If you're looking for a place for outdoor fun this summer, head to the Morton Arboretum, which offers plenty of opportunities for families to enjoy nature's beauty. There are activities going on constantly, geared toward helping kids learn, get some exercise and build an appreciation for nature and the arts. There's always a lot to do at the Arboretum, but these are five things not to miss.
Morton ArboretumWhere: 4100 Route 53, Lisle
Admission: $11; $10 for seniors; $8 for kids ages 2-17; free for kids under age 2. Admission is $3 to $4 off on Wednesdays.
Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset daily; 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Children's Garden
Info: (630) 968-0074 or mortonarb.org
Divided into 10 themed areas, the Children's Garden encourages young visitors to explore parts of nature they might find in their own backyard and think about plants and trees in the rest of the world.
"It is a place where you can come and explore nature on your own," said Sherry Grande, Children's Garden coordinator. "It's very low key and there's always something here to do."
The Children's Garden offers two self-guided activities each month. Instructions are set out for parents to help guide their kids and materials are replenished throughout the day. July highlight plants that grow in water, with a craft where kids can make their own lily out of a coffee filter. They can also learn about artists that were inspired by nature and make their own paintings.
Since 2001, the Morton Arboretum has been offering weekend Theatre-Hikes July through October. Hikes take place at 1 p.m., with standard walks Saturdays and easier hikes suitable for wheelchairs, walkers and strollers on Sundays. This year, performers will be putting on "The Hobbit" in July, "The Wizard of Oz" in August, "Around the World in 80 Days" in September and "Night of the Living Dead" for October.
As you walk through natural areas you'll pause to see six to 12 scenes enacted by actors who use few props and no formal sets.
"The hike leader and the director have worked with us for so long so they know where some of the best places are," said special events manager Marilyn Baysek. "Mother nature provides much of the scenery."
Family Twilight Adventures
Limited to 30 people, this popular program lets families explores the Arboretum after other visitors have gone home.
"It's a chance for families to come to the Arboretum after hours and experience what the general public doesn't get to," Grande said.
Offered twice a month, kids learn about owls, bats, insect and other animals that come out at night. Families spend time together in the children's garden, take a tram to a picnic area to share s'mores and then have a silent ride back, listening to the natural sounds while looking out for animals like skunk and deer.
Originally a privilege of Arboretum membership, biking at the Arboretum became so popular over the years that they opened it up to everyone. The 14 miles of trails are typically also open to cars, but Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings they're reserved for cyclists, runners and walkers.
"It's wonderful to see entire families bring their bikes, from the little ones with their training wheels to their grandparents," Baysek said.
Paths go through the entire Arboretum and include inclines that offer a challenging ride. You can cycle from the prairie on the far west side to the very shady old wood forest in the east. Bikers often park their bikes and take advantage of the hiking trails or picnic areas along the path. Cyclists must bring their own bikes, though the Arboretum is looking into renting bikes on site.
August is Bug Bonanza at the Children's Garden. Kids can learn about noise-making insects and make their own cicada shakers out of bird seed and beans. The month's other activity is love bugs, which helps kids distinguish between helpful and harmful insects. Sept. 10, the Arboretum hosts a honey bee festival, where local vendors sell honey and honey related products and you can meet the beekeeper in charge of the Arboretum's 50 hives.