Grounds open dawn to dusk daily
Oak-hickory forests, tall grass prairie, oak savanna and natural wetlands are an oasis for native plants and animals at this 97-acre preserve. Visitors can enjoy a picnic in our woodlands, visit our nature exhibit, participate in a program, play in Wander Woods, rent cross-country skis, and explore our three miles of trails.
Discover New Ways to Play!
Heller Nature Center’s new Wander Woods Nature Play Space, constructed in cooperation with the Chicago Wilderness organization, is a free play natural area designed to nurture a child’s sense of wonder and discovery.
Open to the public dawn to dusk, Wander Woods provides an unstructured play area limited only by the imagination. Nestled in the trees and solitude, children find simple one word suggestions and basic tools such as water, mud, sticks, wheelbarrows, and shovels. Let the creativity and messiness begin.
Jeff Smith, Manager
Leah Holloway, Naturalist
Jessica Reyes, Naturalist
Sue Monsen, Office Coordinator
The Park District offers a variety of nature-based programs for all ages. The programs are run by experienced staff from Heller Nature Center and are held at a variety of locations each season.
For more information, click on the nature program categories below.
Early Childhood Programs
Leave No Child Inside Chicago Wilderness Initiative
Heller Nature Center and the Park District of Highland Park are proud to support the Leave No Child Inside Initiative. Leave No Child Inside is a Chicago Wilderness initiative to get more kids to spend more time outside. The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights is a list of ten activities that every child should have the right to do, and we want to make it possible for every kid to experience these activities. Almost every Heller program fulfills one or more of the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights; join us outside!
Fee (21 weeks): $1166 Residents / $1226 Non-Residents
Monarchs & Minnows is a new early childhood environmental education program being offered at the new Rosewood Beach Interpretive Center (883 Sheridan Road). Sessions are offered in the Fall, Winter and Spring. Each season brings new topics, activities and natural discoveries.
Your child will build a true connection with nature through kindergarten readiness learning and hands-on age-appropriate activities with an environmental focus. Classes spend unstructured time outside everyday exploring and learning in the beach, ravine and forest and dune habitats of Rosewood Beach. Students develop a sense of place and understanding of themselves, life and the natural world.
There is a 2:12 staff to child ratio. Staff are CPR/First Aid certified.
Nature Based Learning
- Nature-based education has been found to increase children’s attention span as well as their coping, motor and social skills more than traditional education systems.
- Your child will build a true connection with nature through kindergarten readiness learning and hands-on-age-appropriate activities with an environmental focus.
- In addition to learning traditional skills such as math and literacy, classes will spend time outside everyday exploring and learning in the beach, ravine, forest and dunes habitats.
- Students will develop a sense of place and understanding of themselves, life and the natural world.
Follow our Learning Adventures
Interested in what goes on during our classes? Read some of our weekly newsletters! You’ll find out what topics we are learning about, experiments you can try at home and pictures of our experiences.
- Lake Michigan is my home
- What Grows at the beach
- Creatures of the Night
To read about our program in The Highland Park Landmark, click here.
A one-of-a-kind experience for your group!
Our Teams Course offers a unique and fun opportunity for every member of your group to grow as individuals and as a team!
Located within the beautiful woods of Heller Nature Center, our Teams Course feels like a different world. Programs on the course can be customized to meet your specific team goals such as exploring different communications styles within the group; understanding the roles of leaders and supporters withing a group; developing your group’s specific teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making skills; and discovering the great impact a shared experience can have on group dynamics, all in a safe and private environment.
The course is made up of a series of thought-provoking ground-level puzzles, challenges and obstacles, each one having a specific set of tasks and an end goal that can only be accomplished by all members working as a cohesive group. Throughout the program our experienced facilitators will lead group discussions on the insights and skills learned to help the team progress further along the course and integrate new ideas into their daily lives.
The Heller Teams Course is perfect for groups of 8-15 individuals, including family reunions and organizations such as church and community groups; company work teams; scout troops; and school groups, clubs and teams.
Book your team activity now!
Programs can be tailored to meet your group’s specific needs.
The Teams Course is available year round
For more information call 847.433.6901
Teams Course Programs
Cooperative Games (Grades 4-5)
Younger groups will love these high-energy games and activities that focus on cooperation, not competition.
Teams Course (Grade 5-Adult)
Challenge your group with a progressive series of initiatives and elements that will engage and test your group both mentally and physically.
|8-15||up to 4 hours||$250/non-profit group|
Reserve a date for your next group meeting, family gathering or birthday party at Heller Nature Center. Reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance. The unique, natural and comfortable surroundings of Heller make it a great choice for celebrations!
Contact us at 847.433.6901 for more information or to schedule a visit.
Heller Nature Center and the Park District of Highland Park support green initiatives and encourage our renters to consider ways in which to make their events more sustainable! If you are looking for ideas, please see our Sustainable Events Suggestions.
Our spacious Prairie Room can accommodate up to 100 people and includes tables, chairs and kitchen use.
Resident $85 per hour
Nonresident $105 per hour
Non-Profit $65 per hour
After hours fee Additional $20 per hour
Perfect for campfires up to 25 people. Heller Nature Center will provide wood,
lighter and water tank. No cooking over the fire is allowed with the exception of
$50 per hour
Give your child a birthday party to remember! Hunt for insects, roast marshmallows around a campfire and more. Each season brings new and exciting discoveries. Choose from one of several age-appropriate themes. Parties are an hour and a half. One hour is led by a naturalist and 30 minutes are for the host to lead party activities on their own. Parties have a 15-20 child maximum, depending on theme. Refundable cleaning deposit of $100 required. After hours parties are an additional $30.
Contact us at 847.433.6901 to schedule your party today! Themes and prices are subject to change.
- Animal Guests (Age 4, available all year)
Follow tracking clues to find animal puppets and invite them to join in the party! Along the way play games and activities to learn about the animals that call Heller home.
$230 (20 children maximum)
- Winter Wonderland (Ages 4-7, available in winter)
Head out for some winter adventures in the snow! Activities may include creating snow creatures, sliding on ice puddles or following a trail of tracks and other winter animal signs.
$230 (20 children maximum)
- Nature Scavenger Hunt (Ages 5-7, available all year)
Wander along the trails to discover the hidden treasures of Heller. Games and activities will reveal the secrets of the natural world.
$230 (20 children maximum)
- Insects (Ages 5-7, available May-September)
Learn what makes insects special by playing games and looking for insects under logs or in the prairie.
$230 (20 children maximum)
- Active Animals (Ages 6-9, available all year)
Leaping, slithering, climbing and trotting are some of the movements the group will try as they imitate animal actions. This theme will keep the liveliest of groups engaged and challenged.
$230 (20 children maximum)
- Games & Relays (Ages 6-9, available April-October)
Play a wide variety of hiding, tag and skill-based games on the trails and lawn areas of Heller. Guests will learn games they can play for a lifetime.
$230 (20 children maximum)
- Campfire (Ages 8-12, available all year)
Discover the incredible way your senses react in the dark and learn all about the animals that are most active at night with engaging games and activities. End your evening with a campfire and s’mores. Parties begin between 6-8pm.
$230 (15 children maximum)
- Geocaching (Ages 8-12, available all year)
Use GPS units to navigate trails and find clues hidden in the forest and prairies. Geocaching can be done almost anywhere in the world for free! Give your guests the basics of this exciting activity that can last a lifetime.
$230 (15 children maximum)
Book Your Rental or Party
Applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. A resident may not be the applicant and/or payee for a room rental for a non-resident.
A proof of insurance is needed to serve alcohol. Alcohol must be kept in the designated area at all times and is not permitted for fire ring rentals.
Park District sponsored activities have priority over other facility use. Public areas including the lobby and restrooms remain open for public use during business hours.
The time written on the application form is the approved rental time. Heller staff will set up tables and chairs for room rentals. Renters may arrive 30 minutes prior to the rental time to deliver food, decorate, etc. Tape cannot be used on any wall surface and paints may not be used for any function. No live animals are allowed.
An additional 30 minutes after the rental time is reserved for clean up. Groups staying beyond the 30 minutes will be charged for the full hour. Clean up is the responsibility of the renter.
Payment in full is required at the time of booking, along with the $100 refundable cleaning/security deposit. Please call 847.433.6901 or email email@example.com for more information or to book your event.
Rentals are 90% refundable if cancelled ten or more working days prior to the rental date. Full refunds will be issued for fire ring rentals cancelled due to poor weather.
All Park District of Highland Park building use policies apply at Heller Nature Center (see back of Application for Rental/Use).
We currently do not have the minimal amount of snow required for cross-country skiing and rentals are closed.
Heller Nature Center has three miles of ungroomed trails. You can rent skis for the day whenever snow conditions permit (4” base or greater). No overnight rentals available. Rental packages include no-wax skis, boots and poles. Sizes available for six-year-olds through adults. A driver’s license or $20 deposit is required per set of skis. No reservations are taken. Cash, check or credit card payments accepted. Call 847.433.6901 to check snow conditions.
Daily Rental Fees:
•$9/Child (12 and under)
Rental Hours (When there is at least 4 inches of snow):
Daily 9 am-4 pm (rentals must be returned by 4:30pm)
Friday Night Skis!
We’re keeping ski rentals open until 8pm on select Friday Nights.
Dec 2 & 16, Jan 6 & 20, Feb 3 & 17
Dec 24: 9am-noon (rentals may be returned on Dec 26)
Dec 25: CLOSED
Dec 31: 9am-noon (rentals may be returned on Jan 1)
Jan 1: 9am-4pm
If you have your own skis, please feel free to use our trails at your leisure from dawn to dusk!
Heller Honey is sold out
Heller Honey is 100% natural and produced in hives at the center. Heller bees gather nectar from local plants, including bee balm, linden, acacia, honeysuckle and other fragrant blossoms to make this flavorful honey. In addition to producing hundreds of pounds of tasty honey, the bees play an essential role, pollinating many flowering plants.
Heller staff and beekeeping volunteers extract the honey in late August. The honey can be purchased at Heller Nature Center while supplies last. Heller honey makes a great party favor, teacher gift, wedding favor or birthday gift.
We offer public education programs at Heller’s apiary or we can come to you with our new portable observation hive. If you would like to discover more about bees and beekeeping, call us at 847.433.6901.
Thank you to all of the Volunteer Beekeepers who work so hard in helping us to make the program a success throughout the year.
Do you have a question about nature? Perhaps you’d like to know what kind of tree is in your backyard or what to do if you find a baby bird. Heller Naturalists are here to help. See our Frequently Asked Questions below or click here to submit your own question.
What do I do if…
Q: I found an injured animal?
A: If an animal has been injured or is bleeding, don’t offer food or water. Contact a rehabilitator immediately. It is illegal for you to care for a wild animal in your home. If you have to chase an animal, it doesn’t need your help.
For raptor rehabilitation, contact: Linda Brewer of Barnswallow 847-487-3606.
For wildlife rescue and relocation, contact: ABC Wildlife Rescue and Relocation: 847-870-7175
Wildlife Discovery Center: 847-615-4388.
Q: I found a baby animal?
A: Baby animals do better when left alone. Many look small and helpless but are already independent. Contrary to common belief, it’s not true that if humans touch a baby animal the mother will abandon it.
Birds: A baby bird with feathers is a fledgling. Hopping around on the ground is normal behavior; its parents will feed it there. Keep animals and people away and watch it from a window. If the bird does not have feathers, it’s a nestling. Locate the nest and put it back. If you can’t locate the nest, poke holes in the bottom of a margarine dish or berry basket and line with dry grasses. Place the bird in the new nest and put the nest in a tree or bush closest to where the bird was found.
Rabbits: Mothers visit the nest about twice a day so you will probably not see them. If the babies have fur and their eyes are open they can survive on their own. If you have already picked them up, simply put them back.
Squirrels: If a baby is looking for food leave it alone. If it has fallen out of a nest or off of a tree, place it in a box (no lid) at the base of a tree where the mother has been seen. Mother squirrels keep two nests and frequently move babies. Keep people and animals away.
Q: a bird flew into my window and is injured or keeps flying into my window?
A: Birds fly into glass because they can’t see it.
If a bird appears stunned, or possibly dead, place it in an empty cardboard box with a lid and air holes. Don’t offer it food or water. Place the box in a dark, quiet area. Check on the bird in an hour. If it has recovered, release it. If not, call a rehabilitator.
Birds may also see their reflection, think there is an intruder and attempt to chase it away. Birds constantly hit the window if this reflection does not disappear. To deter birds from hitting glass, keep blinds closed when possible, relocate feeders and baths to 10 feet from the window, or cut dark silhouettes of a larger flying birds and tape them to the glass.
For raptor rehabilitation, contact Linda Brewer of Barnswallow: 847-487-3606.
For wildlife rescue and relocation, contact ABC Wildlife Rescue and Relocation: 847-870-7175 or
Wildlife Discovery Center: 847-615-4388.
Q: I found an injured raptor (hawk, owl, falcon)?
A: State and federal laws protect all migratory birds, including raptors. It is unlawful for anyone without permits to touch or possess these birds, or any part of one (feathers included), for any reason.
If you find an injured raptor, contact a licensed rehabilitator immediately. Don’t approach or attempt to move it unless the bird is unconscious; raptors have very sharp, powerful beaks and talons (claws). If the bird is unconscious, wear heavy leather gloves, long sleeves and glasses. Place the bird in an empty cardboard box with a lid and ventilation. Weigh the lid down or securely tape it closed. Don’t offer the bird food or water and keep the area dark and quiet. Immediately get the bird to a licensed raptor rehabilitator. NEVER OPEN THE BOX. A bird reaching consciousness will be scared and potentially dangerous.
For raptor rehabilitation, contact Linda Brewer of Barnswallow 847-487-3606.
Q: there is an animal in my attic or chimney?
A: Squirrels, bats and mice commonly enter attics. Raccoons and squirrels commonly enter chimneys.
Attics: Animals enter through tiny holes. Bats hibernate during the winter; moving or awakening them often leads to their death. In the spring, bats, squirrels and mice should leave on their own. Be sure all the critters are safely outside (check nests of mice and squirrels and dark corners and crevices for bats- trapped animals will stop at nothing to get out and dead ones stink!) and seal any holes that lead outdoors. You may choose professional help to remove your visitors. Remember that poisons leave animals to die painful deaths, then other animals often eat them and are in turn also poisoned.
Chimneys: Don’t start a fire! Raccoons can climb up and down chimney walls easily, are active at night and adults usually return about 3:00 a.m. Play a radio loudly or set an alarm randomly during the day while they are resting. This will encourage them to leave. Give mothers several days to remove babies before capping a chimney. A mother raccoon that can’t get to her babies will cause damage to your house. Squirrels behave similarly, except they are active during the day: use a radio and alarm during the night. Squirrels can’t climb up chimneys once they have fallen in. Lower a rope and they will climb out, or open all doors and windows, leave your house, and let them run out. They want out as badly as you want them out!
Q: a woodpecker is pecking at my house?
A: Woodpeckers peck for two reasons:
Males drum to attract a mate. The louder and more resonant sound made the more likely they are to attract a female. This should stop when mating season is over. As a deterrent, increase activity to the area or hang nylon streamers that blow in the wind.
Woodpeckers also peck wood trim searching for insect larvae to eat. Many insects lay eggs in cellulose (plant) material. When the young (larvae) hatch they have a food source. These larvae attract woodpeckers. Overall, the problem is not the woodpeckers, but an insect infestation. There are commercial products available to seal wood and prevent future insect damage. However, professional advice is advised.
Q: a snake, bat, coyote or fox is in my yard? Should I be concerned?
A: No. This is a compliment!
Animals live in areas where their needs are met – food, water and shelter. They are all secretive animals preferring quiet and solitude. These animals can actually be beneficial to you, as they are eating insects and rodents that would otherwise be invading your home or eating your garden!
Snakes common to the Chicagoland area are non-venomous.
Bats are nocturnal (active at night) and eat insects – moths and mosquitoes. There are no vampire bats in this area and fruit bats don’t live in North America. Bats have good eyesight and most use echolocation (a series of sound waves) to search for food. Bats fly in swooping movements and are NOT flying at or attacking you-they are just investigating their surroundings. Bats seldom carry disease and are not dangerous.
Coyotes and fox are the largest predators in the Chicagoland area and are protected by law. They pose no danger to your family. They eat large insects and rodents.
Q: deer are eating my plants?
A: Deer are common in Illinois, eat a variety of plants, and easily jump fences. Using coyote or fox urine around plantings, increasing activity and noise may deter them. Planting deer resistant plants is recommended. Do not feed them.