Head just a little bit north of downtown Chicago and you will find a free nature experience with sweeping views of the city. Lincoln Park holds one of the country’s few free zoos, a hidden lily pool, a beautiful conservatory and a few acres to wander.
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Lincoln Park Zoo
Some buildings may be closed during your visit and although the zoo is free, you currently need to make a reservation. Reservations are released every Sunday and Thursday at 4:30PM for the following 3 – 4 days. Set a timer in order to remember to grab a time for your visit.
There are over 200 unique species from around the world to see. You’ll also find a unique variety of plants throughout the gardens. Registered families can enjoy Nature Days from April to November. For $15/month, you will have access to a children’s challenge activity that addresses a conservation issue and a scheduled virtual program for the last Thursday of the month.
You can help support the animals by adopting one or even helping with the zoo’s wish list. Make Mondika’s birthday Ape-solutely Amazing! by providing a $7 treat for the apes as one of several great wish-list options.
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
At the north end of the park, you will find the entrance to the Lily Pool, a National Historic Landmark. It was built as a sanctuary in the 1930’s. It captures the serenity of a Midwestern prairie river with its stonework, pavilion, council ring, waterfall, and native plantings.
Register for a free guided tour of the wildflowers as each month features a different wildflower species in bloom.
Lincoln Park Conservatory
Set in a Victorian Era glass house built in the 1890’s, there are 4 display houses and outdoor gardens and monuments. Timed admission tickets are currently required.
North Pond Nature Sanctuary
Enjoy a unique play experience at the Sunshine Playscape or walk the North Pond. The North Pond is slowly disappearing as it suffers from numerous issues of a dying ecosystem including a shallow depth, an eroding bank, and the increasing inability to provide a healthy aquatic habitat. A major restoration effort is set to begin in the fall of 2021.
If you don’t mind getting down and dirty, you could turn a Chicago visit into voluntourism by signing up to do some gardening at the North Pond Nature Sanctuary or Habitat Restoration at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool. Specific dates are listed but tentative. Register early, training provided to learn how to sew native seeds, remove invasive species, and/or collect seed heads.
Across the street lies the eco-friendly and family friendly Peggy Notebaert Nature museum which houses exhibits such as, a 2,700-square-foot Butterfly Haven, Crocodilian Scratchboards, and Finding Patterns in Nature. The museum is still currently closed but the links above provide free virtual exhibits and activities you can do at home, with more to explore on the website.