You’ll find a wide variety of landscapes, habitats, wildlife, and native plants in Glenview, Illinois. There’s no shortage of natural wonders to explore, from lakes and rivers to woods and wetlands. If you have children who love exploring the natural world, then you’re lucky to have so many unique areas to experience. Whether your little one enjoys walking trails, fishing, spying on wildlife, or looking for wildflowers, there’s a nature center or forest preserve where you can have fun in nature together. 

River Trail Nature Center

The River Trail Nature Center has lots of activities for young and old alike. Inside the nature center, you’ll find free exhibits on local flora and fauna, an indoor play area, and on-site nature educators who can’t wait to tell you about the plants, animals, and landscapes near the Des Plaines River. Outside you’ll find trails you can wander, guided hikes, and outdoor play areas. There are many fun and educational events at River Trail, like tapping maple trees to make maple syrup, watching feeding time for recuperating animals, visiting beehives and meeting beekeepers, attending bald eagle and river monster workshops, and more.

There are three outdoor walking trails around the nature center that total 1.7 miles. If you want a longer hike, you can connect with the Des Plaines Trail System, which connects over a dozen forest preserves. As you walk along the trails, you’re likely to see a variety of birds, insects, plants, and wildlife. The nature center encourages using the preserve area as an outdoor classroom and frequently offers programs for kindergarten through high school students. 

Bunker Hill Forest Preserve 

The Bunker Hill Forest Preserve is popular for its picnic groves, remarkable natural area, and North Branch Trail System. There’s plenty of parking, and kids will enjoy lots of natural play areas. There are seven picnic groves, with shelters that can accommodate 200 to 350 people. Two of the picnic shelters are wheelchair accessible. With both indoor and portable bathrooms available, you can plan an amazing picnic, play date, family gathering, or big event. 

As you walk along the trails, you’ll pass through diverse landscapes, including a flood plain forest, the Sidney Yates Flatwoods, oak woodlands, and open savanna. Pets, bicycles, and horses are welcome on the trails, and cross-country skiing is common in the winter. Along the 20 miles of trails, you’ll find some trails that are paved and some that are not. As you’re meandering through nature, keep an eye out for wildflowers and blooming grasses, like blazing star, big bluestem, prairie sundrops, and fringed gentian. Because the preserve is a great birding area, you’ll likely see song sparrows, woodcocks, ducks, and herons, as well as butterflies and insects. 

Skokie Lagoons

A man holds his camera to take a photograph of the Skokie Lagoons near Glenview, IL

Skokie Lagoons, spotting a green heron” licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr by Raed Mansour

Skokie Lagoons covers 894 acres and is ideal for water exploration. It’s common to see canoes, kayaks, rowboats, sailboats, and electric trolling boats out on the water. If you prefer not to be on the water, you can enjoy fishing, biking, hiking, and picnic areas. The Skokie River connects the seven lagoons, where you’re likely to catch a variety of fish, including sunfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass. Skokie Lagoons is a historically rich area. It provides an excellent opportunity to teach your child about Native Americans, tribal lands, regional landscape transformations, American settlers, civilian conservation projects, and other local history. 

Because Skokie Lagoons is so large, you can access the area from multiple entrance locations, including Erickson Woods, Tower Road, and Forest Way Grove. All of the entrance areas have parking, portable bathrooms, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, fishing, and birding, and they all allow pets on leashes. However, each entrance area has slightly different amenities. Erickson Woods has a grove shelter for 200 people. Tower Road has boat rentals, a boat launch, wheelchair-accessible fishing, and equestrian parking.

Wildwood Nature Center 

The Wildwood Nature Center is an excellent place for little ones to learn about the environment, wildlife, and natural science. Both entertaining and educational, the nature center has an animal exhibit room with over a dozen critters and an interactive nature nook playroom full of toys and activities. You can find all kinds of workshops, lecture series, classes, nature trips, community programs, camps, scouting opportunities, and seasonal events for people of all ages. 

Outside the nature center are 1.5 acres of restored native prairie. As you explore the walking paths, you’ll see up to 88 different native wildflowers and plants, like mayapples, jack-in-the-pulpits, snowdrops, wild gingers, Solomon’s seals, bluebells, and trilliums. Keep an eye out for wildlife like monarch butterflies, American toads, ruby-throated hummingbirds, Canada geese, and meadow voles. As you wander along the path, you’ll pass the nature center, the Woodland Walk path, Wildwood prairie land, and the Maine Park ponds. Stop by the wooden fishing deck, observation deck, or rock landing areas to go fishing or look for wildlife. 

Emily Oaks Nature Center

The Emily Oaks Nature Center is a 13-acre oasis with a savanna full of native flowers, grasses, and trees, as well as a large pond and walking trails. The nature center has meeting rooms, a wide variety of classes and programs, and an interactive exhibit called the Woodland Wander Inn, which introduces children to the wildlife that exists around them. Children’s programs include before- and after-school programs, school-days-off programs, Growing Sprouts preschool programs, children’s workshops, field trips, and birthday parties. Program topics include campfires, canoeing, geocaching treasure hunts, adventure trips, and much more. 

As you walk along the trails, there’s a good chance you’ll see wildlife like deer, chipmunks, great blue herons, coyotes, flying squirrels, red foxes, or Cooper’s hawks. You can print a free woodland scavenger hunt before you visit the nature center for a fun way to spy on flora and fauna as you walk the trails. Check out the map of the walking paths online to make sure you stop by all the best places, like the pond, playground, activity shelters, and bike trails. If you want to plan an overnight trip, you can rent a treehouse, cabin, or campsite. Here at Crème de la Crème of Glenview, we know how important it is for little ones to explore the natural world. We want to encourage young ones to engage in their surroundings and help them find a love for learning about the environment, wildlife, and native plants. If you and your child have a nature activity you love, we’d love to know about it. Contact us so we can add your favorite nature activity to our list.