Hopefully, the weather gods will show some love and drop some sun on us this Labor Day weekend. Take advantage of this beautiful Chicago summer by living it up outdoors. Read on to find where to cool down, find toe-tapping fun under the sun, take the kids clubbing and more.

 

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Beat the Heat at Ty Warner Park Spray Park

When a park is named after the king of the Beanie Babies empire, expect fun to be top priority. Watch the kiddies make a beeline for the soft-surface play area featuring water cannons, mushroom cap waterfalls, spraying anchors and dumping buckets. When they finally peel themselves away for a break, spread out snacks on the shaded picnic tables or, better yet, indulge in ice cream, pizza or corn dogs at the concession stand.

Covid-19 Update: Visitors are limited to 50 at a time and you may be asked to keep your visit to under 2 hours. Please wear a mask upon arrival and departure from the park.

801 Blackhawk Dr., Westmont; Online: westmontparks.org

To find more low-key splash pads to use as a cool-down read, Splish, Splash! Get a Covid-19 Update on Your Favorite Splash Pad.

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Hunt for GIANT Trolls

Something special has emerged from the woods, meadows and vast open spaces at The Morton Arboretum’s grounds. . . unusual creatures, each made of reclaimed wood and measuring 15- to 20-feet-tall. Danish artist Thomas Dambo and crews of woodworkers and volunteers constructed the mammoth mythical creatures of Troll Hunt, an exhibition on display through early 2021. Enjoy these guardians of the forest, who are trying to make sense of the human world and make us think about our impacts on the planet.

COVID-19 Info: Visitors must purchase a timed-entry ticket prior to arriving.

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

 

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See Butterflies & Blooms (and Trains, too!)

This is one of your last chances to see the Butterflies & Blooms temporary exhibit before it takes flight September 20. Visitors immerse themselves in a habitat filled with hundreds of winged beauties and pretty petals. You’ll find species native to South America, Asian, North America and Africa, as well as those native to Illinois.

If your littles prefer trains to winged creatures, take them to experience the delightful sights and sounds of miniature trains traversing high and low tunnels, across bridges and around buildings at the Model Railroad Garden. 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.

COVID-19 Info: All visitors must pre-register for a timed entry. 

Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe; Online: chicagobotanic.org

 

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Visit LEGOLAND Discovery

LEGOLAND Discovery has reopened! They will have LEGO bricks just for your family to use during playtime and new enhanced sanitation procedures. 

COVID-19 Info: Please schedule your two-hour time slot prior to arriving. Slots are available Thurs.-Mon, 10 a.m. & 1:30 p.m. Guests over the age of 2 are required to wear a mask.

601 N Martingale Rd, Schaumburg; Online: chicago.legolanddiscoverycenter.com

 

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See Dinos Everywhere! at Brookfield Zoo

Nearly 45 animatronic dinosaurs that are BIGGER and BADDER than any dinos you've ever met are visiting Brookfield Zoo. Dinos Everywhere features acres of earth-shakers, including the largest—argentinosaurus—that was estimated to measure more than 100 feet in length and weigh up to 110 tons. Until Sept. 27, zoogoers will be able to search for these amazing life-like animatronics throughout the park.

COVID-19 Info: Visitors should order a timed-entry ticket before visiting. Read more about navigating the zoo by reading our story Chicago Zoos Are Open! Get the When, What, How of a Zoo Visit!

3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield & 8400 31st St., Brookfield; Online: czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO

 

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Climb to New Heights at The Forge: Lemont Quarries

The Forge: Lemont Quarries (aka The Forge) opened its 300-acre adventure park, 22 miles from downtown Chicago. Not only does the park feature the largest aerial adventure course in North America, a day of adventuring gives you access to four over-water ziplines, 5 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking, paddlesports, and a dedicated kids’ zone.

COVID-19 Info: Reservations are required prior to visiting and masks must be worn by anyone over the age of 3.

1001 Main St., Lemont; Online: forgeparks.com

 

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Hit the (Mini-Golf) Clubs!

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. 

COVID-19 Info: Be sure to bring along a mask and some places are not accepting cash, so be prepared to use contactless payment options. 

 

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Meander Through the North Shore Sculpture Park

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.

A fun way to allow kids to explore their creativity, capture memories AND keep them entertained is with an instant camera! They can snap pics and hang in their room at home!

COVID-19 Info: Be sure to bring along a mask for when distancing is not possible.

 

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Try Out the New Slide at Raging Waves

Splish, Splash! Illinois’ largest waterpark dedicated to family fun for all ages, Raging Waves, kicked off their season and have a brand new addition: Aussie Mat Dash. Riders race side-by-side on mats down the six-lane slide.

COVID-19 Info: Advanced registration is required prior to visiting, temperature checks will be conducted upon arrival and you should come prepared to swim as locker access is very limited.

4000 N Bridge St, Yorkville; Online: ragingwaves.com

 

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Go Hiking at Starved Rock

No matter the age or abilities of your hiking buddies, Starved Rock is a uniquely beautiful destination that offers oodles of family fun. With just over 13 miles of well-marked trails to explore, fishing in the Illinois River and waterfalls in 14 of the 18 canyons, there’s enough to keep the family entertained for hours — or an entire weekend if you choose to bunk at the Starved Rock Lodge.

1010-1048 E. State Rte. 71, Ottawa; Online: starvedrockstatepark.org

For more spots to get your hike on, read Discover the Not-So-Obvious Spots to Hike, Camp & Fish Near Chicago

 

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Take an Adventure Cruise

Experience it all — Chicago's glorious skyscrapers, historic buildings and modern marvels. Use our guide Ahoy, Captain! Explore Chicago’s Waterways on a Family Boat Cruise and pick a tour company that will have you looking at our city from brand new eyes. 

COVID-19 Info: All the tour boat companies have distancing and enhanced sanitation policies in place and are limiting capacity for each tour. 

 

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Book a Stay at Great Wolf Lodge

As of Aug. 24, Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee is welcoming guests back, providing a close staycation for families looking to take a long-awaited getaway.

COVID-19 Info: Great Wolf Lodge introduced its new Paw Pledge program, a company-wide initiative focused on keeping families healthy and safe while they play together at the indoor waterpark. 

1700 Nations Dr, Gurnee; Online: greatwolf.com/illinois

—Amy Bizzari & Maria Chambers

Featured photo: Frank McKenna via Unsplash

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