A Little Time and a Keyboard: Trailside Museum of Natural History in River Forest, Illinois

Trailside Museum of Natural History in River Forest, Illinois

Monday, April 6, 2015

Yesterday, we opted to venture away from our usual round up of nature preserves and try another Cook County Forest Preserve--the Trailside Museum of Natural History in River Forest, Illinois. Before arriving, I was already impressed that the museum itself has been a nature education facility since 1931. I have only heard about the museum a couple of times, so I was pretty surprised the facility has been in action since 1931!

Visiting the museum is free, which is always a plus! The collections are housed in an 1870's Victorian mansion located at the edge of the forest preserve. The museum is immediately engaging for children. Upon entering, you can visit with resident amphibians and reptiles. My daughter quickly fell in love with the gray tree frog.

The museum has several rooms of exhibits that include many hands-on opportunities. The museum is not huge but the right size to make for a pleasant afternoon exploration along with a hike.

Be sure to check Trailside's calendar for family activities. During our visit, families could learn about birds, make a bird feeder and a bird craft. We viewed bird feeders from a window in the museum and were enthralled with how many different birds came for a nibble! Guide books, binoculars and other items as well as a pleasant naturalist helped with identifications!

The trails outside were pleasant and were mainly natural, giving you a more laid back feel. While it is still early in the season, the pond was alive with waterfowl. Fun to watch! Plus, we nabbed a scavenger hunt at the museum and enjoyed finding items while on our hike in Thatcher Woods surrounding the museum. A fun and full afternoon!

Things to know:
  • Trailside Museum does have some resident animals outside to visit.
  • There are picnic tables next to the museum.
  • There are restrooms in the museum.
  • The museum is open everyday except for Friday; check website for hours (they vary based on season).
  • Trailside Museum is located at 738 Thatcher Ave in River Forest.


  1. This is one of our favorite spots to hang out! It's nice to check out the animals and just walk around the forest preserve.

    1. We had read about it a few times and I am glad we finally had a chance to visit. It was really nice and quiet and very pretty despite the trees being bare. The pond already was coming alive so I am sure it will be a real treat in a few weeks. I could not believe how many birds came to the feeders! A nice gem!