The Run Down

This guide has you taking the family on a trip out to the suburbs for an annual holiday tradition. You'll head to Lisle, Illinois to visit the Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre garden, and woodland ecosystem. While this place normally closes at sunset, during the holidays, they stay open late into the evening and light the area up with holiday lights and special effects. You'll go on a self-guided night-time walking tour with hot chocolate and treats, and included in this guide are a few pointers to help plan your trip.

1. Getting Started

2. Exhibits

1. Getting Started

Before going on the walking tour, here are a few notes to plan this trip.

– There’s an admission fee for visiting Morton Arboretum any time of year. Normally, tickets are $14. For this special night-time walking tour, tickets are $23. It opens to the public on Nov 19 and lasts until January 7, 2023.

– This is a popular tour, so purchase tickets online in advance. When you buy a ticket, it will be to gain entry at a specific time (4:30 pm is the first entry, and 8:00 pm is the last entry). Free for kids under two years old, $17 for ages 2 – 17, and $27 for adults.

– If you have access to a car, that’s the best way to get here. From the city, you can also take the Metra BNSF line. Get off in Lisle, Illinois, which is about a one hour ride from the city (it cuts down to 30 min if you catch one of the express trains). From there, you’re about 2 miles from the Morton Arboretum, and you can take a Lyft/Uber for the final leg of it.

– The entire walk is stroller-friendly.

Those are enough tips. Let’s get going. You’ll begin the walking tour at the visitor center. This is where you start and prepare for the long cold walk through the grounds. And when I say prepare, I mean grabbing a hot chocolate at the coffee bar in this building. There’s also a restaurant here if you need to fuel up before going.

The first part of the trail takes you along a lake, and it’s here where you can take in a panoramic view of the other exhibits you’ll be visiting along the way.

Below are some shots of groups backlit from across the lake. The Arboretum’s staggered start times helps with congestion on the walk.

There are multiple concessions stands along the walk for snacks, cider, and hot chocolate. Less than 10 minutes after you begin, you’ll find a concession tent near an interactive ‘tree hugging’ exhibit that makes for a good photo op — or so we thought. What was intended to be a nice wholesome photo supporting conservation efforts, turned out to be a terrifying poster for the next environmentalist horror film. Speaking of interactive exhibits, throughout your walk, you’ll see small buttons in different areas which control the lighting effects. 

The entire walk can last around 2 hours if you take your time. Luckily, there are fire pits roaring at different points along the trail to keep you and the kids warm.


2. Exhibits

About halfway through, you’ll get to a set of different exhibits. These aren’t all of them, but here are some of our favorites. We’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Ornament Hill

Crystal Promenade

This exhibit features a small forest of Douglas-firs draped in outdoor chandeliers. It makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the Rocky Mountains with an added mythical flair.

After going through this patch of forest, if someone were to ask me now what my favorite tree is, then I’d have a clear answer: Douglas-firs. Here are some cool facts about these trees to impress your kids.

– Lifespan of a Douglas-fir is anywhere between 500 – 1,000 years old
– They can grow to 60 ft tall and 25 ft wide
– Douglas-firs are sometimes able to survive forest fires because of their thick bark

Fantasy Forest

This is the part of the walk that gets real trippy. There are light shows set to Christmas music and mind bending special effects that make some of the trees appear alive.

This 7 minute special effects show paints these trees in a number of different colors, and through some sort of wizardry, they make it appear as though the trees are breathing and moving closer to you.