Hidden Oaks Nature Center
It’s a perfect time to head to some of the fantastic nature centers in the Western suburbs of Chicago. With older kids back at school, it’s a good time to take younger children when the nature centers are less crowded. Or make a family trip over the weekend and see if your child can make a connection with what he/she is learning in science class.
These nature centers are open to all ages and families are welcome to drop in when they are open. They also offer nature programs that require advanced registration. While they all offer a chance to experience and learn more about the natural world around us, each nature center is a little different, so see which one fits your children best.
Best for: Hands-on learning
If your kids like tactile exhibits and getting hands-on with nature, head to the Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Bolingbrook.
Location: 419 Trout Farm Rd., Bolingbrook
Hours through October 31: Mon.- Sat. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sun. Noon – 5 p.m. (Hours Nov. 1 – March 31 are Mon.- Sat. 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
Why it’s awesome: “As long as they aren’t destructive, kids can touch anything,” said Faith Gebert of Hidden Oaks Nature Center. She said that while it targets preschoolers, kids from all ages enjoy visiting and getting the chance to explore the sounds, sights, smells and feels of nature, be it touching buttons to match up with sounds, exploring all the different plants and animals that live in a burr oak tree or having fun with touch boxes. Scavenger hunts are also available. Families can enjoy a meal or snack at the new pavilion on the grounds or at the tables on the rooftop garden.
Good to know: Hidden Oaks is home to three beehives and the locally grown honey is available for sale at the front desk of the nature center. Although the staff says that honeybees are not aggressive unless provoked, visitors sensitive or allergic to bee stings should exercise caution.
Best for: Animal adventurers
If your kids love animals, visit the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
Location: 525 S. Park Boulevard, Glen Ellyn
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
Why it’s awesome: A wildlife rehabilitation facility that provides care and medical treatment for injured and orphaned animals that are native to northeastern Illinois, Willowbrook Wildlife Center is part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. It is a resource for people who want to learn more about the natural world and how to live harmoniously with diverse, healthy wildlife populations. Permanently disabled eagles, songbirds, owls, raccoons and foxes are just a few of the 80 native Illinois animals on display here. Visitors can peek into the kitchen where food is prepared for all of the animals and, if you’re really lucky, it may be feeding time and you can see one of the staff members or volunteers feeding animals in the nursery.
Good to know: The center accepts native mammals and birds raised as pets, as well as injured, ill and orphaned wildlife. See the website for animal admissions information.
Best for: Private Eyes-in-training
If you have kids who like to play detective, check out Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center in Oak Brook.
Location: 3609 Spring Road, Oak Brook
Hours: 9 a.m – 5 p.m. daily
Why it’s awesome: Visitors can explore the world of Salt Creek and/or use microscopes and spotting scopes to examine creatures that make their homes in the area. Kids also can learn how to identify common birds and animal tracks. In addition, they can get up close and personal with the 13,000-year-old skeleton of a woolly mammoth.
Good to know: It’s a great place to stop and enjoy the flowers. The Wildflower Trail — starting near the visitor center and traveling through the woods and restored prairie — showcases many native species of wildflowers.
Best for: High-energy littles
If your kids need to burn off a little energy, head to Knock Knolls Nature Center in Naperville.
Location: 320 Knoch Knolls Road, Naperville
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sun. 12 p.m. – 5 p.m
Why it’s awesome: There’s a great playground adjacent to the building that houses the nature center with sections for kids ages 2-5 and 5-12. Kids can climb, swing or even just run in the pretty sizable field. There are also several hiking and biking trails, as well as an 18-hole disc golf course. If some gross motor movement and outdoor time is needed before, kids can focus on the exhibits indoors, or after, then Knock Knolls is the perfect place. You can read more about Knock Knolls Nature Center here.