Chicago is known for having a hard winter. It’s cold and snowy and seems to last forever. But the brutal winters make spring that much more magical. When the temperatures rise, the birds start chirping, and colorful new blooms pop up, there is a sense of new life across the city. Suddenly, kids are playing on playgrounds again, people are dining on patios, and the euphoria around Chicago is contagious.
That energy reminds us why we live here. It’s the perfect time to explore the many natural areas around Chicago. Kids can get some much-needed fresh air, learn to identify native plants, and appreciate the beauty of the season. We’ve found some of the best places to enjoy the colorful spring blooms around the Chicago area, and a bonus is that many of these nature centers, parks, and trails are free!
What to Look For
The Friends of the Forest Preserves has a useful guide showing the park locations, photographs of spring blooms with labels, and a calendar of different plant species and their expected bloom times.
When to Look
It always depends on the weather, but Skunk Cabbage is usually the first bloom to appear in Feburary and typically signals the beginning of blooming season. Virginia Bluebells tend to follow next in March, Tulip bulbs appear between late April and early May, and Blue Iris shows up in early June.
Photographer and “nature matchmaker”, Mike MacDonald, has a great website called Chicago Nature Now that displays alerts when spring blooms are found. He writes a blog post detailing the best spot to check out each bloom for yourself.
Where to Look
While the Chicagoland area doesn’t haven’t any national parks, it does have 450 square miles of protected natural areas within 50 miles of Chicago. Additionally, it has 1,700 native plant species–more than any national park in the United States (Source: ChicagoNatureNow). This list is a mixture of natural parkland filled with exotic plants, conservation science centers, manicured landscape art, and indoor display gardens, so you can find the perfect spot to appreciate the beauty of flowers your own way.
The Spring Flower show, “Bee’s Knees”–a glimpse into the wondrous relationship between flowers and bees- shows unit May 14th at the Garfield Park Conservatory. In addition to the freshest blooms, there will be empty observation and demo hives so you can see the world of a bee.
2. Lurie Garden
Lurie Garden is a “secret garden” by Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park. It’s a huge area of flower fields with plants in full bloom every season. Their website allows you to sort their plants by season, location, color, and more.
3. Peggy Notebaert Nature Center
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a nature museum for kids near the Lincoln Park Zoo. They have a playspace for kids, a butterfly haven, a secret forest, and some surrounding nature trails. They host special events, like “Bunking with the Butterflies,” where kids can have a sleepover in the museum and learn about nature. Starting in April, they will have a Mike MacDonald photography exhibit featuring his photos of Chicago-area landscapes. Kids can see prairie dropseed, rare oak savannas, and many other native plants from MacDonald’s works.
There is a beautiful Japanese garden in Jackson Park, just south of the Museum of Science and Industry. There is a wooded Island with cherry trees that are absolutely stunning in the Spring. The Chicago Park District shares updates on the blooming progress, so you can be sure to visit the park at the right time.
The Lincoln Park Conservatory has a spring flower show, “Cooler by the Lake” until May 14th. As a nod to the cooler weather, the show house will have cooler tones on display.
There’s no better place to check out flowers than the Chicago Botanic Garden. They have special event, a train for kids, and it’s a great place to walk around on a beautiful day.
The Morton Arboretum is an ideal place for any nature lover. There’s a great children’s garden for kids to explore after scoping out the spring bulbs.
The North Park Village Nature Center is a little oasis in Chicago. It’s a way to experience nature in Chicago without traveling too far.
Emily Oaks Nature Center in Skokie is a great little nature center with trails and lots of family-friendly activities. From March 25th=April 9th they have a “Fairy Hunt” where families can search for 26 fairies hidden around the trails.
10. Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
The Little Red School House is a nature center in the south suburbs with live animals, exhibits, and self-guided trails.
The Richardson Tulip Festival is a family-friendly festival and adventure farm with over 900,000 tulips in colorful blocks. They have food trucks, games, live music, and everyone with a ticket gets a tulip to take home. Friendly dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.
Mother nature determines when the festival begins, so check on their website or Facebook page for updates!
12. Cantigny Park
Cantigny is a gem of a park in Wheaton, and it’s the perfect place to check out spring blooms. They have creative horticulturists that curate beautiful display gardens. They also host family events and have playgrounds for kids!
13. Michigan Avenue
Michigan Avenue is famous for the beautiful tulips that stretch along the Magnificent Mile. There are plenty of fun activities for kids to do downtown, and stop an smell the tulips along the way!
14. Somme Prairie Grove
Somme Praire Grove is an opportunity to see spring flowers in the wild. Located in Northbrook, the preserves have shaded woodland, prairies, and savannas.
If you’re looking for. weekend getaway, there is quite possibly no better place to see tulips outside of Europe than in Holland, Michigan. The charming town of Holland has a tulip festival from May 6th-May 14th with dutch dances, live music, and plenty of tulips.