August 22, 2023
Looking for something for kids to do as cooler weather sets in? Fall offers new possibilities as the leaves change week by week and take on their splendid autumn colors.
Here are some great spots to bring children in the fall—some for familiar fun and some that may be new to your family. All are free with Arboretum admission. Most activities are outdoors, and some spots are wet; adults are wise to bring wipes and a change of clothes for adventurous little ones. Get more advice in the Visiting with Children Guide.
Giant sculptures: Five way-bigger-than-a-kid, nature-inspired sculptures created by Polish American artist Olga Ziemska are fun to explore outdoors in the Arboretum’s grand landscape in an exhibition called Of the Earth. Children and adults can wander through the space around the sculpture and consider the art from all sides. These artworks are sure to spark children’s imagination and inspire family conversations. Two are within walking distance of the Visitor Center: “Stillness in Motion,” in Arbor Court, and “Hear: with an ear to the ground,” next to Meadow Lake. Two more artworks are a short drive away on the Arboretum’s East Side: “Strata,” at Parking Lot 4, and “Oculus,” at Parking Lot 14. The fifth sculpture,—“Ona,” at Parking Lot 20,—is on the Arboretum’s West Side, through the tunnel under Illinois Highway 53. A trip to see Of The Earth is an opportunity to not just wonder at these impressive pieces of art and discuss what they say about people and nature, but to discover how big and grand the Arboretum really is.
Children’s Garden: Filled with flowers, trees, water, and places to climb and explore, this 4-acre outdoor play space offers endless fun for children of all ages, and plenty of spots for family members to relax while kids roam and romp. There are fountains to splash in, a pond to wade in, things to twist and roll, places to hide and swing, and a boardwalk into the treetops. The entire garden is designed to encourage children to play spontaneously and safely in nature. Check the Children’s Garden page on the website to learn about programs during your visit as well as accessibility. The garden is just off Arbor Court near the Visitor Center—easy to find and handy to the restaurant.
Maze Garden: Across from the Children’s Garden is a living puzzle, a maze of green shrubs that will delight older children. Those who find their way to the center of the Maze Garden can climb among the branches of a majestic old sycamore tree for a lovely vista—a spot to encourage (or taunt) those who haven’t yet solved the puzzle.
Nature Play Spaces: Looking for a more tranquil experience? Venture farther into the Arboretum to these quiet spots where children can experience nature through simple, imaginative play. The Mud Kitchen, near Parking Lot 20, is a good place to make mud pies. The Word Garden at Parking Lot 13, across the road from the Big Rock Visitor Station, encourages word play with rocks painted with letters, while birds and butterflies flit nearby.
Schulenberg Prairie: Toward the end of summer, this restored prairie at Parking Lot 25 on the West Side is a magical place. Golden grasses and other plants are so tall they will tower over many children, making the paths almost into tunnels that feel like you are exploring a secret world. The birds, butterflies, bees, and other creatures that live in the prairie add to the wonder. Dauntless young explorers will love the unusual Schulenberg Prairie experience.
A hike through an oak forest: The Woodland Trail, a wood-chipped trail loop of a little more than half a mile, is a comfortable hike for children. There are plenty of informative signs along the way to heighten your understanding of the nature you’re seeing. The trail is one of several that connect to the Big Rock Visitor Station at Parking Lot 13 on the East Side. For smaller kids or those in strollers, there is a short paved loop. For older children (or those you’d like to wear out), try the mile-and-a-half Heritage Trail loop.
Picnic among the trees: Cheesy pizza at the Ginkgo Restaurant is always an option, but you can also bring your own lunch to the Arboretum. Eat at tables in Arbor Court or in the Children’s Garden, or venture farther afield along the Meadow Lake path to a picnic area with tables at the far side of the lake. For the even more adventurous family, there are picnic areas with tables across the road from both the Prairie Visitor Station (Parking Lot 25) and the Big Rock Visitor Station (Parking Lot 13).
As your children clamber on the play structures in the Children’s Garden, roam the Arboretum’s wooded trails, or discover its amazing artworks, remember that winter is another season to enjoy the outdoors. Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum returns on November 18!