Nine Secret Spaces

Fun Spots for Big Kids

Download the GardenGuide App when you visit to use this tour on your phone

Distance: VariedTime: 2-3 hours

Stop 1: Visitor Center

Kick off your adventure with a stop at the Visitor Center.
  • Fill up your water bottles.
  • Take a bathroom break.
  • Grab a power bar or snack for later at the Garden Café.
 

Stop 2: McDonald Woods: Council ring

Secret Space #1 is .36 miles from the Visitor Center.

At the heart of the woods is a secret circle called a council ring.

Tell the kids the story: Jens Jensen was a landscape architect who built many parks and gardens in Chicago, often with a council ring constructed of natural materials—a gathering place for talk, storytelling, song or campfires.

What story would you tell in a council ring?
 

Stop 3: Green Roof Garden (N.)

Secret Space #2 is approximately .6 miles from the Visitor Center.

A garden on a roof? Upstairs at the Plant Science Center, there's a grand experiment going on.

Tell the kids the story: Scientists here are growing plants on the roof in soil that's only 4" or 6" or 8" deep. Do you think they can survive? Why would plants on a roof be a good idea?

The signs along the railing will help explain the answers.

Downstairs, check out the seed magnifier, the "smelling station," and watch the scientists in action.
 

Stop 4: Marsh Island

Secret Space #3 is approximately .75 miles from the Visitor Center.
Follow the prairie paths down to the boardwalk that connects to Marsh Island.

Tell the kids the story: In summer, the grasses and plants in the prairie can grow taller than your head. Marsh Island attracts ground-dwelling birds (you might flush a Wilson's snipe or short-eared owl) and shy birds that hide in marshy grasslands (like Virginia rails and sora).
 

Stop 5: Evening Island: Council Ring

Secret Space #4 is approximately .4 miles from the Visitor Center.

Tell the kids the story: Landscape architect Jens Jensen, who often built a council ring in his clients' gardens, called it "a friendly circle" and said, "A ring speaks of strength and friendship and is one of the great symbols of mankind." For him, the circles recalled both the Nordic campfires of his youth and the council fires of the great American Indian cultures.

How is this Council Ring different than the circle in McDonald Woods?
 

Stop 6: Arbor House

Secret Space #5 is approximately .4 miles from the Visitor Center.

The Arbor on the first Japanese Garden island is a secret place where you can sit at a table made from a giant slice of a tree.
 

Stop 7: Zigzag Bridge (Yatsuhashi)

Secret Space #6 is approximately .41 miles from the Visitor Center.

There’s an Arbor House on the second Japanese Garden island, too, but first you have to cross the Zigzag Bridge.

Tell the kids the story: Legend holds that humans can escape from evil spirits by crossing a zigzag bridge, because evil spirits can move only in straight lines!

Follow the paths: kids will find steps leading down to the boat landing and another path leading up to the Arbor House.
 

Stop 8: Waterfall Garden

Secret Space #7 is approximately .28 miles from the Visitor Center.

Where does the waterfall begin? Keep crisscrossing up the paths to find the source.
 

Stop 9: Spider Island

Secret Space #8 is approximately .28 miles from the Visitor Center

Cross the bridge (it’s made of wood from black locust trees) and follow the spiral path to the secret seating area on Spider Island.

Tell the kids the story: Spider Island is named for a woman who was so gentle that she wouldn’t hurt a spider.
 

Stop 10: Lenhardt Library

Secret Space #9 is approximately .15 miles from the Visitor Center.

The Lenhardt Library looks like a regular library, but kids can hunt for books marked with a yellow dot on the spine all throughout the shelves. Our librarians have hand-picked those books for kids, and they’re available for check-out if you’re a member of the Garden.