Tag Archives: lincoln park

Chicago’s Favorite Fast and Free Flora and Fauna

Having lived my first 20 years in the sparseness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s no surprise that I get a little stir-crazy in the big city. Add to that several weeks of recent cold weather and this hibernation has me thinking a head of lettuce looks like the great outdoors.

But despite the weather, and perhaps armed with the optimism that the days are getting longer with a prediction of 60 degrees tomorrow, we ventured out this past weekend to get a much-needed dose of nature. We heard there have been Great Horned Owl sighting at Busse Woods, so we drove up to Elk Grove Village. This is what we saw:

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 If you’ve never visited the elk grove, it’s a quick and easy way to see some “wildlife” – granted they’re fenced in on a slice of acreage at Busse Woods. The elk are supervised and fed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
After you visit the elk, follow their fence to the trail along the tree line. It makes for an easy hike with plenty to see- fields with picnic areas and pavilions if you’re looking for a  family outing. Or if you want to get your shoes in the snow/dirt, continue walking past the fields toward the small lake. You’re sure to see birds no matter the season. When we were there this past weekend it was cold but the trees were alive with tapping woodpeckers. We also saw several hawks and at least five deer. But, alas, no owls. On the back trails there were very few people, so chances are you’ll be able to enjoy a good stretch of quiet.
If you’ve already done the elk thing, another quick stop off for nature can be found along the city’s lakeshore. Did you know we have several bird sanctuaries on the edge of downtown? Montrose Point is an impressive place for bird watching and it’s particularly quiet and peaceful in the winter. Last year it gained attention for being a stopover for snowy owls. This year I haven’t seen any owls, but the cardinals are stunning against the dull brownness of this year’s winter.
If it’s too cold, or in the case of today, too rainy, you can get your nature fix indoors. The  Garfield Park Conservatory, as I’ve said before, is one of the biggest and best in the country. You’re imagination can get lost in the Jurassic-esque tropical foliage swooping down over the brick paths. If it weren’t for the warm humidity, you’d forget you’re under a canopy of glass a few minutes from The Loop. The conservatory is always free (unless you live here, then you pay a pretty handsome city tax) so visit and visit often.
A final winter favorite is spending a day in Lincoln Park. Although the butterfly haven atop the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, requires an admission fee, it’s a pretty special place for both kids and adults. Just as fun as the 1,000 free-flight butterflies are the tiny button quail scurrying around under the trees and shrubs. If you sit quietly, they’ll probably come quite close. Intriguing little birds and I think I want one!

While you’re at Notebaert, stop by the nearby Lincoln Park Conservatory or the Lincoln Park Zoo’s petting farm. Both of which are free. Fast ways to get out of the house this winter and get your hands on some flora and fauna. To me that’s great therapy.

If you know of any other fast or free nature destinations in Chicagoland, especially for quick winter getaways, please feel welcome to share below.


Just back from San Francisco where I went for a week with a camera that was out of battery. So, this post has only one sad cell phone picture of Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers:

Like most conservatories, this one has a main rotunda flanked by greenhouses. I’ve been to quite a few conservatories- trying to visit them in most places I travel- and this one ranks right up there in external visual appeal. Nicely maintained and an impressive site when you’re looking up at it from the street. The plant collections are, of course, beautiful, but for me they don’t take top prize. It certainly has beautifully presented specimens that I don’t often see, but overall it feels small (and it’s not free).

Garlfield Park Conservatory is still one of the best and I’m not just saying that because I live 10 minutes away. It’s a large collection and a vibrant community attraction. This isn’t the only conservatory in Chicago but it’s the largest. The Lincoln Park Conservatory is the sister site that’s also worth a visit. Garfield Park sustained major damage during an unprecedented hail storm this year, so despite both conservatories having free admission, donations are strongly encouraged.

The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle in Detroit will always be one of my favorites, and in this case I am biased! I used to live in Detroit and frequented this place. It’s old and its glass needs new white-washing, but you can feel the love when you step in. I love a conservatory that has dark mossy crevices and the mystique of possibly having a nearly extinct and forgotten species hiding under the canopy. Whitcomb has a water feature and nice annual orchid exhibit. (free)

I’m looking forward to visiting the Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes) in Milwaukee this winter. They are a stunning site when seen from the highway at night. The neon may be a bit gimmicky but if it gets people in the doors to learn about plants, why not. (admission charge)

Also on my list are Biosphere 2, Climatron, Haupt, Muttart (will I ever visit Edmonton?), and of course the ubiquitous conservatories of England. Oh, and every other conservatory I come across.

Rooftop Update: Still hauling in plenty of tomatoes from the roof, but this season is all but over. I’ve cleaned up the majority of the EarthBoxes and am now looking ahead at winter hobbies. Pretty soon our farmer’s tans will disappear and our fingers will once again crave dirt. I’d love to hear what you do during the winter months. Please leave a comment below!