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Visiting a Suburban Museum or Zoo for Free: Fall & Winter 2012

Last week, we brought you an updated "Visiting a Chicago Museum for Free in Fall & Winter 2012” post. But we can't forget the suburbs! While nearly every major Chicago museum offers “community free days,” that is more rare among suburban institutions, so the list below is a bit less definitive than the Chicago one.

Please make sure to check the museum’s website, or give the museum a call, before your visit to make sure nothing has changed since this list was compiled. And if you know of a spot that should be on here, please let us know!

Brookfield Zoo, 8400 31st Street, Brookfield. 708-688-8000. Information for the 2012-13 season has yet to be posted. During the 2011-12 year, admission to the Hamill Family Play Zoo, as well as the Children’s Zoo, were free from Nov. 1 to March 1, but you still had to pay pay general admission and a $9 parking fee at the zoo. In early 2012, the Brookfield Zoo had free admission on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays in from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28, but again, that has not been confirmed for 2013 yet. 

Midwest Museum of Natural History, 425 W. State Street, Sycamore. 815-895-9777. Free admission on Wednesdays. Fees still apply for special events or programs.

Admission is always free at the Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg. Photo by Prairie Woods Audubon on Flickr.

Kline Creek Farm, 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago. 630-876-5900. Admission is always free at this DuPage County Forest Preserve property that seeks to show visitors what life was like on a northern Illinois farm in in the 1890s.

Lederman Science Center at Fermilab, Kirk Road and Pine Street, Batavia. 630-840-8258. The museum was designed for middle school field trips, but the hands-on exhibits are available to the general public on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. On holidays, call to check if the center is open. 

Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton. 630-668-5161. There is no admission charge to walk the grounds or tour the museums at Cantigny. But there is a parking fee that depends on what time you visit. During the bulk of the day, the fee is $5, but is is only $2 early in the morning and late afternoon/early evening. Check the website for the exact times when the parking fee is just $2. It varies on the time of year. Note that Cantigny is closed in January and has limited hours much of the rest of winter. 

Phillips Park Zoo, 1000 Ray Moses Drive, Aurora. 630-256-3750. Admission is always free at this zoo and visitor center, which is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.) Zoo exhibits include approximately 100 animals representing 41 different species. You can also see massive mastodon bones in the visitor center. Click here to read about a Go West outing to Phillips Park.

Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union. 815-923-4000. The museum will offer free admission on Monday through Friday from Sept. 4 through Sept. 28. Note that buildings may not be open on these days, and trains do not operate on these days for special charters. 

Lake County Discovery Museum, Lakewood Forest Preserve in southwest Lake County. Entrance located on Route 176 west of Fairfield Road. On “Discount Tuesdays,” adults pay $3, but children through age 17 are free. (Up to five children per adult; extra children are $1.25 per child.)

Air Classics Museum of Aviation, 44W546 US Route 30, Sugar Grove. 630-466-0888. This museum is not open year-round, or at least it wasn't last year, so make sure to call ahead. During the months it is open, it is only open for general admission on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It does not have any free days, but it does have a generous policy on young children: Kids under 6 are free when accommodated by their parent. Adults are $8 and children 6 and older are $5.

Cosley Zoo, 1356 North Gary Avenue, Wheaton. 630-665-5534. It caused a bit of a stir in 2010 when this formerly free zoo (part of the Wheaton Park District) started charging admission. Residents of the Wheaton Park District are still free. Otherwise, adults pay $3, but children up to age 17 are free.

Red Oak Nature Center, on Route 25, one mile north of Route 56, North Aurora. 630-897-1808. Owned by the Fox Valley Park District, this nature center is open year-round and offers free admission every day of the week. 

Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg. 847-985-2100. Admission is free at this spot, which features 135 acres of fields, forests, marshes and streams, as well as more than three miles of handicapped-accessible hiking trails, a nature center and an 1880s living history farm. The site is open daily, but hours vary depending on the season, and Heritage Farm is closed from Dec. 1 to March 1. Check the website for exact details.

More Ideas:

  • A Go West reader says Bank of America offers free admission to its credit or debit card holders to certain museums the first weekend of the month. The program is called "Museums on Us."
  • Free museum passes are also available through your local library using the Museum Adventure Pass Program.

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