Top Parks

July 2024 View more

The best playgrounds, nature retreats, fishing holes, outdoor pickleball courts, and more

Bison’s Bluff Nature Playground
Bison’s Bluff Nature Playground

Our local parks and preserves are where we head to unplug, escape, or let off some steam.. Whether your ideal park trip includes a place to relax with a picnic, cast a fishing line, go for a hike, or wield a pickleball paddle, here are some of our favorites.


The Morton Arboretum Children’s Garden
The Morton Arboretum Children’s Garden

The Children’s Garden at Morton Arboretum

4100 Rte. 53, Lisle,

You could easily spend all day in this kid-centric enclave inside the Morton Arboretum, where beloved features include tree root slides, enormous acorns to climb, and treehouse structures connected via rope bridges. An area with logs, stumps, and rocks provides endless inspiration for open-ended, nature-inspired play. Bring a towel and change of clothes if you plan to let the kiddos loose at the wading pond or rivulet. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and entrance into the garden is included the price of arboretum admission ($12 for children, $17 for adults).

Harvester Park (above) and Hawks Hollow Nature Playground at Peck Farm Park (below) are easy day-trip destinations.
Harvester Park (above) and Hawks Hollow Nature Playground at Peck Farm Park (below) are easy day-trip destinations.

Harvester Park in Burr Ridge

FREE 15W400 Harvester Dr., Burr Ridge,

Do yourself a favor and pack extra snacks when you visit this playground, located just off I-55’s County Line Road exit. “My goal all along was to create a legitimate two-hour park, and that means you will be here for two hours and you’re probably going to get a little bit of a fight when you leave,” says Jim Pacanowski, director of Burr Ridge Park District.

There’s a tree structure that tots can climb in and out of, an antique barn with musical instruments, a sand pit with “fossils” to uncover, a steam engine fashioned out of tree trunks, and a small splash pad—and that’s just in the playground’s front half. The back half—added in 2022—has play areas that correspond to different stops on Route 66, including boogie boards on springs (Santa Monica, California), trampoline “sinkholes” (Santa Rosa, New Mexico), and a Willis Tower–themed climbing structure with tube slides (Chicago).

So how did such a small park district with one of the lowest tax rates in the state pull off such a truly epic playground? Without the budget to hire a big design firm, Pacanowski bootstrapped the designs on his own and worked directly with tradespeople to bring his vision to life. “We don’t go out and spend a lot of money on color renderings,” he says. “I have hand-drawn sketches on cocktail napkins and graph paper and models made with Play-Doh and Legos.”

95th Street Community Plaza

FREE 3109 Cedar Glade Dr., Naperville,

This storybook-themed playground is just the place to visit before or after a trip to the Naperville Public Library’s 95th Street branch. Larger-than-life books are integrated into the playground design, whether stacked to form stairs or propped up to form a tunnel with Moby Dick bursting out of the cover. Other colorful elements include a huge bird’s nest, a shiny red apple-shaped tunnel, giant ballet slippers, and an adjacent splash pad for cooling off.

Hawks Hollow Nature Playground at Peck Farm Park

Hawks Hollow Nature Playground at Peck Farm Park

FREE 4038 Kaneville Rd., Geneva,

Built in 2014, this educational nature-inspired playground hasn’t lost any of its charm in the last decade. There’s a beaver lodge made of sticks (perfect for hide and seek), a wide ramp ascending to a covered treehouse and curvy slide, and a hammock for kiddos who need a break from the action. Bring water shoes and a change of clothes to take advantage of the water play area with a rivulet for wading, small waterfall, stepping stones, and water spouts. Take time to enjoy the adjacent trails, observation silo, history gallery, and butterfly house.

Sensory Garden Playground

FREE 2751 Navistar Dr., Lisle,

Tucked into a wooded grove south of Danada Equestrian Center, this inclusive playground has something for every kid, from the massive net climber to the gravity rail swing to the ramp-accessible treehouse. A project of the Play for All Playground & Garden Foundation (a 501c3 formed by the Wheaton Park District, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, and the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association), the park is certified as an autism-friendly play space by Lisle-based organization Giant Steps. The next addition is an equestrian-themed play area, with construction to begin this fall.

Blackberry Farm’s Adventure Playground
Blackberry Farm’s Adventure Playground

Blackberry Farm Adventure Playground

100 S. Barnes Rd., Aurora,

What this farm-themed spot lacks in sightlines it makes up for in whimsy. Wooden platforms, tube slides, ramps, and stairs connect colorful, kooky miniature barns and farmhouses. The elevated net tunnel and massive zipline are big favorites. Playground access is included in daily admission to Blackberry Farm ($7 for residents and $10 for nonresidents; free for children under 1). While you’re there, you can ride the miniature steam train, carousel, or ponies and visit farm animals such as goats, chickens, and pigs. There’s also a lake with a paddleboat fleet that includes one ADA-accessible boat with a hand crank.

Bison’s Bluff Nature Playground

1111 E. Schaumburg Rd., Schaumburg,

At this nature-inspired playground at Spring Valley Nature Center, little visitors can climb gnarled tree roots and stone outcroppings, hop across a pond on stepping stones, and descend tube slides that emerge from cliff faces. You can’t miss the massive bison for a photo op. Adults and children under 2 are free, while there’s a small fee ($2 for residents, $3 for nonresidents) for children 2 to 12. FYI: When the park reaches its 150-person capacity, the staff enforces a one-hour play limit.



Fishing Holes illustration

Looking for a place to cast a line? Located just west of downtown Naperville, Hobson West Ponds (1047 S. West St.) is a prime spot to angle for catfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass. At Jericho Lake in Aurora (Jericho and Barnes Roads), you might catch gizzard shad, blackstripe topminnow, largemouth bass, and yellow perch, among others; nonmotorized fishing boats also are permitted here. One of Elmhurst’s largest community parks, Eldridge Park (363 W. Commonwealth Ln.), has a fishing lagoon that’s stocked with catfish, largemouth bass, and hybrid sunfish. Encompassing 22 acres, Herrick Lake (Butterfield Road at Herrick Road, Wheaton) is a favorite destination to catch flathead catfish, black bullhead, carp, and sunfish; you can rent a canoe, kayak, or rowboat onsite through September. The Downers Grove Park District stocks Barth Pond at Patriot’s Park (501 55th St.) with fish twice a year and is set to host its annual all-ages fishing derby on August 3.

At all venues, fishing licenses are required for those 16 years and older (buy online at


Bott Park’s playground now has turf and ramps for better accessibility.
Bott Park’s playground now has turf and ramps for better accessibility.

Local park districts are revamping their play spaces with inclusivity and accessibility in mind. The Downers Grove Park District just finished a complete overhaul of Constitution Park (935 Maple Ave.) “This is the first playground in Downers Grove that will be fully accessible, with zero entry ramps so that wheelchairs can access it, and there’s a lot of unique play structures,” says Dawn Hartman, director of marketing and community engagement. “There are these light panels that create shadows, and a little pod near the swing set that’s a quiet area for children who need a sensory break, so you can relax and then get ready for another round of play.” The playground is a National Demonstration Site for Inclusive Play, which means visitors can use a QR code onsite to take a survey and share real-time feedback about the playground.

The park district also partnered with the Downers Grove Public Library and EQuality Downers Grove to create a pathway lined with 12 panels that showcase diversity, kindness, and inclusivity. “Some of the panels might have an actual physical activity that kids can participate in, or a story for them to read,” Hartman says. “We are really looking for that to be an intergenerational activity, so a grandparent at the park with their grandkids can enjoy that together.”

The new Sensory Playground at Plainfield’s Van Horn Woods (17200 NE Frontage Rd.) features a tactile sphere for climbing, a spinning platform, interactive play panels, and a fenced-in perimeter. There’s also a communications board for nonverbal children, designed with the help of the Northern Will County Special Recreation Association. The Plainfield Park District also recently renovated the playground at Bott Park (24550 W. Renwick Rd.) with ramps and accessible artificial turf for wheelchair users.

Newton Park was renovated in 2022 to be universally accessible.
Newton Park was renovated in 2022 to be universally accessible.

Glen Ellyn’s Newton Park (707 Fairview Ave.) was renovated in 2022 with inclusivity in mind, including wheelchair ramps, musical instruments, a four-person spinner with high-back seating, artificial turf, and a sensory garden.

Newton Park was renovated in 2022 to be universally accessible.

One of the four playgrounds recently updated by St. Charles Park District is Kehoe Park (Prairie and Howard Streets), which has a fully fenced-in playground space and a wheelchair-accessible water sensory table donated by the Kiwanis Club of St. Charles. Back in 2021, a fully accessible playground with a wheelchair swing debuted at Pottawatomie Park (8 North Ave.).

According to the Fox Valley Park District, work is underway at Blackberry Crossing West Park (Venetian Way at Dickson Road, Montgomery), which will feature a 9,125-square-foot ADA-accessible playground with separate play structures for ages 2 to 5 and 5 to 12.


Go for a paddle on Blackwell’s Silver Lake.
Go for a paddle on Blackwell’s Silver Lake.

Looking to leave most traces of suburbia behind and immerse yourself in nature? Go explore a (free!) local forest preserve. (DuPage County alone is blessed with dozens of them.)

With gentle hills and lakes carved out by glaciers, Blackwell in Warrenville (Butterfield Road west of Winfield Road) is just right for an idyllic walk. Seven miles of limestone and turf trails wind around McKee Marsh and along the West Branch of the DuPage River. Through September, plan to stay a while and rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboat to take out on Silver Lake. The trails at Fullersburg Woods in Oak Brook (Spring Road one mile south of 31st Street) will take you through lowland woods, restored prairies, and wildflowers patches, with plenty of opportunities to hear the calls of native birds and spot egrets, herons, and beavers along the banks of Salt Creek. At Waterfall Glen in Darien, nearly 11 miles of trails wind through prairie grasses, savanna, and oak and maple woodlands. Rocky Glen Waterfall is the most popular sight, located about a 10-minute walk from the preserve’s designated waterfall parking lot (enter on Bluff Road 0.3 miles east of Cass Avenue).

Take a hike at Fullersburg Woods.
Take a hike at Fullersburg Woods.

Sandwiched between the East and West Branches of the DuPage River, Naperville Park District’s Knoch Knolls Park (336 Knoch Knolls Rd.) has wooded trails to wander as well as a canoe launch, picnic groves, and an 18-hole disc-golf course. A bit farther southwest in Plainfield, Mather Woods (25032 W. Renwick Rd.) features a 1.3-mile trail loop that’s fully tree-lined and connects with Plainfield’s Settlers Park, which has plenty of sprawling lawn to spread out with a picnic.

The Fabyan Japanese Garden was feature on local postcards in the 1920s and ’30s.
The Fabyan Japanese Garden was feature on local postcards in the 1920s and ’30s.

Along the Fox River in Yorkville, Saw Wee Kee Park (7350 Sundown Ln.) offers more than 130 acres of natural area, including canoe and kayak access and wooded trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Farther north along the river in Geneva, you can explore Fabyan Forest Preserve (1500 Crissey Ave.), which includes the former country estate of millionaire George Fabyan. This sprawling oasis has riverside trails and bridges for walking and biking and a farmhouse-turned-villa remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright (now a museum). On the east side of the river, you can marvel at the Fabyan Windmill, a five-story marvel of Dutch architecture that has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and its own U.S. postage stamp. Don’t miss the Fabyan Japanese Garden (1925 S. Batavia Ave.) with its picturesque stone sculptures, Japanese plantings, and steeply arched bridges. Continuing north along the river, check out Island Park (2 Rte. 25, Geneva). Though not entirely removed from the sights and sounds of civilization, you can enjoy the colorful gardens, read a book on a bench along the waterfront, or set your kids loose to play on the treehouse-themed playground. Bring your bike to access the 45-mile-long Fox River Trail, which spans from Algonquin to Oswego.



Outdoor pickleball illustration

Whether you’re a seasoned pickleball player or just jumped on the bandwagon, you’re probably on the hunt for dedicated outdoor courts. In Naperville, grab your paddle and head to the Rothermel Family Pickleball Courts (3415 Book Rd.), which has six courts with lights. Just debuted last fall in Downers Grove, the Adventure Falls Sport Courts at McCollum Park (6801 Main St.) include eight pickleball courts with lights, plus three tennis courts that can be converted into eight temporary pickleball courts. The Downers Grove Park District is hosting its first pickleball tournament, the Big Dill, on September 8 (

In Aurora, picklers can head to Hupp Park (2390 W. Illinois Ave.), which has eight fenced-in courts with windscreens, all built last spring. Glen Ellyn’s six dedicated pickleball courts are at Village Green (130 S. Lambert Rd.). The Oswegoland Park District offers six courts at Briarcliff Woods Park (Route 30 and Briarcliff Road, Montgomery) and is adding four courts to Bluegrass Park (275 Bluegrass Pkwy., Oswego), due to start construction this fall.


Eldridge Park’s east playground was redone in 2022.
Eldridge Park’s east playground was redone in 2022.


Bring your own Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars to Eldridge Park (363 Commonwealth Ln., Elmhurst) or Wolf’s Crossing Community Park (3252 Wolf’s Crossing Rd., Naperville). Both parks feature small play structures with tiny toy car ramps for 2-to-5-year-olds.


Sunset Park (25 N. Main St., Glen Ellyn) is the first playground in Illinois made from recycled postconsumer materials (think textiles, plastic bags, and ocean waste), completed in 2023.


The Wheaton Park District celebrates the 50th anniversary of Cosley Zoo (1356 N. Gary Ave.) this summer with a community celebration on August 17 ( The park district is working on new display panels to walk visitors through the zoo’s various changes and upgrades, decade by decade.

Paddleboat Quarry rents kayaks, paddleboards, and (of course) paddleboats.
Paddleboat Quarry rents kayaks, paddleboards, and (of course) paddleboats.


Rent a four-person canopy-clad paddleboat and take a spin around downtown Naperville’s Paddleboat Quarry ($15 for 20 minutes, $20 for 40 minutes, 441 Aurora Ave.), or take in the views along the Fox River in St. Charles by renting a pedal boat from River View Mini-Golf in Pottawatomie Park ($20 per hour, 8 North Ave.).


Test your ninja warrior skills at these park’s challenge courses: Commissioners Park (81 Linda Ln., Streamwood), Wolf’s Crossing Community Park, Meineke Park (220 E. Weathersfield Way, Schaumburg), Summerlakes Park (3010 Talbot Ave., Warrenville), Glenbriar Park (Butterfield Road at Route 53, Lombard), and Plainfield’s Bott Park.


In lieu of the ubiquitous bark-chip playground surfacing, you may love the artificial turf at Andover Park (334 Andover Dr., Oswego). Clean, green, and mud free, the playground here was completed in 2022.


While its lush gardens are popular backdrops for wedding and prom pix, Cantigny Park’s (1S151 Winfield Rd., Wheaton) climbable collection of armored military vehicles are certainly ’Gram-worthy.


Photos: Schaumburg Park District (Bison’s Bluff); the Morton Arboretum (Children’s Garden); Burr Ridge Park District (Harvester Park); Geneva Park District (Hawk’s Hollow). Illustration: Alexey Yaremenko/istock; Fox Valley Park District (Blackberry Farm Adventure Park); Plainfield Park District (Bott Park); Glen Ellyn Park District (Newton Park); The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County; Jen Banowetz (Fabyan Japanese Garden); Illustration: Anna Bergbauer/iStock; Elmhurst Park District (Eldridge Park East Playground); Naperville Park District (Paddleboat Quarry)