Trailside Museum of Natural History

Trailside Museum building in River Forest

Visitors to the Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum of Natural History will discover displays of live native animals, colorful wildflower gardens, information about local wildlife and their habitats, and more.

On this page:


COVID-19 Visitor Information

All visitors over 2 years of age must wear a mask indoors at all times. Unvaccinated visitors should also wear a mask outdoors when physical distancing (six feet from other people) is not possible.


a person looks at an exhibit inside Trailside Museum
An exhibit area inside Trailside Museum.

Location, Hours & Things to Do

Trailside Museum of Natural History

Things to Do & Amenities

  1. Service dogs are allowed at most public locations. View accessibility policies.

Hours

Mar - Oct: 9am - 5pm, closed FridaysNov - Feb: 9am - 4pm, closed FridaysClosed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day

Closures & Alerts


a family hiking at Trailside Museum

Walking Trails

Miles of unpaved walking trails at Trailside Museum wind through Thatcher Woods' beautiful oak woodlands and floodplain forest.

Surface

Unpaved

Estimated Total Length

4.9 miles

Things to Do

Hours

Year-round: Sunrise to Sunset

Closures & Alerts

*Please be a courteous trail user: Follow posted signs and our trail rules and etiquette.

Events & Programs

Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Dec 10 • 1 pm

Bird Painting Workshop Step-by-Step: Northern Cardinal

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Dec 17 - Sun, Dec 19 • 9 am

Story Trail: “The Snowy Day”

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Dec 18 • 1:30 pm

Winter Solstice Nature Hike

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sun, Dec 19 • 5:30 am

Dawn Owl Prowl

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Dec 24 - Sun, Dec 26 • 9 am

Story Trail: “The Snowy Day”

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Wed, Dec 29 • 1:30 pm

A Secret Winter Ecosystem

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sun, Jan 2 • 1:30 pm

New Year’s Resolution Walk

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Jan 8 • 8:30 am

Winter Bird Walk

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Jan 8 - Sun, Jan 9 • 9 am

Story Trail: “Over and Under the Snow”

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Jan 14 • 1 pm

Bird Painting Workshop Step-by-Step: Blue Jay

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Jan 15 - Sun, Jan 16 • 9 am

Story Trail: “Over and Under the Snow”

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sun, Jan 16 • 1 pm

Family Winter Scavenger Hunt and Campfire

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Jan 22 - Sun, Jan 23 • 9 am

Story Trail: “Over and Under the Snow”

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Jan 22 • 1:30 pm

Ice Sun Catcher Craft and Walk

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Jan 28 - Sun, Jan 30 • 9 am

Story Trail: “Groundhog Day”

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Jan 29 • 1:30 pm

Winter Tree Secrets

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Wed, Feb 2 • 1:30 pm

Groundhog Day Celebration

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Feb 4 - Sun, Feb 6 • 9 am

Story Trail: “Groundhog Day”

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Feb 4 - Sun, Feb 6 • 9 am

Winter Animal Olympics

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Feb 5 • 1:30 pm

Owls of Trailside

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Feb 11 - Sun, Feb 13 • 9 am

Winter Animal Olympics

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Feb 11 • 1 pm

Bird Painting Workshop Step-by-Step: American Goldfinch

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sun, Feb 13 • 1:30 pm

Warm Hearts, Cold Noses Hike

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Fri, Feb 18 - Sun, Feb 20 • 9 am

Winter Animal Olympics

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Feb 19 • 10:30 am

Cold Blooded (Animals!)

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
Trailside Museum building in River Forest
Sat, Feb 26 • 10:30 am

Winter Dog Days Dog Walk

Trailside Museum of Natural History • River Forest, IL 60305
All Events »

Fishing at Thatcher Pond

This 1.5-acre pond, accessible at the Trailside Museum of Natural History parking lot, is an old oxbow of the Des Plaines River and is prone to flooding. Its fish population is heavily influenced by the river.



Field Trips & Hybrid Learning

Our hybrid learning and field trip offerings allow teachers, parents and youth leaders to use forest preserves and nature centers as an outdoor (or virtual) classroom. Our hybrid learning programs serve kindergarten through 12th grade students and meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), while our field trips serve everyone from pre-K to adult learners.

Contact one of our nature centers or experience.nature@cookcountyil.gov for more information or to discuss programs tailored to your learning objectives.

Trailside Museum of Natural History
738 Thatcher Ave
708-366-6530

Four children looking at a a butterfly display at Trailside Museum of Natural History. 1930s photograph.
“Girls looking at a butterfly display at Trailside Museum of Natural History in River Forest.” ca. 1930s. FPDCC_00_01_0012_004, Forest Preserve District of Cook County Records, University of Illinois at Chicago Library.

History

Established in 1931, Trailside Museum served as the first public nature education facility for the Forest Preserves.

Trailside Museum of Natural History is set within a historic 1876 mansion. The building has served many purposes through the years including being a residence and even housing two schools. In 1919, the Forest Preserves purchased the building, having already bought much of the surrounding land. The mansion served as the Forest Preserves’ headquarters until 1931, when the Board of Commissioners voted to make it a “trail side” museum displaying “every plant and animal in Cook County, live or mounted, for the education of the public.”


Volunteer Opportunities

Help out at events, restore natural areas and more.


Nature Center Rules

  • Pets are not permitted on Nature Center grounds, including the parking lots.
  • Nature Centers are unable to 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.
  • Bicycles are only allowed in Nature Center parking lots, or at provided bike racks.
  • For the benefit of other visitors and wildlife, please maintain respectful noise levels at all times.
  • Picnicking is not permitted on Nature Center grounds. An adjacent picnic grove can be opened for pre-registered groups on weekdays.
  • Food or drink is not permitted in Nature Center buildings.
  • With the exception of water or sports bottles, food and drink are not permitted on Nature Center trails. Please dispose of litter in proper receptacles.
  • 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, the Nature Center building and parking lot.
  • Please report safety hazards or suspicious activities to the Nature Center staff.
  • Cross-country skiing is not permitted on Nature Center trails.