No partnerships have been as important to the Forest Preserves of Cook County as the relationships with the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which operates the Brookfield Zoo, and the Chicago Horticultural Society (CHS), which operates the Chicago Botanic Garden.
On this page:
- Brookfield Zoo
- Chicago Botanic Garden
- Free Admission Opportunities
- Collaboration with the Forest Preserves
The Forest Preserves and CZS opened Brookfield Zoo in 1934, and the Preserves and CHS opened the Chicago Botanic Garden in 1972. The Forest Preserves provided the land that houses the Zoo and Garden and contributes significant financial support to these world-class institutions each year—nearly one fifth of the Forest Preserves current annual budget is dedicated to the operation of the Zoo and Garden.
These public-private partnerships have proved resilient over the years, sustaining these preeminent centers for learning and scientific research and growing them into two of the most popular attractions in Illinois.
Set within a 285-acre nature park and accredited arboretum on Forest Preserves land, the Brookfield Zoo connects more than 2 million guests each year to its diverse collection of wildlife living in cutting-edge naturalistic exhibits.
The Chicago Zoological Society is not only at the forefront of animal welfare, it also is a leader in social innovation, developing award-winning conservation, education and community outreach initiatives that serve disadvantaged neighborhoods, veterans and individuals with cognitive, physical and intellectual differences.
CZS teacher training and community-based education programs and events reach more than 200,000 people and encourage everyone, regardless of age and background, to understand the importance of wildlife, nature and the environment.
Chicago Botanic Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden features 27 gardens, more than 100 acres of woodland, and 15 acres of re-created prairie habitat on 385 acres of Forest Preserves land. More than one million guests visit the Garden each year to view this living museum’s collection of 2.7 million plants.
The Garden serves more than 270,000 people in registered and free programs, including adult education classes, symposia, professional certificate programs, and a Science Career Continuum that trains Chicago Public Schools middle- and high-school students for careers in science.
The Garden also helps improve employment opportunities and broaden access to fresh produce for low-income households through its youth and adult urban agriculture and jobs training programs at Windy City Harvest throughout Cook County.
Free Admission Opportunities
While the vast majority of the activities and events held by the Forest Preserves of Cook County are free to the public, the Brookfield Zoo, operated by the Chicago Zoological Society, and the Chicago Botanic Garden, operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society, generally charge admissions. However, in order to expand access to these world-class institutions, the Zoo and Garden offer a variety of opportunities for Cook County residents to enter free of charge.
Brookfield Zoo Free Days
The Zoo offers a wide range of free days each year. Upcoming free day dates can be found on Brookfield Zoo’s website.
- Programs through Libraries:
- Chicago Public Library (CPL): If you’re a CPL cardholder and an adult resident of Chicago, you may check out a Kids Museum Passport that provides four complimentary general admission passes to Brookfield Zoo on any day. More information can be found on the Chicago Public Library website.
- Suburban Public Libraries: The Museum Adventure Pass program, available at suburban regional libraries, allows patrons to check out two complimentary general admission passes to Brookfield Zoo per loan period. More information can be found on the Museum Adventure website.
- Forest Preserve of Cook County Commissioners: Each Forest Preserve of Cook County Commissioner receives a limited number of free admissions and parking passes to distribute to constituents who otherwise would be unable to afford the Zoo (such as individuals experiencing financial hardship, seniors on fixed incomes, students, etc.). To contact your commissioner regarding the availability of these passes, please visit the Find My Commissioner page on Cook County’s website.
- School Groups: Brookfield Zoo provides free general admission to Illinois school groups from Head Start, and public and private organizations serving pre-kindergarten through college. More information can be found on Brookfield Zoo’s website.
- Forest Preserves of Cook County Nature Express Bus: Brookfield Zoo provides free admission to any group visiting via the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Nature Express Bus. More information is available on our Nature Express Bus page.
- Military Personnel: Brookfield Zoo provides free admission to all active, reservist and retired members of the military. Present a military ID at one of the zoo’s admission booths for entry.
- Museum in the Park Pass: Your local elected officials may receive a Museum in the Park Pass for constituents to use, providing free access to various museums and attractions, including Brookfield Zoo. To find and contact your elected representatives, visit USAGov’s website.
Chicago Botanic Garden Free Days
The Chicago Botanic Garden extends Free Admission Days for Illinois residents each year. Preregistration for nonmembers is required and will be available until the Garden is at capacity. Parking fees apply. Visitors can pre-register up to two months in advance for free admission days. Please note: Free admissions are not applicable during ticketed events. For more information or to preregister, please visit the Chicago Botanic Garden website.
- Programs through Libraries – Explore More Illinois: The Chicago Public Library and Cook County Suburban Libraries offers Explore More Illinois to a number of public institutions, including the Chicago Botanic Garden. The offerings allow four visitors for general admission during regular public hours including parking for one car/van vehicle per entry. Parking for one vehicle per pass is included. Please present your printed confirmation from the Explore More Illinois website at the entry gatehouse and the entrance to the Visitor Center. For more information, please visit the Explore More Illinois website.
- Forest Preserve of Cook County Commissioners: Each Forest Preserve of Cook County Commissioner receives a limited number of free passes and parking passes to distribute to constituents who otherwise would be unable to afford the Chicago Botanic Garden (such as individuals experiencing financial hardship, seniors on fixed incomes, students, etc.). To contact your commissioner regarding the availability of these passes, please visit the Find My Commissioner page on Cook County’s website.
- Illinois Educators: Illinois primary and secondary educators receive free parking and admission for one educator per visit. Please present your valid educator ID at the entry gatehouse (one car/van vehicle per entry) and the entrance to the Visitor Center.
- Active-Duty Military: U.S. military personnel and their families receive free admission and free parking. Please present an ID at the entry gatehouse (one car/van vehicle per entry) and the entrance to the Visitor Center.
- U.S. Military Reservists and Former POWs: U.S. military reservists and former POWs can receive free parking and free admission for one person. Please present your ID at the entry gatehouse (one car/van vehicle per entry) and the entrance to the Visitor Center.
- LINK and WIC Cardholders: As part of the Museums for All program, any visitor with a state-issued EBT card (known as a LINK card) or WIC card and anyone in their households receive free admission and free parking. Please present your card at the entry gatehouse (one car/van vehicle per entry) and the entrance to the visitor center.
- Museum in the Park Pass: Your local elected officials may receive a Museum in the Park Pass for constituents to use, providing free access to various museums and attractions, including the Chicago Botanic Garden. For more information, please contact your locally elected officials. To find and contact your elected representatives, visit USAGov’s website.
Other Free Opportunities
The Forest Preserves of Cook County offers a variety of free activities, such as hiking, fishing, and swimming, and hundreds of free events year-round. For more information, please visit our Things to Do page and Events page.
Collaboration with the Forest Preserves
Both the Zoo and Garden remain close partners with the Forest Preserves, which helps support the institutions and shares their mission of preserving and providing education about the natural world. Each year, the Forest Preserves collaborates with both CZS and the Garden on ecological restoration, innovative research and public programming.
The Forest Preserves and CZS have partnered to track walleye, badgers and river otters to help better understand their use of local habitats and inform future restoration projects. CZS also supports research efforts by helping Forest Preserves biologists perform health checks on native wildlife.
Recent collaborations with the Garden include the Plants of Concern and Budburst community science projects, the Greencorps Chicago job-training program and amphibian-focused restoration research. The Forest Preserves and Garden also partner frequently on seed collecting, research and banking for restoration efforts.