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Easy Outing: Cantigny in Wheaton

Cantigny is hard to pin down. It definitely qualifies as an "Easy Outing," but it could be featured as one of our "Great Parks!" too. It has a military museum, formal gardens and a golf course. It also regularly hosts all sorts of special events and classes, many that appeal to families, such as concerts, an Easter egg hunt, outdoor movies, an Independence Day celebration and more. But however you categorize it, Cantigny is a gem in Chicago's western suburbs. Read on to learn why you should definitely visit Cantigny this summer.

Name: Cantigny, a 500-acre park that was once an "experimental farm" belonging to Col. Robert R. McCormick, who was the editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune from the 1920s into the 1950s. During World War I, McCormick took part in the liberation of the village of Cantigny in France, America's first victory during the war. The battle inspired the name of his farm west of Chicago.

The rose garden at Cantigny. Photo by Lori Tondini.

Location: 1S151 Winfield Road in Wheaton, just south of Route 38.

Hours: Vary depending on the season, but in the summer, the park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset. The museums are closed Mondays and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer. 

Admission: There is a daily parking fee at Cantigny of $5 per car from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May through October and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year. The "twilight" parking fee is $2 and is in effect from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. from May through October, and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. the rest of the year. Cantigny just created a membership option, as well.

Amenities: Cantigny offers 22 individual gardens; the Cantigny First Division Museum; the Robert R. McCormick Museum; a 27-hole golf course; several restaurants and a coffee shop/snack bar; a visitor's center with a gift shop and restrooms; picnic grounds; playground and a nature trail. Cantigny also offers "Family Discovery Backpacks" at no charge, for up to three hours of use during your visit. Backpacks are geared toward families with children in preschool through 5th grade.

Food: You can bring your own picnic. There are no public grills, but personal grills may be used in the picnic area. Alcohol is prohibited on the grounds. The restaurant Le Jardin is open for casual lunches and special brunches. (It has a children's menu with standards like a grilled cheese sandwich with chips or a fruit cup for $3.50.) Bertie's Coffee Shop offers coffee, smoothies, baked goods, ice cream and some limited lunch options.

Families playing in the fountain at Cantigny. Photo provided by Cantigny.Good For: It's a cliche, but Cantigny really does offer something for everyone. Nature-lovers can ogle the gardens, including the formal garden, rose garden, prairie/savannah garden and "idea" garden, or take a hike on the nature trail.. Kids will love scrambling all over the tanks (more on that later) and running through the fountains. Military-history buffs will appreciate the First Division Museum. It's obvious what will appeal to golfers. And it also offers all sorts of special events and classes. I strongly urge you to stop in the Visitor's Center early in your trip. You can grab a map and talk to a volunteer who can make sure you see what you want to see during your visit.

Our Experience: We've visited Cantigny a number of times. The first time, my daughter was a baby and I took a garden tour with a friend and a bunch of other stroller-pushing moms. My husband, daughter and I enjoyed a Christmas concert for kids in the Visitor's Center in 2010, and last fall, we had a wonderful picnic with friends on an unseasonably warm November day. 

Our most recent trip was spur of the moment, one of those days when my preschooler and I were bored of our house, bored of each other and just had to get out.

We started at the playground, which is at the northwest corner of the park, near the gate where we entered. The playground is nice - nothing too special - but it's shaded and located near the large picnic area. Restrooms are located nearby.

Next, we headed to the Visitor's Center, where my daughter enjoyed laying on a clear plexiglass floor and marveled at a model of Cantigny underneath her. (The concept of a model is very hard to explain to a preschooler!)

A garden path at Cantigny. Photo by Corky McGehee.We then headed into the gardens, where I had to keep reminding her that as sweet as it was that she wanted to pick flowers for mommy, it really wasn't allowed.

And then we saw the fountains, complete with a sign I couldn't read from far away. I was sure it would say that I needed to keep my kid out. But nope! The sign just says no bathing suits allowed -- I'm sure Cantigny doesn't want to turn its lovely fountain area into a run-of-the-mill splash pad! The area a large concrete circle, with fountains that bubble up, seemingly at random. It was a hot day, and my daughter happily ran through the fountains for quite a while. I didn't have a change of clothes for her (you might want to bring one) so she just had to dry out in the sun.

Our final visit was to check out the tanks that are located around the First Division Museum. There are 11 tanks in the "Tank Park" -- including tanks from WWI and WWII -- along with an Armored Personnel Carrier. Each tank has a sign that indicates its type, weight, years of usage and the number of crew members it carried.

Of course none of that mattered to my daredevil preschooler. She just saw that kids were climbing all over the tanks. And she wanted to join them! I managed to keep her to some of the smaller tanks, ones where I could (almost) reach her if she needed help getting down.

There are signs urging parents to remind kids to be cautious while climbing. The mother hen in me was about to have a stroke watching my daughter clamber around. But another side of me thought it was pretty darn cool that kids can explore something so ... uncushioned. 

We did not get inside either of the museums on this trip -- that still be several years away for us. Instead, we wrapped up our trip with some ice cream cones purchased from Bertie's, and we enjoyed them from the wooden rocking chairs outside the Visitor's Center.  

Children playing on tanks at Cantigny. Photo provided.

Upcoming Events: You'll find a number of drop-in events at Cantigny on the Go West Calendar, and I also include their family-friendly events and concerts in the seasonal Go West Guides, whether they require advance registration or not. Cantigny, however, also offers a number of classes (focusing around subjects such as art, music and nature). You can find info about those in Cantigny's own events calendar.

This summer, Cantigny has a number of music and theater events. Here a a few of note:

  • Its Children's Concert Series consists of four performances for the little ones on Saturdays. First up is Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans, on June 23 at 2 p.m., followed by Steve Beno on July 14, Super Stolie and the Rockstars on July 28 and Dave Rudolf on Aug. 11. The shows are included with the regular parking fee.
  • The Theatre Trek on Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1, will feature you strolling along with actors as they move about the grounds, performing scenes in different settings. The play is "The Great Snipe Hunt," and it's recommended for those ages 5 and up. Tickets are $10 per person.
  • The Afternoon Concerts are taking place on most Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. in the bandshell. Up next is Jose Valdes & the Mambo All-Stars on Sunday, June 24. Concerts are included with the regular parking fee.
  • The Movies in the Park series features family-friendly films shown outdoors on a number of Thursdays. Up next is "How to Eat Fried Worms" on Thursday, June 28, at 8:30 p.m. The movie is included with the regular $2 twilight parking fee. 

 Kids having fun during a special event at Cantigny. Photo provided.

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Reader Comments (1)

Parking is free if you have a scout with you! I showed my son's boy scout registration card. The man said an article of scout's clothing would work to show proof as well.

June 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

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