One of our favorite free summer activities is visiting nature centers. These centers offer educational opportunities to learn about nature and wildlife, along with many hands-on experiences that enhance the visit. It’s a fantastic way for kids to learn and have fun simultaneously!

One of the best nature centers around has to be the Crystal Lake Nature Center. After being closed for renovation for a few months, the Nature Center is back and better than ever!

Looking for more free things to do during the summer? Check out this list!

GETTING STARTED AT Crystal Lake Nature Center

There is a small parking lot directly at the Nature Center. Another option is to park at the Veteran Acres lot off of Walkup Road.

Hands-on educational fun

Lots of fun hands-on experiences waiting for kids. Books, puzzles, a puppet show area, and more!

Watch butterflies flutter

The Butterfly Habitat is a little room where butterflies can be seen fluttering around. Fun way to get up and personal with the butterflies. Although on our visit they seemed to like being by the windows the most. ($1 donation accepted)

See the bees buzzin’

One of the coolest features at the Nature Center is the see-through bee hive. It allows visitors to watch how a live bee hive works in action. Can you spot the Queen Bee? Chat with a naturalist to find out all these fun bee facts. They are simply fascinating!

Hang out in a beaver home

Kids can pretend they’re a beaver as they go in and out of the beaver home

Make a craft

Kids can unleash their creativity by crafting a special craft of the month project. They also have a rubbing station to make their own animal tracks.

Take a picture

My daughter and I love looking for murals/artwork and this butterfly one is gorgeous!

Take a hike

Veteran Acres offers plenty of hiking opportunities. Just note that it can be very hilly! One of our favorite things to do is walk down the hill towards the pond and walk left. You’ll eventually hit the splashpad and playground.

READ MORE: Looking for more places to hike? These are great ones!

FINAL THOUGHTS OF Crystal Lake Nature Center

The Crystal Lake Nature Center is back and better than ever. What a wonderful spot for families to learn and play!

TIPS TO ENJOY Crystal Lake Nature Center

  • Stay and play to enjoy the rest of Veteran Acres – hike to the playground, then splash around.
  • Bring a book to trade at the Little Free Library located on the side of the building.

OTHER THINGS TO DO NEAR Crystal Lake Nature Center

  • Visit the rest of Veteran Acres. It connects to a playground, splashpad, and wonderful trails.
  • Madoli Farms is located nearby. Go to the petting zoo and/or buy fresh produce.



Location: 330 N. Main St, Crystal Lake
Cost: Free
Crowded: We visited on a Wednesday morning and it wasn’t too busy. Just a few summer camps.