What’s better than an endless summer? A free fall! We dug up great ways to play and entertain the kids without spending a dime this season. From walks in the park to free museum days, here are the best no-cost fall flings.
photo: St. Charles Scarecrow Fest
1. Nothing says fall like a Scarecrow Fest! Over 50 handcrafted scarecrows compete for the best in show at this unique event held October 6-8. You can even make a scarecrow of your very own to protect and defend your garden. The arts and crafts show, petting zoo and carnival extend the fun, making for a full day of autumn merriment.
2. Green City Market, with two Chicago locations, this has become the Wednesday and Saturday morning stop-and-shop for foodies and families. Open outdoors through October (afterwards, it moves indoors to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum), you can pick up fresh produce and a few cooking tips, to boot. Go to the Club Sprouts events for tots at 8 a.m. and watch the free cooking demonstrations (you’ll want to copycat them for Sunday family dinner).
photo: MB Financial’s Family Fall Fest
3. MB Financial packs a lot into their free Family Fest where your crew will enjoy horse-drawn hayrides, bouncy houses, balloon sculpting, face painting, magic acts and pumpkin painting. Live musical acts will also take the stage for toe tappin’ fun!
4. Go green this Halloween at the Oak Park Green Pumpkin Trail on October 14. Costumes are optional at this trek thru town that will lead kids to local business and organizations for all sorts of kid-friendly activities, a free screening of Minions and for some healthy trick-or-treats — emphasis on the treats, of course.
photo: Lincoln Park Zoo’s Fall Fest
5. Usher in the harvest season with your animal friends at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Fall Fest, a family celebration complete with rides, activities and entertainment. An a-maize-ing corn maze, Ferris wheel, hay mountain, a giant 60-ft. burlap sack slide and hay wagon rides round out the fun.
6. A trip to see Sue at the The Field Museum is a no-brainer, especially on free museum admission days for Illinois residents. For the remainder of the year, those dates are: October 9, 22, 23 & 31, November 12 & 19, and December 3 & 24.
7. Jeanie B! promises to get your toes tappin’ and your hands clappin’ when she hits the stage at the don’t-miss Pumpkin Flotilla at Lake Ellyn Park: bring a pumpkin to carve (or purchase onsite), add a candle to its core and plan on setting it a’sail on the beautiful lake for a kid-approved Halloween spectacle, October 22.
photo: North Park Village Nature Center
8. Tire them out before nap time at North Park Village Nature Center. At the 155-acre paradise, you can hike through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna; and interact with hands-on exhibits at the adored nature center. In the Discovery Room little ones are encouraged to touch and feel natural objects.
9. We’re taking you back to the Lincoln Park Zoo to party like a Halloween animal at the Spooky Zoo Spectacular, October 28. It’s bigger than ever as they celebrate their 30th birthday this year. Costumes are encouraged at this BOO-tastic bash that is packed with all kinds of kid-friendly entertainment, crafts, a haunted house and, of course, plenty of trick or treating, but please don’t feed the animals . . . at least not the real ones!
photo: Ed Paschke Art Center
10. Color your world at the free-admission Ed Paschke Art Center. Filled with the large-scale oil paintings by the famed Chicago artist, the galleries are a great place to stimulate the senses, no matter how young or old you are. There is even a replica of the artist’s studio.
11. Kidical Mass, a national movement to encourage families to ride bicycles for transportation, exercise and fun, is inviting your family along for a slow, easy-going group ride that will tour Roscoe Village. The ride will end at a park in the neighborhood where you’ll play in a massive leaf pile!
photo: Pilcher Park
12. Trek to Joliet for a blaze of fall colors at Pilcher Park Nature Center, a worth-the-drive oasis. In autumn, it’s a great place for leisurely walks on forested paths on 640 acres of land that’s peppered with picnic grounds and playground areas.
13. Looking for a a great backdrop for family photos? Look no further than the Lincoln Park Conservatory. You’ll find tropical plants and ancient ferns right in the heart of Lincoln Park. Designed to showcase exotic plants and grow the thousands of greens needed for use in the parks, the Conservatory offers visitors a tropical experience within its four display houses.
14. Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary is a 15-acre natural wonderland that’s home to magnificent migrant songbirds through October. Bring your binoculars as you venture through the trees, across dune land and the Montrose Park beach, and stepped path along Lake Michigan. Pack a picnic lunch and bring a blanket.
photo: Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights
15. This is starting to become a bit stalkerish, but we’re looking at Lincoln Park Zoo, yet again. Starting November 24, they’re flipping the switch to ZooLights. With the displays throughout the grounds, your fam can stroll through the twinkling winter wonderland created by over 2 million lights, take photos with Santa, enjoy food and drinks, watch ice carving demos, partake in carousel rides and go-’rounds on the Lionel Train Adventure. New this year, visitors can get lost in a maze of 30,000 lightbulbs at Foreman Pavilion.
What will you do for FREE this fall? Let us know in the Comments!
— Maria Chambers