Whether you’re pushing a stroller at the Chicago Botanical Garden, pumping those legs on a bike or lacing up little hiking boots at Pilcher Park Nature Center, there are plenty of leafy paradises to explore in and around the city.Less
This North Shore destination is 26 gardens in one—and each has a different feel and plenty of vibrant colors. Stroll the 385 acres of land and pause at the most photogenic sites. They include the Japanese Garden, where you can pose and play amidst striking bonsai plants. And don’t miss the English Walled Garden, where you can make like you’re in the Cotswalds.
The 1,700 acres of verdant green space are the stuff dream backyards are made of. Wander the 16 miles of paved and wood-chipped walking paths, and romp around the Children’s Garden; it has secret streams, huge wooden playground structures and photo opportunities so pretty you’ll do backflips. A visit to the Arboretum this fall is extra special because you can walk the Scarecrow Trail and see the five massive outdoor sculptures that make up the temporary Human + Nature exhibit.
Trek to Joliet for a blaze of fall colors at this worth-the-drive oasis. You might already know it for its Fairy Fest, a kid-idolized dress-up extravaganza held every May. In autumn, it’s a great place for leisurely walks on forested paths on 640 acres that’s peppered with picnic grounds and playground areas.
Take a short road trip an hour and a half southwest of Chicago to explore land that was once home to Native American tribes. It has 13 miles of well-marked walking trails that cut down and around rugged rock formations. The trails jag in and out of canyons and are not stroller friendly. However, if you have older kids they’re worth the trek, even if only for the beautiful waterfalls that dot the way. If you have a stroller, stick to the one-mile sidewalk that surrounds the observation deck.
This man-made peninsula can be accessed by Chicago's Lakefront Trail and has excellent views of the skyline from afar. But you're more likely to be peeping the fall foliage. Blazing red and yellow leaves look at all more picturesque when set against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and skyscrapers. Of note to architecture buffs: The landscaping was designed by noted designer Alfred Caldwell and includes stone rings along the lakefront that are now used as fire pits.
Fall color clusters around two shimmering bodies of water—Pierce Lake and Olson Lake—at this destination located just outside Rockford. The restored prairie land looks not only painterly, but it’s also a great place for bird watching. If you don’t want to walk the trails, there are also opportunities for horseback riding.
Hikers, bikers, and stroller jockeys (even cross-country skiers after those first snowflakes fall) can take advantage of this 2,492-acre forest preserve created long ago by meltaways from the Wisconsin Glacier. Adventure seekers can trek as many as 11 miles of limestone and turf-covered routes via four mapped trails through Waterfall Glen’s most scenic areas which include overlooks and a man-made waterfall.
This urban wildlife haven plays host to a variety of animals with the original visitor center and several of the shelters still standing. Fullersburg maintains two trails manageable for families to hike or bike. A 1.3-mile interpretive trail follows Salt Creek through lowland woods and restored prairies and includes information on DuPage’s natural history. Along a half-mile trail, you’ll find Graue Mill Museum where you can show the kiddos the only working water wheel grist mill in the area.
Just under 70 miles west of Chicago, urban sprawl gives way to 1,550 acres of rolling prairie that provides a natural haven from the daily hustle and bustle. In addition to just over eight easily-navigated miles of scenic hiking and cross-country skiing trails that weave through wooded areas, Shabbona features a 318-acre man-made fishing lake, 15-acre seasonal nesting area for migratory waterfowl and areas for picnicking and camping.
Thanks to the Wisconsin Glacier over 10,000 years ago, this beautiful playground for outdoor adventurers exists. Kettle Moraine consists of 6 units that display a variety of ecosystems with everything from lakes to bogs and rivers to swamps and activities that range from bird watching (that can be done from the comfort of a stroller) to mountain biking. There are several fire towers that can be climbed to get expansive views of the area and beaches for swimming, fishing and exploring.