Free, Family-Friendly Nature Activities

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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


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