Top family-friendly outdoor activities around Chicago

Family fishing off of a creek near Chicago
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After being stuck indoors for the last few months, kids of all ages — and their parents — are probably feeling some cabin fever. Luckily, the warmer weather means it’s time to get back outside and start exploring all of the outdoor activities that Cook County has to offer.

This spring, take advantage of the world of natural wonders that surrounds you throughout the Chicagoland area — wide open green spaces, scenic lakes and rivers, hands-on nature exhibits, and blooming botanic gardens that will amaze kids of all ages.

Ready to explore fun things to do outside with your kids? Here are just a few of the family-friendly hikes, bike paths, nature centers, waterways, and other outdoor activities waiting to be discovered throughout Cook County this spring.

Connect with nature at Little Red Schoolhouse

A classic activity in the Chicago suburbs, the Little Red Schoolhouse in Willow Springs has taught generations of kids about plants, animals, and the natural world. Visitors of all ages will be captivated by the indoor exhibits, the three miles of walking trails, and a year-round calendar of educational activities and events.

Discover other fun and educational nature centers near Chicago.

Soar through the treetops at Bemis Woods

Spend an unforgettable day ziplining through the trees at Bemis Woods. This Oak Brook forest preserve is home to the exhilarating Go Ape Adventure Park, featuring zip lines, a Tarzan swing, rope ladders and bridges, and an ax throwing range. Bemis Woods also includes picnic groves, a canoe landing, and access to the Salt Creek Trail System.

Roam around Busse Woods

One of Chicagoland’s largest forest preserves, Busse Woods near Elk Grove Village offers plenty of room for the kids to run, play, and go wild. Kids will be mesmerized by the site’s Elk Pasture, home to a small herd of live elk. The woods also include 13 miles of paved trails (perfect for walking or biking with little ones), along with boat rentals for kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, and fishing boats.

Enrich young minds at Sand Ridge Nature Center

Foster curiosity and learning at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland. The center is packed with interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and meet and greets with local “wildlife ambassadors” like snakes, turtles, and birds of prey. Afterward, make sure to check out the nature play area, demonstration gardens, and log cabin replicas.

Camp under the stars at Camp Bullfrog Lake

This popular lake in Willow Springs offers year-round camping, along with kayak rentals, fishing, hiking and mountain biking trails, and plenty of birdwatching. Camp Bullfrog offers a variety of campsites, including tent sites, RV sites, and small and large cabins that include heating and air conditioning. It’s the perfect place for a weekend away that the kids won’t forget anytime soon.

Explore more campgrounds around Chicagoland.

Go back in time at Wagner Farm

Historic Wagner Farm in Glenview is a popular educational destination for families with kids of all ages. Visitors can experience what farm life was like in the past, while learning about the importance of modern agriculture. Children can collect eggs, dig in a sandbox, swing on a tire, say hello to livestock, and explore interactive exhibits in the Heritage Center.

Paddle the calm waters of the Skokie Lagoons

This sprawling natural area near Winnetka has something for everyone, especially families that love to get out on the water. Starting in early April, Skokie Lagoons offers kayak and canoe rentals that allow you to explore sections of the seven connected lagoons. This is also a great spot for fishing, biking, hiking, and picnicking.

Find more ways to get out on the water near you.

Learn something new at Crabtree Nature Center

Browse exhibits on local wildlife at the Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington, a popular spot for kids of all ages. Families can explore the surrounding terrain with self-guided trails that traverse the glacier-formed woodland, wetland, and prairie. And spring is the perfect time to spot migrating birds and wildflowers along the trails.

Stop and smell the roses at the Chicago Botanic Gardens

The Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe are a must-see anytime of year, but it’s particularly stunning in the spring. There’s so much for kids to love here — the Model Railroad Garden for young train enthusiasts, a live butterfly habitat, and the multi-sensory Nature Play Garden where kids are invited to run, splash, and play freely.

If you’re looking for even more family-friendly adventures this spring, discover an endless array of outdoor activities near Chicago.