Swap screen time for the wide-open spaces at The Morton Arboretum. They’re welcoming a breathtaking new exhibit, Human + Nature, May 28 and the kids can explore the Arboretum’s gigantic treehouse, 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 Morton Arboretum almost always ends in a solid nap time.

Human + Nature Exhibit

Created exclusively for The Morton Arboretum, Human + Nature is South African artist Dennis Hopper’s first major U.S. exhibition and the largest to date anywhere in the world. The 5 sculptures range from 15-26 feet tall and include an interpretation of the female form, diverse facial traits interwoven with root structures and large-scale human hands. These are meant to represent the Arboretum as a place where trees are nurtured and protected, that conservation efforts require many hands working collaboratively and nature is best experienced with all senses engaged.

The deeper meaning of each of Hopper’s pieces is intentionally left open-ended to encourage creativity of thought and self-exploration of how we co-exist and interact with nature. He believes leaving some things to the imagination is where the magic and true connection to art happens.

The natural seasonal transformation of the Arboretum’s grounds will provide an ever-changing backdrop for the exhibit, so plan on visiting the installation several times throughout the year it’s installed. Officially opens May 28, although you can visit now and watch the sculptures take shape.

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.

photo: 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 more than 100 summer camps that immerse kids in nature and outdoor adventure. On Thursday nights, Jun. 10-Aug. 26, the Arboretum welcomes families to Arbor Evenings for live music, kid-friendly fare and entertainment after-hours under a canopy of trees. 

The Arboretum also has 9 miles of paved tree-lined roads for biking. While they usually have bikes available for rent, that will not be an option for the 2021 season. 

photo: Morton Arboretum

Host a Party in the Children's Garden

The upper deck of the Children's Garden picnic area provides the perfect fair-weather venue for your next private party. Available April-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.

photo: Morton Arboretum

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 they've hosted in the past, but check their website for different events and programs that might strike your fancy.

Enchanted Railroad (held in Jan. & Feb.) — 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.

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.

Summer Beer Tasting (held in Jun.) - Twenty local craft breweries will be serving seasonal and flagship brews, ciders and meads. 

Destination Asia Festival (held in Aug.) — 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: 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 (check with the Arboretum on availability of tram tours due to Covid restrictions), 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?!

photo: Morton Arboretum

Good to Know: For Families with Special Needs

The Arboretum offers map-based tools to help guests on the autism spectrum and their families plan a visit that fits their needs. The books are available for loan at the Visitor Center on a first-come, first-served basis. 

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

— Wendy Altschuler

Featured photo: Morton Aboretum

RELATED STORIES:

100 Things to Do with Kids in Chicago

Get the Dirt on Veggie & Berry-Picking Season

Find Your Path to Summer Fun on These Chicago Bike Trails

You’re Off! Walks & Runs Perfect for Chicago Families