Worth the Trip: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Chicago, IL

A natural gem in the heart of the city!

There are few museums in our area that I haven’t been to at least once, either as a child or a parent. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has been on my list since it opened in 1999. I had visited the Chicago Academy of Sciences in its old Lincoln Park Location as a child, but I had never had the opportunity to make it to the new museum.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Notebaert Nature Museum

We rang in the new year at the Notebaert Nature Museum at one of their family parties, it was not only such a great event, but the museum itself wowed us. There was something for everyone and every age, from water play and animals to a great play area and a gorgeous butterfly garden.

Located on Cannon Drive just down the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo, this gorgeous building boasts views of the lake and city as well as walking trails and prairie that bloom around it in the spring. If it was not for the towering buildings, you see when you look out some of the windows, you wouldn’t know you were in the heart of the city. The building is an environmental gem with so much natural light you can practically cure SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in one sunny afternoon there.

Notebaert Nature Museum Chicago

After checking our coats, my kids ran in and dove right into the water play. Unlike other area museums, this water play turned out to be really educational for our school-age kids, beyond what floats and what doesn’t. While our toddlers and preschooler enjoyed floating boats down the river, our 2nd and 4th graders learned about floodplains and how the Chicago locks work. They could have stayed in this room all day.

Water play at the Notebart Nature Museum

I was finally able to drag them away when I mentioned animals. It’s not a zoo, but they do have many native animals, including snakes and turtles. My little one loved the large (non-native) stuffed polar bear I remember seeing when I went to the Academy of Sciences as a kid! While the toddler snacked, the big kids headed to the Hands-On Habitat. This was such a fabulous area. I wished we came here first because we did not have enough time in it! Hands-on learning and playing, complete with climbing and sliding it was perfect.

butterfly sanctuary at nature museum
© M. Haak | Little Lake County.com | 2015

Before leaving, we headed upstairs to the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, although a sauna may be a more appropriate name on a sunny day! Once we stripped down all our winter gear, we could enjoy this tropical display. Beyond a tent with butterflies, the haven has a waterfall with turtles lounging in the pond as well as songbirds throughout the area. The butterflies, however, were the star of the show, and even on a cold (so cold) January day, we saw so many! We can’t wait to go back because there was so much to see that we missed!

We can’t wait to go back to the museum because there was so much to see that we missed!

family party at the nature museum
© M. Haak | Little Lake County.com | 2015

We spent the rest of our time at the family New Year’s Eve party. This party was so fun and well organized for a large-scale family event. They had food and music (included in ticketing) crafts and games, my kids had a blast dancing and playing. Check out their family calendar for future family events. 

Tips for Visiting the Nature Museum:

Parking is available for free on Cannon Drive. There is also a parking lot directly across from the museum entrance that charges standard Chicago parking fees (with many small children, it was worth the $19!)

The bathrooms, while nice with a sitting area for nursing moms, are at the entrance, far from exhibits so I recommend going when you first get in. There is a picnic area/cafeteria with vending so you can save money and pack a lunch. Also unlike other places, the gift shop is right in the front lobby but you don’t have to walk through it to get out

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 Cannon Drive, Chicago | 773-755-5100
The museum is open daily except the first Friday in May, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
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We can’t wait to go back in the spring and take advantage of the gorgeous trails and outdoor space!

Disclosure: My family was provided with tickets to attend the family New Years’ Eve event as well as general admission to the museum in order to facilitate this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and no other compensation was received. 

Worth the Trip: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
About Melissa Haak 626 Articles
Melissa is mom to 4. She used to dream of traveling the world, now she dreams of a clean kitchen. She can be found on most social media sites as @PBinmyHair because with this much hair and four kids, you're bound to find something in it.

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