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.

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 Chicago has built an emerald necklace that truly dazzles.

The newest addition to Lincoln Park’s landscape is “NatureTrails,” a permanent exhibit that opened in June at Peggy NotebaertNature Museum. A one-third mile trail winds through prairies,savannas, wetlands and woodlands, remodeled butterfly and birdhavens, and an herb garden. Stroller-friendly paths and freeadmission – you don’t have to enter through the museum – make thisa perfect option for low-key summer fun.

Nature Trails at Peggy Notebaert

“Nature Trails” is newest addition to Chicago’s urban landscape

Butterflies, flowers and skyscrapers?

One of these things may not seem like it belongs, but at thePeggy Notebeart Nature Museum’s new permanent exhibit, “NatureTrails,” families can enjoy the great outdoors without leavingChicago.”Nature Trails” is the latest addition to Chicago’surban garden, where a third of a mile of trail winds through theinteractive experience just outside the museum’s doors.

“We’re proud and excited to bring”Nature Trails” toChicagoans and provide a rich way for our guests to connect withthe nature that surrounds them right here in the heart of ourcity,” says Deborah Lahey, the museum’s president and CEO.

Chicago wasn’t always beachfront and blacktop, and “NatureTrails” gives visitors a sense – sights, sounds and smells – of theregion’s native flora and fauna. At Burr Oak Savannah and Black OakSavannah, families can visit prairies, savannas, wetlands andwoodlands. For animal lovers, it’s a short walk over toPickerelweed Pond to see dragonfly larvae, diving beetles andtadpoles, or to the museum’s existing outdoor butterfly and birdgardens, which were both revamped for the exhibit.

“Nature Trails” is free to the public – you don’t have to gothrough the museum to get there – and joins the Lincoln Park Zoo’s”Nature Boardwalk” in carving out a broad, kid- andstroller-friendly nature area inside the park.

The original intent of the Nature Museum was to have educationaland interactive areas insidethe building and outside, Laheysays.As time went on, the museum became more focused on itsindoor exhibits, but this new exhibit fully embraces the museum’sbackyard.

“We are excited to connect people to urban nature inside theNature Museum and outside on our grounds,” Lahey says.”It’simportant for us to have connection inside and out.”

Lahey encourages families to take the information foundthroughout the garden and use it as they journey inside themuseum’s exhibits, like the Judy Istock ButterflyHaven,Wilderness Walk andMysteries of the Marsh. Themuseum’s newest indoor exhibit is “Nature’s Architects,” whichteaches kids about animal builders from termites to beavers and thestructures they create (take a video tour of”Nature’s Architects”)

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be outside and pick up littlethings about the world around you,” Lahey says.

“Nature Trails” is free and open year-round. The PeggyNotebaert Nature Museum is located at 2430 N. Cannon Drive,Chicago,(773) 755-5100, naturemuseum.org

We miss the old swan paddle boats, too, but they couldn’t havemade way for a worthier project. Nature Boardwalk, seven years inthe making, revamped the southern edge of the park to include 14acres of natural shoreline and a winding boardwalk path, and it’squickly becoming one of our favorite picnic spots in thecity. 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.

Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

You’ve probably been to Millennium Park dozens of times withoutever peeking behind those shoulder-height hedges. Take a look:You’ll find five acres of wild indigo, ginger, cherry trees, nativeMidwestern grasses and thousands more species – plus a walking paththat’s as kind-friendly as they come, with small steps and waterfeatures along the way.Thursday and Sunday Tours run 10a.m.-1:30 p.m. and start at the south end of garden on theboardwalk. Pack a lunch and enjoy it after the tour to the soundsofthe park’sLunchbreak Concert series, helddaily at
Pritzker Pavilion.

Lurie Garden

Garfield Park Conseravtory is one of Chicago’s hidden treasures- beautiful, historical and packed with free activities for thebudding 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.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory

Called the”Sanctuary in the City,” this 46-acre naturepreserve, nestled in the northwest side of Chicago, is a welcomeoasis in this busy urban area and has the perfect balance ofhands-on activities and quiet reflection in the naturalsurroundings.Start your visit at the nature center, whereyou’ll find a hands-on fossil collection, animal skeletons andfriendly satff. The path outside its doors isvery manageable,even if for double-wide strollers, and you’ll often see deer,turtles and various birds along the way.

North Park Village Nature Center

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