The District’s six nature education centers provide a gateway for discovery of the natural diversity of Cook County. Each center offers programs and displays about the plants, animals, and communities of the region, and all but Sagawau ELC have live animal exhibits.
Over a thousand acres of rolling, glacier-formed landscape in northwest Cook County has been set aside as Crabtree Nature Center. Crabtree is a haven for birds and bird watchers. Crabtree Lake hosts ducks and geese in spring and fall.
At River Trail Nature Center, walk through sugar maple woods along the river on self-guiding trails, learn of the past and present in the exhibit building, and visit a few of our native animals.
Connect with the historic past of the Palos Hills at The Little Red Schoolhouse. In 2010 a new visitor center with additional live animals and exhibits, children’s activity room, and more joined the old school.
Established in 1931, Trailside Museum of Natural History served as the first public nature education facility of the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
Sand Ridge Nature Center’s 235 acres offer trails for easy hiking. From ¼-mile to 2 miles long, each trail passes through a number of habitats, including prairies, oak savannas and woodlands on ancient beaches and sand dunes, marshes and ponds.
Sagawau Canyon Nature Preserve is a unique area with unusual plants and rock formations. Guided walks are scheduled spring through fall. In winter, Sagawau becomes a premier Nordic ski location, with rentals, lessons, and groomed trails.
Events in the Nature Centers
Each center has self-guided nature trails, and naturalists to answer your questions. Programs throughout the year connect visitors with the intricate beauty of life in the natural world, and explore conservation issues. Learn about plants, animals and ecology of the Forest Preserves, go bird watching, follow tracks in the snow, make a model insect or listen to nature stories under the stars.
As the seasons turn, professional naturalists help visitors understand the science and meaning of nature’s wondrous changes. Most programs are free or available for a small charge.
Programs to open children’s eyes to nature include stories and crafts for families with pre-school age children, extended summer and winter break programs for elementary ages, and a Junior Naturalist program at River Trail NC. We are proud supporters of the Leave No Child Inside movement. Visit our Events page or ask for a program schedule today.
Education in the Nature Centers
For information on Education programs for schools and student groups, visit our Education page.
Nature Center Rules
- Pets are not permitted on nature center grounds, including the parking lots.
- Because we are not a rehabilitation facility, nature center staff cannot accept injured, orphaned or abandoned wildlife.
- For your safety and for the protection of natural areas, please stay on marked trails. Trails are for hiking only; no running, jogging, horses or other sporting activities.
- Bicycles are not allowed beyond the Nature Center parking lots, or provided bike racks.
- Cross-country skiing is only permitted at the Sagawau Nature Center.
- For the benefit of other visitors and wildlife, please maintain respectful noise levels at all times. Amplified music is not allowed.
- Picnicking is not permitted on nature center grounds. An adjacent picnic grove can be opened for pre-registered groups on weekdays. Except for water or sports bottles, food and drink are not permitted on trails. Please dispose of litter in proper receptacles. No food or drink in buildings.
- Collecting of any kind is prohibited, as is the use of metal detectors. The fine for picking wildflowers is $500.
- For the protection of animals and visitors alike, please do not feed the wildlife.
- Be mindful of closing times for trails, nature center building, and parking lot.
- Please report safety hazards or suspicious activities to the nature center staff.