Measuring 1/3 of a mile, the Deb Lahey Nature Trails highlight the native regions of Illinois through restored vignettes, gardens, and more all year long.
Museum visitors can explore local wildlife up close through all four seasons, and connect the dots between what they experience both inside and outside the museum building. Whether your interests include native plants, migratory birds, or local butterflies, there’s something for everyone.
The Nature Trails are Nature Museum’s biggest exhibit and are open to the public year-round. In June 2022, the exhibit was dedicated to retired Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum President and CEO Deborah Lahey in honor of her 12 years of leadership and commitment.
A Closer Look
The Deb Lahey Nature Trails connect several different gardens and habitats, allowing you to experience a variety of plant and animal species without leaving the Nature Museum grounds!
Many birds travel through Chicago as they migrate to different locations throughout the year. This bird garden is planted with trees, shrubs, and groundcover that offer food, protection, and nesting sites to birds in the area.
Elizabeth Plotnick Tallgrass Prairie
Prairies are home to many grasses and wildflowers but very few, if any, trees. Fires help to control the growth of non-prairie plants like trees. Prairie plants survive these fires because their growing buds are below ground. Keep reading to learn more about controlled prairie burns.
This small wetland provides a home for plants, animals, and other living things. It gets its name from a flowering wetland plant known as pickerelweed. Invertebrates such as dragonflies, beetles, and snails, and vertebrates such as Canada geese and tadpoles, can often be found in this small pond.
Bur Oak Savanna
Savannas are grasslands with scattered trees. Fire-resistant bur oak trees are speckled throughout this savanna, providing a mix of sun and shade for the plants that grow beneath them.
Urban Vegetable Garden
The edible plants in this garden—onions, herbs, tomatoes, and more—grow well in the Chicago area. Our horticulturists start planting seeds in the early spring and keep the harvest going all through the growing season.
Black Oak Sand Savanna
In a savanna, trees (in this case, black oak trees) grow scattered among the grasses and wildflowers. The plants in the black oak sand savanna are growing in sandy soil that was once a sand dune on Lake Michigan’s shore.
This parkland has a traditional lawn area and many scattered shade trees. Several bird feeders attract birds and squirrels to this area.
Woody Wickham Butterfly Garden
The flowers in this garden provide nectar to butterflies, other insects, and birds that are attracted by the flowers’ bright colors and scents. This garden also contains host plants, or specific plants on which butterflies will lay their eggs.
North Pond Observation Pier
The pier overlooks the North Pond Nature Sanctuary, a vibrant wetland right in the middle of Lincoln Park. It is a vantage point for the over 200 resident and migratory bird species, the 100 native plant species and the thousands of insects, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that live here year-round.
Want a closer look as some of the sections of the Deb Lahey Nature Trails? Check out this episode of Curious By Nature to join our manager of horticulture, Seth Harper, for a walk through the prairie and savanna. Whether you’re visiting the trails in-person or virtually, you can practice your naturalist skills by making careful observations, comparisons, and connections.
Fire is an important part of a prairie. Fires help eliminate leaf litter and non-native plants, while helping native plants thrive. While fires pop up naturally due to lightning or other conditions, controlled or prescribed burns are also planned to help ensure that fires can occur under ideal conditions. Check out this special episode of Curious By Nature below to learn more about what happens to a prairie during a fire!