What’s better than an endless summer? The sights, smells and adventures of a midwest fall! We dug up great ways to play and entertain the kids while keeping spending at a minimum this season. From walks in the park to scavenger hunts that take you all over town, here are the best ways to enjoy autumn in Chicago.

 

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A Fest That's All About Scarecrows

Nothing says fall like a Scarecrow Fest! Things will look a little different this year with the fest, to keep everyone safe and distanced. What doesn't change is the chance for kids to see uber-cool, handcrafted scarecrows Oct. 9-11.

 

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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.

 

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To Market, To Market . . .

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

 

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Celebrate Fall at the Zoo

Usher in the harvest season with your animal friends at Lincoln Park Zoo's Fall at the Zoo, Oct. 1-Nov. 1. Stroll the one-way trail adorned with carved pumpkins, corn husks and hay bales and cherish the fall ambiance without the crowds.

 

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Have Throwback Fun!

Get a Chicago-style Italian Beef ready for sandwich-loving Joey because the wildly popular FRIENDS Experience is coming to Chicago, Oct. 1-Jan. 3. Originally created for the 25th anniversary, fans can celebrate their favorite friends and revisit some of the series' most iconic moments with this two-story, enhanced experience.

 

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Chat with a Massive Dino

The Field Museum's Máximo is a pretty big deal. Literally. He's the biggest dino discovered to date. Get to know him a bit better by striking up a conversation via online chat or text him at 70221. You can ask him what life was like during the Cretaceous Period, how he got to the museum or even his favorite color!

 

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Walk (or Run) for a Cause

Take part in a Fall Fun Virtual Walk, Run, Roll in support of The Children's Museum in Oak Lawn. Supporters from all over will run, walk, swim, hike, bike and roll their chosen course, anytime between Oct. 3-10.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Hunt for Trolls

Something special has emerged from the woods, meadows and vast open spaces at The Morton Arboretum’s grounds. . . Trolls! Each made of reclaimed wood and measuring 15- to 20-feet-tall, these guardians of the forest in the Troll Hunt exhibit are trying to make sense of the human world and make us think about our impacts on the planet.

 

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Plan a Mini Vacay

Plan a family staycation at Great Wolf Lodge Gurnee and wear the kids out in the indoor waterpark.

 

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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. 11. 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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Feast as a Family at Time Out Market

Time Out Market showcases some of the city's most outstanding culinary talent and eateries under one roof, including Chef Bill Kim, Arami, Duck Inn Dogs, Dos Urban Cantina, and Mini Mott. The concept is great for families because the open food hall concept allows each family member to feed their own personal crave. 

The market paused operations in March due to COVID, but reopened the end of August with new safety measures in place including plexiglass partitions, the use of PPE and an advanced air circulation and filtration system.

— 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