Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens is an 85-acre non-profit park that includes woodlands, prairie, wetlands, flower gardens and a 10-acre lake. Located in Palos Heights, Illinois approximately 27 miles southwest of Chicago, Lake Katherine is a wonderful spot to enjoy nature!
Things To Do At Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens
There is something for everyone at this beautiful south suburban destination. A good place to spend a few hours or even a day. For starters, take a hike, go for a run, or walk your dog along the 1-mile lake loop trail … or on the other trails along the Cal Sag Channel.
The wood-chipped path is easy to traverse and wide enough to give you enough space to pass a slower moving group. Savor all the flora and fauna along the way and be sure to take some photos of the lake, wildflowers, and regal trees.
Enjoy a lovely walk with a view along the lake. We visited in mid-September and delighted in seeing a variety of butterflies, bullfrogs, squirrels, rabbits, birds and waterfowl … even a bevy of swans.
Per their website, Lake Katherine is home to a diverse population of wildlife. More than 120 species of birds, 19 kinds of mammals, a dozen types of fish, and 17 species of reptiles and amphibians have been sighted at Lake Katherine.
Get out on the water and explore Lake Katherine up close! Kayak and canoe rentals begin the end of May and continue until mid-October weather permitting. Boats are available Monday thru Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Canoes and kayaks costs $10 per person per hour to rent. Participants must be six years of age or older and children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Fun Activities For The Kids At Lake Katherine
Nature is for playing in! Go outdoors, breathe the fresh air and get active. Discover, explore and enjoy all the park and the natural world has to offer. There are things to climb on, puzzles to solve, plants to touch & identify, get your exercise and learn some interesting stuff too.
Did You Know? Lamb’s ear is a perennial herb native to Turkey, Armenia and Iran. It gets the common name from the silver silky hairs that densely cover the surface of the leaves making you feel like you are touching the soft ears of a lamb, as well as the leaves that curve into the shape of lamb’s ears. They are very easy to grow and a favorite of children.
The Nature Center was unfortunately closed the day we visited. It features live snakes, turtles, bunnies, and other animals found in the area, as well as interesting books and exhibits for kids. There are also lots of fossils, a variety of shells, coloring books, and a cute scavenger hunt that the kids can take along with them once they venture out on the hiking trails.
Classes are offered here for all age groups on a variety of topics from Monarch butterflies, identifying area birds, forest exploration, nature photography, cooking with herbs, and fish of the Great Lakes region … to name a few listed on their website.
Botanical Delights At Lake Katherine
Just outside the nature center was a picturesque butterfly and fresh herb garden. This well visited area features raised garden beds, arches, and benches to rest and observe a nice variety of pollinators drawn to the butterfly magnet plants including zinnias, coneflowers, pentas, lantana and marigolds.
Conservation efforts at Lake Katherine are always ongoing. The use of native Illinois plants, flowers, and grasses, plus restoration of prairie have helped Lake Katherine become a true nature preserve.
Some of the native plants you will encounter in the preserve include: Indian Grass, Little Bluestem, Purple Coneflower, New England Aster, Milkweed, Compass Plant, Goldenrod, Blood Root, Wild Geranium and Jack-in-the-pulpit.
Did You Know? Goldenrod is a very important plant for the environment and pollinators. It provides tons of nectar for bees/butterflies as well as migrating Monarch Butterflies. Additionally, there are tons of moth caterpillars that eat the foliage. (Moths being the unsung pollinating heroes!)
This beautiful man-made waterfall (pictured below) is located just east of the Nature Center. It is 300 feet in length and at the highest point is 30 feet. It joins up with the lake on the east side of the park and provides aeration for the lake.
Even though this is a man-made structure, it fits wonderfully with the overall look and flow of the park. There are several areas where you can view the falls either standing on the trail or seated on one of the many park benches found in the park.
Don’t miss the dahlia exhibit, especially if you visit Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanical Gardens in August or September when these beauties are at their peak! Presented and cared for by the Southtown Dahlia Club each year, they offer programs to take you through all of the steps required to grow these gorgeous flowers. Their events include meetings, tuber/plant sales, garden walks, a Dahlia Show, an Awards Banquet … several of which take place on the Lake Katherine grounds.
This pretty garden below was just steps from the clubhouse. Featuring easy care shrub roses, sedum, zinnias, grasses, marigolds and more.
Did You Know? Sedums (a.k.a. Stonecrop) are a large family of well-behaved plants known for their thick succulent foliage, late summer / early fall color, and low maintenance – drought tolerant properties.
There was also a little free library where gently used nature books could be borrowed or donated — a nice added bonus to the garden area. Flower Chick is a big fan of these small treasures! (photo below)
Visit Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
Lake Katherine is the perfect place to visit for just a few hours or even longer to get your daily dose of fresh air, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. There are many benches peppered throughout the grounds to just relax and observe unspoiled nature.
Such a peaceful spot to exercise, learn, take photos, and enjoy the tranquility of the outdoors.
While You’re In The Area …
Don’t miss Frangella’s Italian Market not far from Lake Katherine in Palos Park at 11925 South 80th Avenue. Established in 1993 by Gina and Francesco Frangella, originally from Calabria, Italy.
This mom-and-pop store has a wonderful deli with meats, cheeses, breads and salads. We really enjoyed the tasty tortellini salad. Their aisles are stocked with homemade sauces, imported oils, vinegars, pastas, cookies, candy, coffee, giardiniera and much more. Sit outside on their patio and enjoy an al fresco lunch.
Insider Tip: Order a deli submarine sandwich – you won’t be disappointed. Flower Chick and her hubby shared a turkey club. It was chock full of tender turkey meat and served on garlic bread with lettuce and tomato. Delizioso!