6 Things to Know Before Visiting Chicago Botanic Garden

With 385 acres, 9 islands, 2.8 million plants, 255 bird species, and a ton of events, Chicago Botanic Garden can seem overwhelming.

Not to worry! We’re here to make your first trip easy.

So grab your walking shoes, some water, and be ready for adventure.

Lingua Asia Things to Know Before Visiting Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a living microcosm featuring the best parts of nature that our planet has to offer.

It’s a living plant museum in the Cook County Forest Preserves with multiple ecosystems.

It’s a garden like Lake Michigan is just a lake.

There’s a breathtaking vista, fun activity, and majestic creature around every corner for you to discover.

chicago botanic garden japanese rock garden and cherry blossoms

Some of the more interesting features are:

  • 2.8 million plants from around the world including trees, shrubs, vines, and tropical plants that grow well in the Chicago area and are adapted to Midwest climate and soils
  • Diverse wildlife including Muskrats and Blue Herons
  • Butterfly garden and green space to frolic in
  • A waterfall garden you can climb
  • Hidden rooms inside an English Walled Garden to discover
  • Bridges spanning sparkling lakes you can cross
  • A Japanese Garden and 200 bonsai trees
  • A quaint garden with trains chugging across bridges and trestles
  • Ikebana Show with Japanese-style floral arrangements
  • Cooking demonstrations by well-known local chefs
  • Venues for wedding receptions, corporate retreats, and field trips
  • Orchid show in a toasty greenhouse during winter
  • Concerts by local musicians

Whether you have an hour or all day, the Chicago Botanic Garden is something you need in your life.

Quick Facts

  • Open: Year round
  • Size: 385 acres and four natural areas with 26 gardens covering 9 islands
  • Annual visitors: one million
  • Address: 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022
  • General hours: 10 am – 6 pm daily
  • Member hours: 8 – 10 am daily
  • Garden View Café: 8 am – 5 pm daily
  • Garden Grille: 11 am – 5 pm daily
  • Rose Terrace Beer Garden: 11 am – 4 pm daily
  • Garden Shop: 10 am – 5 pm daily     
  • Lenhardt Library: Noon – 4 pm Wednesday – Sunday; by appointment
  • Model Railroad: 10 am – 5:30 pm daily
  • Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden: 8 am – 5 pm daily

1. Admission price varies

Chicago Botanic Garden uses variable rate admission depending on attendance, weather, and holidays.

There are 52 free admission days a year on non-holidays and weekdays. Their website has a calendar that allows you to book in advance.

Parking varies from $8 to $30 depending on vehicle size.

Becoming a member is a good idea if you plan on visiting often.

2. Free admission

Admission was free until 2022, but the following groups can still enter for no charge:

  • Active-Duty military
  • U.S. Military Reservists and former POWs
  • LINK and WIC cardholders
  • Illinois educators
  • Kids’ Museum Passport holders

Find out more here.

2. Beginner friendly

If you don’t have time to check out all 385 acres, you can opt for the cliff notes with their 35-minute tram tour.

It’s free with a ticket or membership and covers McDonald Woods, Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden, and the Regenstein Learning Campus.

You can catch the wheelchair accessible tram at the Welcome Plaza. It runs from late April to late October on a 2.3-mile (3.7-kilometer) loop.

3. Variety

There are quite a few areas to explore. The North Branch Trail is a seamless way to see the highlights. You’ll also get a great tour of the forest preserves along the river and natural setting surrounding it.

Some of the more notable areas are:

  • Japanese Garden and 200 bonsai trees
  • Heritage Garden with a geometric design
  • English Walled Garden
  • Dixon Prairie
  • Rose Garden with an outdoor terrace that serves craft beer
  • Butterflies and Blooms
  • Waterfall Garden you can climb

4. Events

No matter what time of year, there’s always something special going on at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Whether you’re an influencer or just enjoy pretty lights, Lightscape is something to experience from November to January.

Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns is fun for the whole family.

The Orchid Show is the perfect getaway during the cold winter months. There’s even Orchids After Hours where you can enjoy the park in a different light.

Garden Chef Series is a summer-long event featuring local chefs who cook a variety of cuisines. The location is what really sells it for me. It’s held at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden’s open-air amphitheater that grows more than 400 types of edible plants, vegetables, herbs, fruits, and nuts.

Carillon Concert is a fun event that features local musicians in an intimate setting.

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5. Membership

If you plan on going to the Chicago Botanic Garden regularly, a membership has its privileges. My favorite being the ability to show up 2 hours from 8am to 10am and have the park all to yourself.

You also get free parking and admission, and discounts on special events and merchandise.

chicago botanic garden Japanese house

As they say, it pays for itself in a few visits.

6. App

They have their own app, because of course they do.

GardenGuide smartphone app offers an interactive map, tour guide, event calendar, What’s in Bloom, garden plant finder, and general plant guide.

FAQ

When is the best time of year to visit Chicago Botanic Garden?

Spring will have the biggest impact, especially after a long winter, but any time of year is nice. Summer has the most leaf coverage on plants for plenty of green, while Fall will bring colorful foliage.

Winter offers stillness and beautiful snow-covered scenery. They have a greenhouse where you can escape the chill and enjoy orchids as well.

What is the best way to see the botanic garden?

For a long visit, North Branch Trail is a seamless way to see most areas with limited interruptions. You’ll also get a great tour of the forest preserves along the river and natural setting surrounding it.

For a short trip, check out the tram that’s included in the price of admission.

Is parking free at the Chicago Botanic Garden?

Parking is $8 to $30 depending on vehicle size.

You can also drive 1/4 miles south of Lake Cook Road to the Forest Preserve area where parking is free.

Parking is free for members.

Is parking difficult?

There’s plenty of parking year-round.

Is the Chicago Botanic Garden pet friendly?

Only service dogs are allowed.

Can you host events at the Chicago Botanic Garden?

You can hold field trips, camps, corporate team-building sessions, and wedding receptions (up to 40 every year).

Is there a senior discount at the Chicago Botanic Garden?

There’s a discount for those over the age of 62 on activities such as yoga, tai chi and other fitness classes.

Are picnics allowed?

Only in the Picnic Glen, adjacent to parking lot 2, and the Learning Campus picnic area.

Smoking, vaping, drones, guns, sports, balloons, campfires, and cooking are also prohibited.

Are there bike paths?

Cycling is only allowed on the east road with a speed limit of 8 mph. There’s bike parking outside the visitor’s center.

Is there a place to shop?

The Garden Shop carries toys, terrariums, gardening supplies, bulbs, and plants among other things.

How accessible is the garden?

chicago botanic garden

They offer wheelchairs at the information desk, accessible parking, electric scooters, and the option to bring service animals. The Buehler Enabling Garden showcases gardening techniques for those who use wheelchairs.

Are there places to eat in the garden?

There are three restaurants:

The Garden View Café serves healthy options like seasonal omelets, freshly made salads, and brick-oven flatbreads.

The Garden Grille offers comfort food like grass-fed beef burgers, bratwurst, and chicken sandwiches.

Rose Terrace Beer Garden is an alfresco dining experience providing local craft beers to pair with sandwiches, salads with pristine rose garden views.

 

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