North Park Village Nature Center
5801 N. Pulaski Rd. at Ardmore
Open 7 Days a Week, 362 Days a Year
(closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day)
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Parking Lot On Site
There’s a wilderness oasis in the middle of the city, with deer and wildlife abound. North Park Village Nature Center has easy hiking trails, a marsh with a resident heron, and free classes for Chicagoans from toddlers to retirees. Their Eco-Explorers summer camp is so fantastic, parents line up at 2 a.m. the night before registration to secure a spot for their kids. This 155 acre space that opened as a Tuberculosis Sanatorium in 1915, is now a green gem in Chicago’s eco-crown, with a 46 acre nature preserve and education facility.
In these magical woods, Chicagoans can learn to identify animal tracks, dissect owl pellets, see live theatre or appreciate an orchestra. Nature enthusiasts can walk the luminary lit paths in snow during winter solstice, and hear stories from many lands by a roaring bonfire, or get a good scare during Halloween’s Haunted Trails of Terror. During the heat of the summer, city dwellers can relax in the cool shade and get away from the stress of the streets for a while in this peaceful sanctuary.
There are a plethora of programs for seniors and adults including nature writing and drawing groups, green cleaning, yoga, and Chicago Audubon society events. Stargazing, primitive skills workshops, owl prowls, Theatre Hikes and Civic Orchestra Chamber Concerts are family friendly. All ages and preschool classes are plentiful. Most classes are free but require advanced registration. Check out North Park Village Nature Center’s Urban Naturalist Magazine, published online four times a year, for classes and special events listings.
Inside the main building visitors can see resident bees in action, through the clear sides of their home base, check out worm bins, and examine drawers of scientific samples under microscopes in the back room. There is a hands-on table of bones, fur and natural objects to touch and enjoy. Older kids and adults can write or draw about their nature center adventures in NPNC’s log. Younger children can explore nature books, art supplies and puppets in the vibrant yellow, “shoes off” room.
The nature center is truly a treasure. With free admission and open hours 362 days a year, there’s no excuse not to take a hike. On a given day you can see adults doing yoga or bird watching and see children playing imagination games on the natural playground known as the fallen “story tree.” It’s easy for jaded urban dwellers to ditch the concrete jungle and absorb the sights, smells and sounds of the woods, without a long drive to the forest preserves. This is a pet free zone and all wheeled modes of transportation get left at home. This is a place for quiet walks and joyful exploration, where you’ll likely see deer, birds, frogs, turtles, dragonflies, butterflies and a host of interesting insects.
There are four annual free events that draw the crowds, and rightfully so. The nature center goes all out, with live folk music, a storyteller, crafts, farmers’ markets spring and fall, guided hikes and more. Dates and details vary yearly, so check with North Park Village Nature Center on line in the respective season.
Maple Syrup Festival-March
Highlights: tree tapping demo, pancake breakfast, hot syrup samples right off the fire.
City Wilds Festival of Backyard Biodiversity
Highlights: BioBlitz (find and identify as many living organisms as possible from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.), learn about native plants and composting, visit with the Chicago Turtle Club, and Tales & Scales Traveling Zoo interactive live animal program
Fall Harvest Festival-October
Highlights: Scarecrow building contest, hot cocoa
Winter Solstice Celebration-December
Highlights: bonfire, shadow puppet show, hot cider and roasted chestnuts, live animal show with rescues from Big Wolf Run Ranch.
2011 Halloween Guide
For everything Halloween in Chicago, visit the CBS Halloween Directory.