Explore Cook County Forest Preserve Nature Centers. The Cook County Forest Preserves (CCFP) have six nature centers located around the metropolitan area.
2021: Check with each location before heading out due to Covid restrictions and closures.
All nature centers have activities year round for all ages. Hiking and exploring the nature centers is free. All locations also have programs and events most of which are free. Click on the link for each center for specific activities. CCFP also offers low cost camping close to home so you can still sleep under the stars but not spend a ton of money on gas. Enjoy!
Explore Cook County Forest Preserve Nature Centers Getting there
Getting to most locations requires a car but parking is free. Some locations may be accessible by taking Metra and riding your bike anywhere from 1/2 mile to over five miles. Some roads may be busy and high speed without sidewalks so you may want to study online maps before embarking. Many Metra trains allow bikes for no additional charge.
Each center has self-guided nature trails and naturalists to answer your questions. Programs throughout the year connect visitors with the the natural world and explore conservation issues. Learn about plants, animals and ecology of the Forest Preserves, go bird watching, follow tracks in the snow, make a model insect or listen to nature stories under the stars.
As the seasons turn, professional naturalists help visitors understand the science and meaning of nature’s wondrous changes. Most programs are free or available for a small charge.
Programs to open children’s eyes to nature include stories and crafts for families with pre-school age children, extended summer and winter break programs for elementary ages, and a Junior Naturalist program at River Trail NC. All Forest Preserve events here.
Crabtree Nature Center 3 Stover Road Barrington Hills, IL 60010 847-381-6592
Over a thousand acres of rolling, glacier-formed landscape in northwest Cook County has been set aside as Crabtree Nature Center. Crabtree is a haven for birds and bird watchers. Crabtree Lake hosts ducks and geese in spring and fall.
An exhibit building opens to several miles of self-guiding trails, inviting visitors to explore natural habitats that are home to wildlife and native plants.
Picnic facilities are available at Deer Grove Forest Preserve, 2 1/2 miles east on Dundee Road (Route 68); Carl Hansen Woods on Route 59; and Barrington Road Pond on Barrington Road. The nature center is 4.6 miles from the Barrington Metra Station.
River Trail Nature Center 3120 Milwaukee Ave Northbrook, IL 60062 847-824-8360
River Trail Nature Center tells the story of native plants and animals that remain in the urban environment. Here you may walk through sugar maple woods along the river on self-guiding trails, learn of the past and present in the exhibit building, and visit a few of our native animals.
Younger children may enjoy River Trail’s nature discovery area, where kids can climb in an eagle nest, crawl in a fox den, create their own puppet shows, and more.
Programs and special events are held throughout the year. Trail maps and interpretive publications are available at the front desk, and naturalists will answer your questions. The nature center is 4.7 miles from the Glen/N. Glenview Metra Station.
Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center 9800 Willow Springs Rd Willow Springs, IL 60480 708-839-6897
Connect with the historic past of the Palos Hills at The Little Red Schoolhouse. In 1886 the present building, originally located on the Black Oak Trail at old 99th Street, replaced a log cabin school. In 2010 a new visitor center with additional live animals and exhibits, children’s activity room, and more joined the old school. The nature center is 5.4 miles from the Palos Heights Metra Station or 4.7 miles from the Willow Springs Metra Station.
Trailside Museum of Natural History 738 Thatcher Ave River Forest, IL 60305 708-366-6530
Established in 1931, Trailside Museum of Natural History served as the first public nature education facility of the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
Visitors to the Museum, housed in a historic mid-1870′s Victorian mansion, will discover displays of live native animals, colorful wildflower gardens, information about local wildlife and their habitats, and more.
Natural-surfaced hiking trails through the surrounding Forest Preserve wind through beautiful oak woodlands and floodplain forest, and to a pond and along the Des Plaines River.
Trailside Museum is child-friendly, and offers a wide variety of public nature programs and guided hikes every month, for children, families and adults. School groups and organizations are welcome to make reservations to visit, and will receive a customized tour with a naturalist. The nature center is .5 miles from the River Forest Metra Station.
Sand Ridge Nature Center 15891 Paxton Ave South Holland, IL 60473 708-868-0606
Sand Ridge Nature Center’s 235 acres offer trails for easy hiking. From ¼-mile to 2 miles long, each trail passes through a number of habitats, including prairies, oak savannas and woodlands on ancient beaches and sand dunes, marshes and ponds. Sand Ridge Nature Center features exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the Calumet region.
Sand Ridge Nature Center offers a number of special events, including an Earth Day Celebration, Illinois Archaeology Day, in mid-September, highlights Native American culture, Settlers’ Day, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, features costumed re-enactors from French fur trading days through the American Revolution, pioneers, and the Civil War.
The nature center is 5.3 miles from the Harvey Metra Station. I do not believe the area around this train station is the safest area.
Sagawau Environmental Learning Center 12545 West 111th St Lemont, IL 60439 630-257-2045
Sagawau Environmental Learning Center promotes the study of nature in a relaxed setting. A visitor center and classroom building opened in 2010 includes exhibits on geology, history, and habitat management. Some featured programs include environmental education for high schools; workshops for teachers and other adults; tours of Cook County’s only canyon, and general public walks and programs. Sagawau provides habitat for over 100 species of migrant and resident birds, and is home for the banding program of the Chicagoland Bird Observatory – visitors welcome in season.
In winter Sagawau becomes a premier Nordic ski location, with rentals, lessons, and groomed trails. Click here more information on the Sagawau Nordic Ski Program.
Sagawau Canyon Nature Preserve is a unique area with unusual plants and rock formations. Guided walks are scheduled spring through fall. Individual access is restricted to protect this unique and fragile site.
The nature center is 4 miles from the Lemont Metra Station.