Swap screen time for the wide open spaces at The Morton Arboretum. Kids can explore the gigantic tree house, build rock and stick dams in the creek or run through mazes, while also gaining an educational experience. Read on to hear how this mega park helps develop a passion for nature and fills those long summer days with low-key exercise and enormous smiles. Bonus cherry-on-top: A day well-spent at The Arboretum almost always ends in a solid nap time.

photo: Courtesy of Maria Chambers

Catch It Before It Moves Along: Troll Hunt
Stroll on the trails throughout the Arboretum’s 1,700 acres and search for six gigantic 15- to 30-foot-tall trolls, made out of reclaimed wood by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. Pick up a Troll Hunter’s Handbook when you arrive for clues on how to locate these gentle giants trying to make sense of the human world. Kids can stand under Rocky Bardur, as he raises a boulder over his head with the intention of smashing a car; crawl inside Sneaky Socks Alexa’s trap; adventure to the top of a hill to peer out over the land with Joe the Guardian; and climb inside Little Arturs’ mouth. The best part: your kids will be outside, romping around in nature, breathing fresh air and working on their navigating skills to get from one troll to another.

photo: courtesy of Wendy Altschuler

Feed Your Adventurous Side in the Children’s Garden
The highlight of the arboretum for parents with children under 10 years old is the award-winning, five-acre interactive Children’s Garden and hedge maze, a nature lover’s paradise. Ten themed gardens, bursting with interactive and learning-based play, will keep your kids on the move and engaged while they’re checking out various ecosystems that exist around the world. Kids will spot birds, turtles, frogs, squirrels, chipmunks and dragonflies in the Adventure Woods and the Backyard Discovery Gardens. They can put their bare feet in the stream and feel the smooth rocks, climb up rope bridges and pretend to be pirates in the tree houses. All they need is an imagination and a sense of adventure.

Not only are children safe and secure within the boundaries of the Children’s Garden, extraordinarily friendly and knowledgeable volunteers and staff mill about the area, welcoming conversation and offering guidance.

Morton Arboretum birthday party

Host a Party at the Children’s Garden
The newly renovated upper deck of the Children’s Garden picnic area provides the perfect fair-weather venue for your next private party. Available through October, the venue allows for outside food to be brought in or offers in-house catering and add-on themes like Enchanted Garden, Bug Bash, and Party Animals and Arboretum-coordinated favor bags help make the day special.

Fall Family Concert with PJ Library at the Morton Arboretum

Make the Most of Summer at The Arboretum
Morton Arboretum knows filling those long summer days can be a tall task when your kids expect you to play camp counselor. They give an assist on filling the agenda with Thursday Family Night, June-August (5 p.m.-8 p.m.), in the Children’s Garden, where you’re treated to live music, kid-friendly fare and entertainment after-hours. Visitors can also enjoy vehicle-free biking, May-August (Fri., 5:30 p.m.-sunset & Sat. & Sun., 7 a.m.-9 a.m.). Coast 9 miles of trails under a canopy of trees. Maybe even take off those training wheels!

Annual Events to Have on Your Radar
The Morton Arboretum always has fun up their sleeves with seasonal and holiday events around every bend. We’ve listed a few of our favorites, but check their website for different events and programs that might strike your fancy.

Enchanted Railroad (held in January and February) — Marvel at a world of tiny enchantment and watch on as an intricate mini model railroad winds through a magnificent scenery. This two-level interactive display of tree collections from around the world is specially designed for the kiddos because it’s meant to be viewed from just two feet off the ground.

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Breakfast with the Bunny (held Easter weekend) – You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful place to spend a gorgeous spring day than Morton Arboretum. Fill your tummies with a tasty springtime buffet featuring a visit from the roving Easter Bunny doling out treats to each kid.

Destination Asia Festival (held in August) — Spend a beautiful Chicago summer day exploring the diverse cultures of Asia through music, dance, food and more! Be sure to check out the tree collections from China, Japan and Korea—it’s an Arboretum, after all!

Passport Europe Festival (held in September)— Travel to distant lands, sample delectable eats, groove to authentic music and be impressed by a variety of dancers that will give you an entertaining picture of the many cultures of Europe. Little hikers will also have the opportunity to venture through the Arboretum and discover plants that are native to northern and central Europe.

Glass Pumpkin Patch (held in October) — Shop and admire a stunning array of glass-blown art at the Arboretum’s annual Glass Pumpkin Patch. Explore a dazzling collection of hand-blown glass pumpkins and autumnal and farmer’s market themed designs in mesmerizing colors, shapes and sizes.

Cider and Ale Festival (held in October) — Savor hard cider and seasonal beers from local breweries and cideries while listening to live music. Bring a lawn chair and breathe in the crisp autumn air among the trees.

Illumination: Tree Lights (held November-January) — For the holiday season, The Morton Arboretum glows with lights, sights and sounds that transform a Chicago-area wintertime walk in the woods into a colorful, inspiring experience like no other.

photo: courtesy of Maria Chambers

What Else Will You Find at the Arboretum?
The Arboretum is comprised of 1,700 acres of space, which includes 16 miles of trails, 500 acres of plant collections and specialty gardens and 900 acres of woodlands, prairies, meadows, lakes and streams. Families can ride on the Acorn Express Tram to cover serious ground, hike or bike. Visitors are able to take part in the great outdoors as well as contribute to a non-profit science, research and conservation organization that plants and protects trees for a healthier world—how cool is that?!

Good to Know: For Families with Special Needs
Friends with special needs can experience a less crowded Children’s Garden with minimal noise during Sensory Friendly Sundays the first Sunday of each month, 8:45 a.m.-9:30 a.m.

Chicago Morton Arboretum with kids

Fresh air, sunshine, inspiration and exercise are all brilliant reasons to take a trip to The Morton Arboretum. Spend the day appreciating nature while supporting an organization that is doing good things for our environment and for our kids.

Morton Arboretum
4100 IL Rte 53, Lisle
Online: mortonarb.org

— Wendy Altschuler