to enter through the museum - make this a perfect option for low-key summer fun.


Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

We miss the old swan paddle boats, too, but they couldn't have made way for a worthier project. Nature Boardwalk, seven years in the making, revamped the southern edge of the park to include 14 acres of natural shoreline and a winding boardwalk path, and it's quickly becoming one of our favorite picnic spots in the city. Keep an eye out for painted turtles, beavers and a nesting colony of endangered black-crowned night herons that's taken up on the pond's small islands.


Lurie Garden

You've probably been to Millennium Park dozens of times without ever peeking behind those shoulder-height hedges. Take a look: You'll find five acres of wild indigo, ginger, cherry trees, native Midwestern grasses and thousands more species - plus a walking path that's as kind-friendly as they come, with small steps and water features along the way. Thursday and Sunday Tours run 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and start at the south end of garden on the boardwalk. Pack a lunch and enjoy it after the tour to the sounds of the park's Lunchbreak Concert series, held daily at Pritzker Pavilion.


Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conseravtory is one of Chicago's hidden treasures - beautiful, historical and packed with free activities for the budding horticulturalist (or bored kiddie). Click here for a full list of free drop-in activities, or if you're making your own adventure, print out the conservatory's  Eye Spy Hunt before you go.


North Park Village Nature Center

Called the "Sanctuary in the City," this 46-acre nature preserve, nestled in the northwest side of Chicago, is a welcome oasis in this busy urban area and has the perfect balance of hands-on activities and quiet reflection in the natural surroundings. Start your visit at the nature center, where you'll find a hands-on fossil collection, animal skeletons and friendly satff. The path outside its doors is very manageable, even if for double-wide strollers, and you'll often see deer, turtles and various birds along the way.


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