Street Address
738 Thatcher Ave
River Forest, IL 60305
Mailing Address
738 Thatcher Avenue
River Forest, IL 60305
phone: 708-366-6530
Nature Center Hours
March 1 through the last Saturday in October
Daily8 AM - 5 PM
Last Sunday in October through February 28
Daily8 AM - 4 PM
CLOSED on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day
Indoor exhibits open
Winter: open 9 am-3:45
Summer: 9am-4:45
Free admission; all programs are free, though a few may have a materials fee.
Group Tours
Susan A. Dorko, Director
Irene Flebbe, Assitant Director


Nestled in one of Cook County’s richest savannahs, Trailside Museum boasts its historic presence at the Southwest corner of Thatcher and Chicago Avenues in River Forest. Built in 1874, by Abraham J. Hoffman, it was first utilized as a high class finishing school for young ladies. In 1881, it was converted to an institution for young men from broken homes. Hugh McFarlane, a wealthy carriage maker and village trustee, was a subsequent resident. In 1917, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County purchased the building and surrounding land to use as the general headquarters. Finally, in 1931, it was converted to Trailside Museum, the first of its kind in the midwest. The house that was built for educational purposes continues to depict knowledge with displays of native flora and fauna and live animals of the Chicagoland area.

For many years, the museum was the site of Cook County’s wildlife rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured native animals, however, today it no longer rehabilitates animals.


In 1914, environmental visionaries in Cook County created the first forest preserve in the nation, with a mission

“to acquire, restore and manage lands for the purpose of protecting and preserving public open space with its natural wonders, significant prairies, forests, wetlands, rivers, streams, and other landscapes with all of its associated wildlife, in a natural state for the education, pleasure and recreation of the public now and in the future.”

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County, with more than 69,000-acres, is the largest forest preserve district in the United States. It receives an estimated 40 million visits each year, providing an escape into a world teeming with wildlife and rich with outdoor recreation and environmental education opportunities. Within its boundaries are rare habitats that offer plant and animal diversity on par with the rainforests of the world.

Educational Programs

Wildlife exhibits, natural history exhibits, live native animals, native plant gardens.

Free guided tours and hikes for organizations.

Free public programs including themed hikes, workshops, natural history lectures and activities, for adults, families and for children.


    Museum building with children's area, classroom, and outdoor nature play area, surrounded by gardens and Forest Preserve.


    Forest Preserve District of Cook County




    Free Museum; free educational programming

    Group Tours