Morton Arboretum

morton arboretum
Photo Credit: Morton Arboretum

Fondly called a “tree zoo,” the Morton Arboretum is the perfect day trip for any Chicagoan looking to get back to nature. Arboretums and their teams advocate the planting and protection of trees, and the Morton Arboretum emphasizes conservation and fun. Open since 1922, the Morton Arboretum—the only organization of its kind in the Chicagoland area—has worked to protect tree species, plants, and wildlife. You’ll find plenty of nature here, including sixteen miles of trails, nine miles of bike paths, forests, and gardens to provide hours of entertainment, recreation, and relaxation.

The arboretum, located approximately 25 minutes outside of the Loop and two miles from the Lisle Metra station, is one of the closest forest areas to Chicago. The arboretum is open year-round, 365 days a year, and it offers plenty of activities sure to please everyone visiting the park — hiking, biking, fishing, bird-watching, guided tours, tram tours, a museum, and gardens. In the winter, the trails are great for cross country skiing or snowshoeing.

Before you go, remember to think of safety first. It’s important to read Morton Arboretum’s list of things not to bring with you or do in the park, as well as their guides to “Prepare for the Outdoors” and to “Explore with Care.” One thing to especially look out for is ticks (as with any wooded area), so be sure to dress accordingly.

Always up for an adventure, we suggest you make a day of your visit. Check the weather before you go (I faced a couple of canceled trips due to thunderstorms!) and pack accordingly. It’s always a good idea to bring snacks or lunch for the park, long-sleeved shirts and long pants (for the heavily wooded areas), a hat with a wide brim, sunscreen, bug repellent, and, if you want to observe wildlife, binoculars or a telephoto lens. Remember to bring cash for parking ($11) and for tours, souvenirs, or food at the Gingko Restaurant and Café. Drive out to Lisle early to beat the traffic, the crowds, and the hot afternoon sun.

When you arrive at the park, head to the Visitor Services Center, where you can find maps, handouts, calendars, and brochures and purchase tickets for the various attractions around the arboretum. Maps (Westside and Eastside) of the park are also available in PDF format on the website.

Eat lunch or take a moment to enjoy the view at Meadow Lake adjacent to the Visitor Services Center, and plan your next move. Will you head straight for the Maze Garden or Children’s Garden? Or will you be more adventurous, heading for the many trails touring through the wooded areas. If you’re unsure of where to hike, check out these suggestions.

On your walk (or ride!), try to spot birds or other wildlife using binoculars or a camera. You can also wander among the trees, which are grouped by type, including such classifications as Willows, Flowering Trees, and trees indigenous to different parts of the world. The arboretum also features a tree nursery on the east side of the park where scientists grow and monitor new trees before planting them outside.

After your leisurely stroll through the trees, take a break for a snack near one of the lakes or marshes, and finally end your visit with a stop by the art museum or the Children’s Garden or Maze (because you’re never too old for a good maze).

Bringing the kids? Take a guided nature tour to teach them about the importance of trees and conservation or visit the award-winning Children’s Garden and Maze Garden. The arboretum also offers classes and camps if your kids want to continue learning about the environment. Check out these programs for kids and families, including science camps, classes, and family adventure packages.

Through November 27, 2011 the Morton Arboretum is bringing together 11 renowned artists from around the world in a new outdoor art exhibit. The artists designed their pieces specifically based on how they “read” the unique landscape “galleries” where the works will be displayed. Sculptures of various materials—such as charred wood, metal, tree branches, and fabric—are inspired by the Arboretum’s world-renowned tree collections. The outdoor exhibit demonstrates a creative approach to combining art and nature.

If you’re interested in their conservation, protection, and greening initiatives, visit this section on their website.

The Essentials:

Admission: $11 per day (includes parking)
Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset. Some areas and gardens have different hours—consult the website for more specific details.
Address: 4100 Route 53, Lisle, IL
Phone: (630) 968.0074 (Visitor Services)

About Molly Tranberg

Molly Tranberg loves discovering new things in Chicago–especially all of its wonderful food. She is a freelance writer and editor currently working from her very comfy couch on the Northside of Chicago. Her dream is to one day ride a segway around the city and heli-ski in Alaska.

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