What’s better than an endless summer? The sights, smells and adventures of a midwest fall! We dug up great ways to play and tire out the kids while keeping spending at a minimum this season—with a few spendy treats thrown into the mix. From fall-themed fests to a scavenger hunt that takes you all over town, here are the best ways to enjoy autumn in Chicago.

photo: Morton Arboretum

Visit Morton Arboretum's Larger-Than-Life Exhibit

Five massive outdoor sculptures rise above the natural landscapes in the Human + Nature exhibition. The 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures are installed across Morton Arboretum's 1,700-acre site and bring attention to the deep connections between humans and nature.

A Fest That's All About Scarecrows

Nothing says fall like a St. Charles' Scarecrow Fest, Oct. 8-10! Kids will love the handmade scarecrows and the family zone with live entertainment and family activities. You'll also find a festive photo opp area and promotions throughout town. 

Bite Into Lincoln Square Apple Fest

Apples stand as everyone’s favorite fall fruit and this annual festival celebrates them all, from Akanes to Zestas, Oct. 2 & 3. Dozens of vendors will be selling apples in all shapes and forms—apple cider, candy apples, apple pie, apple strudel—as well as handcrafted items. There is also a kid zone full of children’s activities and live music throughout the day.

photo: iStock

Pick a Sweet Treat

Can you even say you lived through fall if you didn't go apple picking? Find out favorite spots to pick apples as a family in our story How ‘Bout These Apples? U-Pick Apple Orchards Worth the Trek.

Meander Along a Scarecrow Trail

Every day in October, guests can stroll around Morton Arboretum's Scarecrow Trail to view scarecrows created by local scout troops and school groups. After your walk, vote for your favorite scarecrow in the visitors center. 

Get Silly at "The Office" Exhibit

Fans of The Office will be transported to the world of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company to celebrate their favorite moments and characters from the widely acclaimed series. The exhibit is in Chicago, Oct. 15-Jan. 17. 

photo: Immersive Van Gogh

Gain a New Appreciation for Van Gogh

Immersive Van Gogh is a visually spectacular digital art exhibition that invites audiences to step inside the iconic works of post-Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh. The experience evokes his highly emotional and chaotic inner consciousness through art, light, music, movement and imagination. 

Immerse Yourself in Art

Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce invites families to a month-long art-focused event, WPB Art Quest, to celebrate the artistic roots in the neighborhoods. From Sep. 15-Oct. 15, art enthusiasts are invited to go on a self-curated quest to check out dozens of vibrant murals, sculptures and galleries throughout Wicker Park and Bucktown. 

Tip-Toe Through a Glass Pumpkin Patch

Morton Arboretum welcomes visitors to their annual Glass Pumpkin Patch, Oct. 13-17. The event will feature daily demonstrations of the ancient glass-blowing art form, a Halloween tent with frightful works of art to decorate your home and outdoor spaces and a beautiful display of thousands of hand-blown glass pumpkins. 

Geek Out at MSI's Marvel Exhibit

Through Oct. 24, Museum of Science & Industry's Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes celebrates Marvel history with more than 300 artifacts, including original comic book pages, sculptures, interactive displays and costumes and props from Marvel's blockbuster films.

Lose Yourself in a Corn Maze

Local farms know if they build it, we will come. By “it”, we mean acres of intricate corn mazes to get lost in with your kids. A lot of them have added bells and whistles like petting zoos and pumpkin doughnuts. Lace-up those walking shoes and hear about this year’s crop of corn mazes in our story Field Day! Local Corn Mazes to Get Lost In.

To Market, To Market . . .

Green City Market, with locations in Lincoln Park and West Loop, has become the Saturday (& Wed. in LP) morning stop-and-shop for foodies and families looking to shop local and sustainable.

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Excite Your Train Fan!

Experience the delightful sights and sounds of miniature trains traversing high and low tunnels, across bridges and around buildings at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Model Railroad Garden, open until Oct. 10. The exhibit features 18 garden-scale trains on 1,600 feet of track with vignettes of tiny people and animals that give it a storybook feel.

Grab a Chicago-Style Dog

Love ’em or leave ’em, hot dogs are big in Chicago, and if your kids haven’t begged for one yet, they will soon. We love the on-the-go ease (no silverware!) and colorful condiments (kids get a pass where the sacrilege of using ketchup is concerned). Grab one at a legendary local spot and turn eating into an adventure.

Play a Game of Seek in the City

Intro your kids to some of Chicago’s hometown coolness and iconic locations using our Chicago-themed scavenger hunt as your guide.

photo: Chicago Electric Boats

Captain Your Own Boat

Chicago has been gifted gorgeous weather that’s been boating perfection. While there are several tour companies that narrate a memorable trip along our waterways, sometimes you want to steer the course yourself. Take in the smells and colors of fall by renting a boat from Chicago Electric Boats.

Go Clubbing!

Mini-golf. Putt-putt. Goofy golf. Adventure golf. Shorties. No matter what you call it, you have a blast playing it. Most of Chicago’s mini-golf courses are pure, kitschy fun and are only open for a limited time each year. So grab a short pencil and head to one of our city and suburban favorites.

Take a Colorful Stroll

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. For other ideas for taking a peek at fall colors, read our story Walk This Way! Colorful Spots for Fall Family Strolls.

photo: The Forge: Lemont Quarries

Thrill-Seek as a Family

Hike, bike, paddle and climb your way through The Forge, a 300-acre adventure park featuring the largest aerial adventure course in North America.

See Some Cool Sculptures

Walk. Bike. Run. Skip. Gallop. However you make your way down this two-mile trail, you’re sure to enjoy the sights at the North Shore Sculpture Park. The paved path is lined with sculptures from artists across the world.

Cruise on a Piece of History

Once the largest diesel-powered Fireboat in the world, the Fred A. Busse is now set to share a bit of history with its passengers on a Chicago Fireboat Tour.

Hike Those Sillies Out!

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. Can't get enough of the trail-walking? We've got more ideas in our stories Hiking Trails That Even Toddlers Will Love and Hit the Trails! Best Hikes with Kids No Matter the Season.

— Maria Chambers

Featured photo: Scott Webb via Pexels

Related Stories:

Field Day! Local Corn Mazes to Get Lost In

Hot Diggity! A Kid’s Guide to Hot Dog Stands

How ‘Bout These Apples? U-Pick Apple Orchards Worth the Trek