Nature’s Winter Wonderland: Adventures await at Hickory Knolls in St. Charles

Don’t let cold, winter days keep you home when there’s so much to explore inside and out at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center.

With a menu of creative and interactive programs for the entire family from painting classes to birding, Hickory Knolls provides an outlet for all ages to learn, be inspired and have fun in nature.


Start the New Year on the right foot, literally, and sign up for an organized hike Jan. 1 to experience the beauty of winter in the Hickory Knolls Natural Area led by staff members.

From 9:30-10:30 a.m. bring along your little ones for a casual walk on the trail during the Family Fun Hike. Led by Hickory Knolls staff, ages 2 and older are welcome to explore the trails and look for signs of critters; afterward, enjoy breakfast treats inside! This hike is not stroller friendly.

Or, sign-up for the Fresh Start Hike from 9-10 a.m. Blaze your own trail or bring a buddy as you breathe in the fresh air and exercise together during a one-mile loop through the natural area of wetlands, woodlands and prairies. This hike is for ages 12 and older.


Let nature be your inspiration, as you and your family members paint a forest keepsake together during the Bob Ross-themed Happy Trees Family Painting Class from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Feb. 7. Ages 2 and older will explore different ways to create “happy little trees,” whether it’s using fingers, a hand or a paintbrush.

Another painting class, for children ages 6-12, is conveniently scheduled Jan. 6, on a “no school” day for St. Charles public schools. Take a break or run some errands while your child participates in Painted Turtle Palette from 1-2 p.m., using the discovery center’s resident turtles as inspiration to create a take-home canvas painting.


Have a Cub Scout or Girl Scout in your family? Take advantage of three events designed for Scouts ages 5-12.

During Scouting Out Evening Explorers, Scouts will participate in an hour of hands-on activities revolving around the theme Marshmallow Madness, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 16. Later in the season, Letter Boxing, an outside treasure hunt in the natural area, will take place April 23.

Troops and Dens won’t want to miss the winter Scout Overnight. Girl Scouts will stay over Jan. 31 to Feb. 1; Boy Scouts are scheduled for March 13-14. Both overnights provide an outdoor camping experience with nature hikes and a campfire, but also offer the comfort of sleeping in the warm Discovery Center. Scouts must bring their own sleeping bags. Dinner and a light breakfast will be served.

Additionally, an all-afternoon STEAM Scout Day will be held from 1-4 p.m. March 20 at Pottawatomie Community Center. Led by park district staff from various facilities including Hickory Knolls, Scouts will rotate through hands-on stations to help earn their requirements.

“This Scouting event is a cohesive package with a wide variety of activities to explore all aspects of STEAM, but in ways Scouts may not be used to, such as using dance to demonstrate math,” said Laura McCoy, Nature Programs Supervisor.


Learn about the birds in your community with three different birding opportunities co-led by Hickory Knolls and Kane County Audubon. All birding events are free and no experience is necessary.

Birds on a Winter Morning, for ages 16 and older, will meet at Mt. St. Mary Park from 8-10 a.m. Jan. 23, to witness various species such as bald eagles, diving ducks and other species that overwinter along the river.

The Winter Bird Count for Kids, for ages 8-12, will meet from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Jan. 25, at Hickory Knolls. Through interactive activities, children will learn basic bird identification skills. Then, they’ll apply what they’ve learned to count and record the birds they see. Parents are encouraged, but not required, to stay during this event.

All ages are welcome to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count held Feb. 16. Stop by any time between 1-4 p.m. to sit on the comfy chairs inside the exhibit hall, to record birds on the feeders outside the floor to ceiling windows. Participants also can venture into the natural area to record data.

“Birding in the winter brings so many surprises,” McCoy said. “There are a variety of birds that residents can easily identify in the springtime but will look much different in the winter, such as the goldfinch. We also have a few species that migrate here from the north including dark-eyed juncos and American tree sparrows.”

To register for these and other Hickory Knolls programs, visit For more information, call Laura McCoy at 630-513-4393.