Free, Family-Friendly Nature Activities

Close to Home

This August, visit a local natural area to enjoy free, educational and fun outdoor experiences with youngsters before school starts. Search for bison, walk on a quaking boardwalk, see colorful butterflies and hummingbirds and watch bees make honey. Call first to confirm scheduled programs, bring water and mosquito repellent and dress appropriately for the weather.


Tour a bog:
Volo Bog State Natural Area

Volo Bog formed more than 10,000 years ago when a chunk of glacial ice lodged itself into the earth. Here, some of the state’s rarest plants grow alongside a half-mile boardwalk leading to the bog’s open water center. Experience the slightly shaking sensation while viewing vegetation such as sphagnum moss that seems to float on the water’s surface. See the state-endangered tamarack, a conifer that loses its needles in the fall.

        Visitors can explore on their own or join one of the free, hour-long guided bog tours at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. most Saturdays and Sundays. A three-mile trail at the bog winds through wetlands, woods and open areas. Volo Bog was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1973 and an Illinois Nature Preserve in 1970. It is the southernmost open-water quaking bog in North America.

28478 Brandenburg Rd., Ingleside. 815-344-1294.


Search for Bison:
Midewin and Nachusa

American bison once roamed North America by the millions, but hunting, development and other factors led to their disappearance from Illinois more than two centuries ago. Visitors to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Nachusa Grasslands can see real wild bison in Illinois again, thanks to reintroduction programs there.

        There’s no guarantee these creatures will be seen—they do like to roam—but free ranger hikes at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Midewin aim to get visitors a view. The rangers also describe the interesting behavior of these mammals. Naturalists at the visitor center can tell people where bison have recently been seen.

        At Nachusa, bison can sometimes be seen from fenced areas. Park at the new visitor center to scout for the magnificent creatures and learn more about them.

Midewin National Talllgrass Prairie, 30239 SR 53, Wilmington. 815-423-6370.

Nachusa Grasslands. 2075 Lowden Rd., Franklin Grove. 815-456-2340.


Watch Hummingbird Antics:
Sagawau Environmental Learning Center

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating back to their winter homes in August, and the learning center is helping them along the way. The staff stocks feeders with sugar water and maintains flowers they love, such as Joe Pye weed and jewelweed. These birds fly 20 hours nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico on their journeys and need lots of energy to keep them going.

        Attend free hummingbird sits from 10 a.m. to noon on August 11, 19 and 25 to watch the hummingbirds as a naturalist discusses their behavior and how to attract them to backyards. These colorful gems fly up, down, left, right, forward and backward at dizzying speeds. A free Hummingbird Fest will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., August 18, to watch hummingbirds get banded and learn how they’re tracked. Visitors can participate in the migration game where they become hummingbirds and learn obstacles they face while flying south for the winter.

12545 111 St., Lemont. 630-257-2045.


Discover Butterflies:
North Pond Nature Sanctuary

Take a walk through a 36-acre sanctuary in Lincoln Park to see monarchs and other butterflies sipping nectar from summertime wildflowers. The sanctuary has a paved path that winds around a 15-acre pond with side paths that meander closer to the edge. Summer is peak blooming time for butterfly weed, milkweed, purple coneflowers and other native plants that attract butterflies.

        Free walks are held at North Pond at 10 a.m. August 4 and September 8 to learn about wildflowers and see butterflies. Registration is required. The sanctuary is co-managed by the Lincoln Park Conservancy and the Chicago Park District.

400 N. Stockton Dr., Chicago. 773-883-7275.


Get the Buzz on Bees:
River Trail Nature Center

Walk through the gardens, including the pollination garden, at the River Trail Nature Center to glimpse bees gathering nectar to take back to the hives managed on site. Attend the Buzz on Bees program at 1:30 p.m., August 12, to learn about the role these insects play in nature and what life is like inside a beehive. A guide will take visitors to see the active beehives and look for signs of pollination in the gardens.

310 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook. 847-824-8360.

Sheryl DeVore is a Chicago area writer, editor, educator, photographer and author of three books on nature. For more information, email


Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Dragon and Damsel Adults

These tiny, winged creatures with descriptive monikers such as pondhawk and baskettail flit above water and vegetation from spring through fall in the Chicago region, providing a service to humans as they snatch mosquitoes and other insects in the air.


In May, Chicago region backyards and nature preserves sparkle with the songs and colorful plumage of migratory birds. Some of them have traveled thousands of miles from their winter homes in Central and South America on their way to their northerly breeding grounds.


Kiva, which means unity in Swahili, is a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 by Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley after attending a class on theoretical microfinance at the Stanford School of Business.

Equitable Opportunity

Members of the women’s program participate in a multitude of activities, from workshops and classes in native plant identification to woodworking and chainsaw seminars with local arborist associations.

Mystical Owls:

Winter is nesting time for the great horned owl, one of nine species of owls that can be found in the region year-round or part time.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

Women’s Fall Retreat with Mushrooms

The coordinators of the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference will present Mycelium Mysteries: a Women’s Mushroom Retreat, on September 28, 29 and 30, in Almond, Wisconsin.

Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. Workshop on The Four Agreements

His philosophy focuses on living a happier, fuller and more meaningful life without conflict, guilt or shame, in which we are free to express ourselves without fear of being judged by others and to love and accept ourselves just the way we are.

Enjoying August’s Harvest

Bleuroot is the site of an exquisite farm to table summer feast being held August 23 to benefit the Illinois Farmers Market Association. All food, wine and spirits served will feature local products in amazing flavor combinations.

Expanded thriveMD Facility in Schaumburg is Really Thriving

thriveMD, in Schaumburg, is hosting its grand re-opening throughout the month of August with tours and special promotions.


Sarah Karnes is a Northbrook life coach who helps women going through midlife transitions reclaim their zest for life.

Free Webinar on Stress and Infertility

With infertility, stress can negatively impact optimal functioning of the reproductive organs in both females and males.