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Heller Nature Center

2821 Ridge Rd.
Highland Park, IL 60035
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Heller Nature Center building is CLOSED.  Trails are open from 7:30am to Dusk.

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We are committed to the health and safety of everyone who visits Heller Nature Center.   Please follow these safety guidelines:



Our nature center building and water fountains remain CLOSED until further notice, please plan your visit accordingly.  

We appreciate your compliance with these safety guidelines and procedures for the well-being of our community.

Trail Guidelines

  • Trails are open every day from 7:30 am – dusk
  • Restroom is located near our classroom in the woods building, near the picnic tables

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.

Heller Trail Map

Discover New Ways to Play!

Heller Nature Center’s Wander Woods Nature Play Space 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 can climb our tree house, create in our mud kitchen, experiment with ramps and much more. Let the creativity and messiness begin.

Constance’s Story Trail – Featured Trail Book: Spring Is Here, by Will Hillenbrand

Spring Is Here, by author Will Hillenbrand, follows the story of Mole as he tries many ways to wake up his friend Bear up for spring.

About Constance’s Story Trail

Constance’s Story Trail is made possible through a generous grant to the Parks Foundation by former Highland Park resident Marc Mar-Yohana in collaboration with Heller Nature Center and the Highland Park Public Library.   This was Mar-Yohana’s touching tribute to his late daughter and to celebrate her love of nature and reading. Constance and her father had shared many joyous hours wandering among books posted on Heller’s scenic trails before the display was severely damaged and removed last spring.

“It was something we always loved to do together,” said Mar-Yohana, explaining that Constance was on the autism spectrum and had difficulty with physical coordination and speaking. “The Nature Center really gave her a chance to exercise. She liked seeing the trees and shuffling her feet through the leaves in the fall and got excited watching squirrels running, birds flying by, and frogs jumping in the pond.”

Constance Mar-Yohana, a lover of nature and reading.

The posted stories made their visits to Heller even more rewarding since Constance’s ability to speak was at its best when reading aloud. “The books gave her an extra incentive to walk the full trail,” Mar-Yohana said. “Our goal in bringing it back is to make it last with the best available equipment. I really want other families to be able to enjoy it.”

Featured stories will include some of Constance’s favorites and books selected by theHighland Park Public Library staff. Organizers also hope to offer a chance for local youth to display their writing.

Constance’s Story Trail is based on the StoryWalk® Project. The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. StoryWalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ms. Ferguson.

Contact Us


Introducing ParkSchool for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds. Your child’s bright future begins at ParkSchool.

Click here for more information »

View our SUMMER brochure for upcoming programs.

Heller Nature Center offers a variety of nature-based programs for all ages.  The programs are run by our experienced staff and are held at a variety of locations each season. For more information, click on the nature program categories below.

We are open and are currently booking summer and fall group experiences!

A one-of-a-kind experience for your group!

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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 within 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.

adult teams course 1

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 contact Heller at, 847.433.6901.

Teams Course Programs

Cooperative Games (Grade 4-Adult)
Groups will love these high-energy games and activities that focus on cooperation, not competition.

Group Size:Time:Cost:
8-152 hours$150/group

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.

Group Size:Time:Cost:
8-15 up to 4 hours$250/non-profit group
$325/profit group

Traveling Teams (Grade 4-Adult)
Let us bring the Team Building to you!

Group Size:Time: Cost:
8-152 hours$240
4 hours$370


Crate Stacking (Grades 5-Adult)

A fun alternative to rock wall climbing; participants are harnessed in and are belayed by their team and a skilled staff member.  The objective is to stack as many plastic milk crates as possible, climb and stand on the top without losing balance or knocking over the whole tower.

Group Size:Time:Cost:
6-92 hours$175
10-153 hours$250

Reserve a date for your next group meeting, family gathering or birthday party at Heller Nature Center. The unique, natural and comfortable surroundings of Heller make it a great choice for celebrations!

For more information or to schedule a visit, contact Debbie Pierce at 847-579-4047.

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.

Prairie Room

Our spacious Prairie Room can accommodate up to 100 people and includes audiovisual equipment, tables, chairs and kitchen use.

Resident            $125 per hour
Nonresident        $145 per hour
After hours fee    Additional $55/hour


Heller_Firepit_1Fire Ring

Perfect for campfires up to 25 people. Heller Nature Center will provide wood, lighter and a water tank. No cooking over the fire is allowed with the exception of marshmallows.

Rental fee is $65/hour.


Birthday Parties

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 12-30 child maximum, depending on the theme. Party fee for 1-20 participants: $250; 21-30 participants: $340. A refundable cleaning deposit of $100 required. After-hours parties are an additional $35/hour. Themes and prices are subject to change.

Party Themes

  • Nature Scavenger Hunt (Ages 4-7, 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.
  • Fairies, Gnomes, and Trolls (Ages 4-10, available all year)
    Hike the trails with your friends and you may see a troll or fairy along the way. Children will make their own fairy, gnome or troll to take home.
  • Insects (Ages 4-10, available May-October)
    Learn what makes insects special by playing games and looking for insects under logs or in the prairie.
  • Mystery Animal (Ages 4-10, available all year)
    Be an animal detective as you use clues to search for the mystery animal. The clues may lead you down a path you’ve never seen before. Bring your super sleuth skills.
  • Games and Relays (Ages 6-12, available all year)
    For the active and competitive group, run and hide as fast as you can and play relay games with your friends. This party works well for any size group.
  • Adventure Skills (Ages 8-12, available April-November)
    You and your friends will try to shoot a bow and arrow, use one match to build a fire or use a GPS to find treasures in the forest.

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.

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 to 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. Please note, tape and adhesives 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.

Rentals are 90% refundable if canceled ten or more working days prior to the rental date. Full refunds will be issued for fire ring rentals canceled due to poor weather.



Cross-country ski rentals are currently CLOSED

Hit the snow on three miles of ungroomed trails at Heller Nature Center. Reserve a time online – here!

Skis are available for rental whenever snow conditions permit (4″ base or greater). Call 847.433.6901 to check snow conditions.

$10/person: Reservations must be made online, no walk-ins.

  • One hour rental time slots
  • 8 patrons per time slot
  • Ski equipment must stay on Heller property
  • Ski equipment and shoe sizes are limited.

If you have your own skis, please feel free to use our trails at your leisure from 7:30am to dusk.

Hourly Rental Times (When there are at least 4 inches of snow):
9-10am, 10:30-11:30am, 12-1pm, 1:30-2:30pm and 3-4pm

If you have your own skis, please feel free to use our trails at your leisure from dawn to dusk!


Heller Honey now is available for ONLINE. Purchase today!

Heller Honey…harvested and bottled at Heller Nature Center

  • All honey is available in 1lb. glass jars, with a limit of six jars per household. Cost is $11/jar (tax included).
  • Once you’ve made your purchase, your order will be available for pick-up at Heller Nature Center.  Just call 847.433.6901 to set up a pick up day and time between Monday-Friday 8:30am-4:00pm.

Note: Shipping is not available. Please bring a photo ID to pick up your order. 

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.

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Due to COVID-19, many of our facilities are closed, and programs are canceled.  See updated information on facilities and programs here.

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.