When the autumn leaves are beginning to pop, the natural beauty of the Windy City is unmatched. According to the Fall Color Report, the peak time for the best fall colors in Chicago is during the second week of October, and the best time for peak fall foliage in central Illinois is late October.
Here are some of the top spots to see the best fall foliage in the Chicagoland area. It’s the most beautiful time of the year!
The Morton Arboretum in DuPage County is a truly special place in Northern Illinois. They have over 4,000 types of trees, so if you want to spot a sugar maple, a black walnut, an Ohio buckeye, a Norway spruce, and some oak trees all in one visit, this is a great place to do it!
The natural beauty of the white oaks and hickory trees in the peak of fall color season is unforgettable, and the spectacular landscape art exhibit at the arboretum make scenic drives with kids even more fun!
During the weeks of October, they have a scarecrow trail where the Meadow Lake trail is lined with nearly 50 scarecrows made by local boy scout troops. After walking the trail, you can cast your vote for your favorite scarecrow at the visitor center.
The best part of Morton Arboretum is the amazing children’s garden, which is 4 acres of kid-friendly climbing structures, plants, and streams, that allow your kids to connect with nature!
The Chicago Botanic Garden is one of the largest botanic gardens in North America and one of my favorite places in the Chicago area. The fall months are a perfect time to visit, and they have an awesome Jack-O-Lantern exhibit in October.
There are 28 gardens and 4 natural areas situated on 385 acres. It’s a beautiful place to see the changing leaf colors, and kids will love the model train railroad and taking the tram!
3. Jackson Park
Jackson Park was the former site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, so this 550-acre green space plays an important role in Chicago History. The park features one of America’s most beautiful Japanese gardens, The Garden of the Phoenix, which is incredibly picturesque with the vibrant oranges of fall.
Jackson Park also has gorgeous lagoons, and it’s situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. After enjoying this unique park, you can check out the Museum of Science and Industry which sits on the park grounds. It’s honestly my favorite museum in Chicago, especially for kids!
4. Lincoln Park
This iconic park in the Land of Lincoln is one of the most stunning places in Chicago. This enormous park stretches from Streeterville to Edgewater and has some of the most gorgeous views of the Chicago Skyline.
When the leaves change color, Lincoln Park is even more breathtaking than usual. In addition to the views, there are tons of fun things to do for kids in the park. It hosts the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago History Museum, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Oak Street Beach, and North Avenue Beach.
The North Branch Trail is one of the best ways to explore nature without venturing too far out of the city. It is 20 miles of trails and forest preserve that stretches from Chicago to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. It’s perfect for a bike ride or fall hike to see the peak fall colors of the native trees in north shore Chicago.
The North Park Village Nature is a hidden oasis on the north side. Located in the North Park neighborhood, there are woodlands, savannahs, prairies, and a 12-acre nature play area called Walking Stick Woods. This area is truly special because you’ll feel totally immersed in nature, but you’re actually still in Chicago!
Cantigny Park is a 500-acre park in Wheaton, Illinois about 30 miles west of Chicago. There are beautiful gardens, hiking paths, a playground, two museums, a golf course, and a picnic grove. The landscapers can be super creative, and they have unique and interesting displays each season.
Millennium Park is the quintessential Chicago spot to see the beauty of the fall season. The reflections of bright oranges and reds look magical in “the Bean”, and there is so much to do in the area! Maggie Daley park is a blast for kids of all ages, and it’s right next to the beautiful Lurie Garden and Grant Park which holds the iconic Buckingham Fountain.
The Art Institute of Chicago is right there as well, so art enthusiasts can appreciate this world-class museum after having a picnic in the park.
While most people know that the Garfield Park Conservatory has lots of green house space, it also has 10 acres of outdoor gardens that are particularly gorgeous in the fall. They have an Artist Garden, Sensory Garden and Play and Grow Garden that allows the kids to play!
Nestled in the charming town of Lemont, a short drive from downtown Chicago, The Forge Lemont Quarries is a hidden gem for families seeking both thrilling adventures and the beauty of fall foliage.
They have an array of adrenaline-pumping activities suitable for all ages. For the more adventurous kids, there are ziplines that whisk you through the treetops, towering climbing walls, and an exhilarating aerial challenge course. Meanwhile, those seeking a water-based adventure can opt for kayaking, paddleboarding, or even taking a plunge at the massive water playground.
The former quarry site boasts steep cliffs and serene lakes that reflect the vivid colors of the surrounding trees. The hiking and biking trails that wind through the 300-acre property become a mesmerizing tapestry of reds, oranges, and yellows. Families can explore these trails at their own pace, immersing themselves in the serene beauty of nature.
Besides the adventure activities, there are cozy picnic areas and fire pits where you can enjoy a family meal or s’mores as the sun sets. Special events and seasonal programming are often available, including pumpkin decorating and guided fall foliage hikes that provide an educational component for children.
Emily Oaks Nature Center in Skokie features a state-of-the-art environmental education center complete with exhibits and displays, and a delightful playground where children can expend their energy amidst the fall scenery.
They host a variety of family-friendly events and programs. From fall-themed craft sessions to night hikes that introduce participants to the mysteries of nocturnal wildlife, there’s always something exciting happening here. The Nature Center’s calendar of events ensures that each visit offers a unique and enriching experience.
12. Waterfall Glen
As autumn arrives, Waterfall Glen transforms into a picturesque wonderland. The park’s 2,492 acres are adorned with lush woodlands, rolling prairies, and a 9.5-mile trail that encircles Argonne National Laboratory.
During fall, this diverse landscape comes alive with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows as the leaves change color. Families can explore the many trails, including the one leading to the park’s namesake—a tranquil waterfall, which is particularly striking amidst the fall foliage.
Waterfall Glen offers a range of trails suitable for hikers of all skill levels, making it an excellent destination for families.
The park also welcomes cyclists and equestrians. Families with older children can enjoy biking along the paved, multi-use trail that encircles the park. For those interested in horseback riding, there are designated equestrian trails that wind through the peaceful landscape.
The Little Red Schoolhouse, built in 1886, is a charming one-room schoolhouse, complete with period-appropriate furnishings and educational displays that transport them back in time.
Families can participate in guided nature hikes, birdwatching excursions, and interactive workshops that delve into the local flora and fauna. The Nature Center’s knowledgeable staff provides an enriching experience that fosters a deeper appreciation for the natural world.
They have family-friendly amenities such as picnic areas, making it an excellent spot for a serene outdoor meal surrounded by the fall colors. The play area provides kids with a space to burn off energy, ensuring that every family member finds enjoyment during their visit.
Throughout the autumn season, the Little Red Schoolhouse hosts a variety of family-friendly events and festivals. From pumpkin decorating to educational presentations on local wildlife, there is always something exciting happening here.
14. The Grove
Tucked away in the heart of Glenview, Illinois, The Grove is a hidden gem that encompasses 143 acres of pristine woodlands, wetlands, and meadows.
Families can also explore the Nature Center, which offers hands-on exhibits and informative displays about the local wildlife and ecosystems.
Throughout the year, The Grove hosts a variety of family-friendly events and seasonal celebrations. From pumpkin festivals to holiday-themed activities, there’s always something special happening here.
West Ridge Nature Park is a 21-acre urban oasis on the north side of Chicago adjacent to Rosehill Cemetery, a historic cemetery in Chicago.
There is a restored woodland, 4.5-acre pond, multipurpose trail around the park with an elevated overlook, educational and interpretive signage, wildlife viewing opportunities, nature play space, and more.
16. Bison’s Bluff
Bison’s Bluff is an amazing nature-themed playground in Schaumburg that is particularly fun on warm days when the water elements are turned on. In addition to a climbing/slide structure that is built in rock structures, there are waterfalls, streams, sand, and plenty of ways for kids to dig around and get some mud on their hands.
There’s also a nature trail and nature center next to the playground that can make your trip into a whole day of fun.
There’s parking, mutiple pavilions, and clean bathrooms.
- Be aware that this playground does cost money. It costs $3 for non-residents and $2 for residents for an hour of play, but when were there the “hour” was not enforced, and we were there much longer. I’ve heard they do enforce it when it’s really crowded, though I though I thought it was pretty busy when we went. My daughter had so much fun at this playground, I definitely think the fee was worth it, but I know it may be a deal-breaker for some.
- Definitely bring a change of clothes or two. My daughter got so sandy and wet, we had to change her a few times.
17. Harvester Park
Harvester Park is truly one-of-a-kind. This awesome park is Route 66 themed, and there are fun play sculptures around the park to represent that. The main play structure is in the shape of the Willis Tower, and the slide is huge.
There are in-ground trampolines, a zip line, a few merry-go-round options, a music cabin area, a pavilion, bathrooms, and a very cool sandbox. This playground has everything, though it is lacking some shade.
Illinois doesn’t have a large national park, but it has some beautiful state parks, and Starved Rock is the crown jewel.
Located approximately 90 minutes southwest of Chicago, Starved Rock State Park beckons families with its dramatic cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and rich fall foliage. This outdoor haven transforms into a kaleidoscope of colors during the autumn months, offering a picturesque setting for hiking and picnicking.
With a variety of kid-friendly trails, such as the St. Louis Canyon and French Canyon trails, young adventurers can explore the rugged beauty of this park while enjoying the vibrant leaves overhead.
Be sure to keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring above the Illinois River, adding a touch of wildlife wonder to your fall excursion.
Matthiessen State Park is only a few miles away from Starved Rock, and it’s absolutely stunning to see during fall color season. Located on the south side of the Illinois River, there are waterfalls, canyons, and gorgeous hiking trails.
There is a great variety of trails, so whether you enjoy vigorous hiking or relaxing walks, you can find something that works for you at Matthiessen State Park.
Located in Great Rivers Country, Hosehoe Mound Preserve is just a short drive from the historic town of Galena, Illinois,
Perched atop a glacial mound, Horseshoe Mound boasts awe-inspiring panoramic views of the picturesque Galena countryside. Families can ascend to the summit via a network of well-maintained trails, with the reward being a bird’s-eye view of the rolling hills and valleys, especially spectacular when painted with the vibrant hues of autumn. The scenic overlook provides an ideal backdrop for family photos and picnics.
Horseshoe Mound holds a storied history as an ancient gathering place for indigenous communities and later as a strategic Civil War lookout point. Families can explore the informative displays that share the site’s historical background, offering children a chance to connect with the past and learn about the people who once called this place home.
Pere Marquette State Park is celebrated for its breathtaking riverfront views. Families can take in the mesmerizing sight of the mighty Mississippi River, especially captivating when reflecting the vibrant colors of autumn. The river provides opportunities for boating, fishing, and riverside picnics, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to any family outing.
Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois is renowned for its towering rock formations, ancient sandstone bluffs, and rocky trails.
The Giant City Nature Trail, in particular, offers an easy hike suitable for families with young children, winding its way through a forest of colossal rock walls.
The park’s visitor center provides families with informative exhibits about the geology, ecology, and history of the area. Families can also join guided nature walks and educational programs that teach kids about the natural world and the importance of conservation.
Nestled within the Shawnee National Forest in the southern portion of the state, the Garden of the Gods is an enchanting wilderness area that showcases ancient rock formations, scenic trails, and boundless opportunities for exploration, making it an ideal spot for families with kids to immerse themselves in the wonders of the great outdoors.
Beyond hiking, the Garden of the Gods offers opportunities for rock climbing, horseback riding, and photography. Families can also enjoy stargazing on clear nights, making it an excellent place to introduce kids to the wonders of the night sky. The park’s open spaces and natural features invite kids to play, run, and discover the world around them.
24. Door County
Located on the eastern edge of Wisconsin, Door County is a captivating destination with natural beauty, cultural charm, and outdoor adventure. There are plenty of family-friendly activities including kayaking, paddleboarding, apple-picking, fishing, and more.
Door County has a range of family-friendly accommodations, including cozy cottages, lakeside resorts, and campgrounds. Families can find lodging options that cater to their preferences and budget, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay.
Door county has some of the best colors during fall, and it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a red maple tree, a red oak tree, or the beautiful orange hues of autumn leaves.
Brown County State Park in Southern Indiana is often called the “the little smokies” because of its resemblance to the Smoky Mountains.
Brown County State Park provides a wide range of outdoor activities suitable for families, including horseback riding, mountain biking, and fishing in the tranquil lakes and streams. Families can rent paddleboats and canoes, explore the bridle trails on horseback, or enjoy a day of birdwatching. Kids can engage in interpretive programs and guided nature hikes that enhance their understanding of the natural world.