Worth the Trip: Illumination at The Morton Arboretum {Lisle}

At this point in our parenting career — four kids, ages 3, 6, 8 and 14 — we have become super choosy about the activities and events we frequent and attend. 

Mostly, because we cannot afford to be anything else. 

Time and money and sanity are all at premiums, and there’s nothing worse than feeling like all three have been spent in vain trying to do something as a family that just isn’t worthwhile. 

For us to venture out, especially if it’s a distance, the destination has to be good. 

Like, grandma’s-house good. 

This year, one of our two-top Christmas destinations is The Morton Arboretum’s Illumination

Morton Arboretum Illumination 2014
Photo Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum Illumination 2014

As we created our holiday bucket list as a family, and it’s seriously short this year, Illumination was the one thing all three oldest children begged us to do. Again. For the third year running. 

See, Illumination isn’t just any old light show where people have strung up lights, plugged them in and left them to twinkle in the cold December air. No, Illumination is more. Much more.

Illumination is a family-friendly walk that spans a mile of paths at The Morton Arboretum and showcases the astounding beauty of the trees, enhanced and aglow with beautiful, glowing lights. At Illumination, the lights themselves aren’t the super stars; rather they are powerful tools in shedding the beauty of the Arboretum in a new light.

During the past two years, my children have especially enjoyed two of the stops along the path most, the first and foremost being Hug a Tree. My children, especially my boys, seriously enjoyed running up to each giant sycamore and giving it a big squeeze to see which color would illuminate in response to their hugs.

The other favorite, Tinsel Harmony, was definitely my youngest son’s most-adored stop. He just could not get enough of singing to the trees to make them light up and dance with different colors. The trees even changed color based on the notes sang. We could barely pull my youngest son, then five, away from the microphone! Of course, this little show he put on to the tune of “The Little Drummer Boy” {on repeat} had his family laughing until our sides hurt and other Illumination goers applauding his heart-felt performance.

Also back from last year, and definitely a favorite among those of us who are have musical tastes that span beyond “The Little Drummer Boy,” is Symphony Woods. This year, Symphony Woods features all-new classical music performances of The Nutcracker recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in which the lights “dance” along to the songs.

Now in its third year, Illumination promises to just be better than even the last two years, boasting new features like Meadow Lake Magic, which is a light display on a beautiful, natural water setting and Ornament Hill, which showcases sparkling lights mingling with larger, glowing globes.

Morton Arboretum Illumination 2014
Photo Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum Illumination 2014

Really, there’s just nothing like Illumination, which is why we’ll be back again this year! Before you go, though, catch some of my insider tips:

  • Don’t let the chill in the air keep you away, but do dress for success. Sure, you should take advantage of the warming stations along the path and hot chocolate is available for purchase to warm hands and bellies, but a simple jacket and mittens likely won’t cut it when temps dip low. We were glad we wore warm coats, snow pants, boots, scarves and mittens for the whole family. Don’t skimp; you can always unlayer while there.
  • Bring your walking boots and prepare to enjoy the great outdoors. Our boys, five and seven last year, walked the entire path just fine. If you’re bringing a little one, though, I’d suggest wearing your small child in backpack carrier or bringing a path-ready stroller.
  • Embrace the snow. Illumination is even more lovely with a layer of snow on the ground, so don’t be scared off by a little dusting.
  • Download. Take advantage of the new interactive Apple app to enhance your Illumination experience.
  • Prepurchase tickets. Don’t drive all the way down there to find that the night you’ve chosen is already sold out! Buy tickets before you go here!

Would you like to experience Illumination for yourself? The Morton Arboretum has generously offered a family four-pack of tickets to one Little Lake County reader! THIS GIVEAWAY HAS CLOSED. Congratulations, Rose Brunn. You will be contacted!

The Morton Arboretum 
4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle | (630) 968-0074
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Disclosure: The Morton Arboretum provided tickets for my family to see Illumination this year. 

About Hyacynth 22 Articles
Hyacynth Worth is wife to John and mother to two boys and two girls. She writes about motherhood, healthy living and faith at Undercover Mother. She is Little Lake County's managing editor and the author of Homesteading with Hyacynth. She promises to be candid, amusing and only slightly neurotic. Most of the time.


  1. We have always loved driving through cuneo to look at the lights and try to find the hidden snowmen. This could replace our tradition since cuneo lights are now closed.

  2. We used to go to Vernon hills every year to drive through the holiday light show. Kinda disappointed they won’t have it again this year, so we need a new tradition. I am looking forward to hopefully we can go to the Morton arboretum and see the light there!!!

  3. We go to our village’s tree lighting every year and the last two years have done an overnight in Chicago to check out a museum and zoo lights. Would love to check out Illuminations!

  4. It’s not really a destination but every year we have breakfast with Santa at the local American Legion. All profits go to them with the Boy Scout Troop providing their service. Helping our veterans and seeing Santa,awesome.

  5. Ours isn’t so much a tradition as trying to make one. We are newly married and with my wife came a three year old little boy. Were making our traiditons as we speak. My wife and I found a cute idea to let him unwrap his bedtime story leading up till Christmas. He’s so excited to open the first one tonight. He’s talked about it non stop all day.

  6. Libertyville’s tree lighting and Vernon Hills Winterwonderland. We are fairly new to the area and have heard great things about the Morton Arboretum. Would love to take the kids to visit the Arboretum and check out Illuminations.

  7. We just had our first little guy in March and are looking forward to making new traditions with him. In the past we have gone to the Grand Geneva, but this sounds like a great new place we can visit with him! Thank you for the recommendation!

  8. Our favorite Holdiay Destination tradition is tot he Lincoln Park Zoo lights. We love to see the holiday Magic the season brings through our daughters eyes!

  9. Our favorite is probably Zoo lights!! So far we’ve only done Lincoln Park but would eventually love to see Brookfields!!

  10. One thing we always do is go to the Zoolights. We love going to see all the lights at the zoo every year. I’d love to check out this event though!

  11. Among our favorite traditions for years has been a family drive-through of Winter Wonderland at The Cuneo Museum in Vernon Hills, with the kids in pjs and popcorn for all. Having so enjoyed our first trip to The Morton Arboretum this summer, we were already contemplating a trip back for Illumination as a new winter light show tradition.

  12. We love heading down to the Lehnertz Avenue Christmas display in Aurora. Every house has a few lines from the Story of Jesus’ birth illuminated, and all of the houses are decorated nicely. You drive by each house and read a few lines and by the time you get to the end of the street, you’ve read the whole Bible story! The street then leads into a Lehnertz circle where all of the houses are decorated with Peanuts decorations. It’s a super nice tradition and one that we typically do on Christmas Eve while visiting family.

  13. I think the zoo lights at Brookfield is one of our favorites as well as the Christmas market downtown. We have never been to the arboretum but I think we should!

  14. We loved driving to Cuneo and watching all the magical lights. I’m sad my daughter only got to see them once. But we would love to check out the Arborteum.

  15. We used to love going to the train garden at the botanic garden, but with kids in school it’s harder to go during the week and weekends are way too crowded!

  16. Our tradition was to go to cuneo in Vernon hills for their light show. It is too bad it is no longer there. The kids are really disappointed. So we will be taking them to downtown for a weekend to explore all the museums.

  17. It’s only my daughter’s second Christmas, so we don’t have many destination traditions yet. For now, it’s seeing Santa at Bass Pro Shop.

  18. We usually do the Christkindlmarket in the city, but we are unable to go this year. My daughter just turned two and I have a 12 year old stepdaughter so it’s hard to find things to appeal to both their ages…this seems like Illumination might be just the thing to bridge that gap.

  19. We used to visit Vernon Hills Winterwonderland, too! This could be a nice alternative. (Thank you to everyone for posting other fun events, too! We’re really sad about the Cuneo event closing!)

  20. Dancenter North’s Magic of the Nutcracker is one of our holiday traditions. We also enjoy the Botanic Garden & now finding the old Cuneo lights around town. We love the Arboretum but have never been in winter.

  21. My fiancé and I had a son last Valentine’s Day, and we are trying to find new traditions for our little family. Our son is nearly ten months old and he LOVES looking at our Christmas lights! This year as a new tradition we took him to see the holiday train and he really enjoyed it! My fiancé works for DeVry Education group and visits Morton arboretum for his work picnics and says it is absolutely beautiful there. We are only a family of 3 but would love to make illumination an annual tradition!

  22. My boys are almost 2 and almost 4, so I’m just now laying the groundwork and making careful choices about what will become Christmas tradition in our family. Illumination looks absolutely memorable!!! That said, my favorite Christmas destination to date has been my parents’ house: as soon as we drive up, the stress and pressure of preparation falls away, replaced by gratitude, relief and contentment to be among those whom I love most.

  23. Our favorite holiday tradition is going to Lake Geneva, WI and spending a couple nights at the Grand Geneva resort, breakfast with Santa, and taking the trolley lights tour. It’s always a great time!

  24. Our tradition for Christmas has been finding new things to do! This is something we have never done and sounds like something that we would enjoy coming back to every year. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  25. We haven’t lived here too long but last year we loved driving through the Vernon hills lights! We also loved all the tree lighting ceremonies. One of our favorite parades is the lighted parade at Lake Geneva. Normally, we just drive around through neighborhoods looking at all the great light displays though! Where we used to live we loved walking through the botanical garden in Virginia. We did that every year until we moved. We love everything about the holidays and it’s way to hard to pick a favorite holiday destination!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.