Banner Slideshow
Camping tents at sunset on Northerly Island.

Urban Camping

Youth fishing dockside!

Youth Fishing

Teaching children how to grow their own food.

Harvest Garden

Nature play uses the world around us as a playspace.

Nature Play

The beautiful Northerly Island Prairie looking towards the city skyline.

Northerly Island Prairie

Chicago Park District’s Outdoor and Environmental Education Unit (OEE) invites people of all ages to create connections with our parks and natural areas by providing opportunities to foster awareness, appreciation, knowledge and stewardship through programming, events, partnerships and outreach. Our three Nature Center locations provide year-round programming that can be enjoyed by the whole family, while citywide programs such as camping, fishing, and gardening introduce our participants to the wonder of the natural world in their local parks. OEE’s paddling, biking, and climbing opportunities build a deeper appreciation for outdoor and adventure recreation for Chicagoans of all ages. To learn more about nature programs in a park near you, visit our events page.





OEE’s camping programs aim to provide Chicagoans with camping experiences in the city and the skills to adventure in nature. Urban Campers and Under Illinois Skies are week-long youth programs where participants experience outdoor recreation and camping adventures. Family Camping is a fun, facilitated campout in a park that also teaches basic camping principles giving families an opportunity to learn together. The ChicaGO Explorers Front Country Leadership Training (FLT) is an overnight training course for adult youth leaders teaching leadership skills, camp equipment use and care, and group activities related to outdoor recreation. After completing the training, group leaders are able to check out camping equipment free of charge from our Gear Lending Library, making it easier for youth to have a positive experience in the outdoors. Find out more here.



Established in 1999, the Harvest Garden program has been engaging youth in planting, tending, harvesting, and preparing food for over twenty years. Harvest Garden staff encourage participants to become caretakers of their gardens, themselves, and their communities through cultivating the beauty of the park’s edible garden and sharing its bounty. Observing the transformation of seed to vegetable taps into the curiosity of children and connects them to their food and to the natural world.  This program runs weekly in the spring, summer and fall, primarily during Park Kids and summer Day Camp programs. Kids especially love making and eating pico de gallo and pickles! Find out more here.



Chicago’s Fish’ N Kids is a program that takes children, teens, adults, seniors, and those with special needs of all kinds fishing; helping over 10,000 people each year to connect or reconnect with nature through the act of catching a fish. Family Fishing programs offer a unique opportunity to learn together, and take place in lagoons around the city throughout the spring, summer and fall. Each program provides the rods, reels, bait and experienced Fishing Instructors.  Participants can catch bluegill, crappie, sunfish, catfish, perch, carp, sheepshead, bullheads, bass, trout and lots of gobies. With over 27 fishing locations spread throughout the city, fishing is a nearby, inexpensive, low-impact activity for all groups to enjoy. Find out more here


Nature Oasis

The Nature Oasis program provides wonderful outdoor experiences and environmental education to nearly 18,000 residents a year. Nature Oasis programs serve as the main hands-on nature experience for kids all over the city, where they’ll learn to watch bugs, build stick forts and take care of our environment. The Community Bonfire series brings neighborhoods together to see their parks by firelight, learn about native animals and meet their neighbors. Toddlers, Tunes, and Turtles and Play Camp programs spread the joy to our youngest learners, with nature-centered activities specifically developed for early childhood.  Since 2016, Nature Oasis has also worked with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to tell the story of the Chicago River through fishing and citizen science to residents and visitors from over 38 countries in the heart of downtown. Whether in a neighborhood park, in a canoe, or in any of the 1800+ acres of Natural Areas in Chicago, the Nature Oasis program works to meet people where they are to increase our connection and understanding of our environment.



Ecological Recreation, or “Eco-Rec”, activities are quite simply people-powered recreation in a place that is in-line with the ecology of that space (whether the ecology already exists or is created, improved or enhanced through restoration and remediation). Eco-Rec activities can be active, such as biking, paddling, rock climbing, and trail running; or can be more passive, such as hiking, birding, archery and fishing. Eco-Rec shares a triple bottom line approach with environmental sustainability: it benefits the environment, it creates opportunity for economic growth and it embraces social equity on a local scale. Eco Rec brings us full circle: reclaiming degraded, post-industrial land and waterways for recreational activities that encourage us to reconnect and rediscover our innate joy to explore and engage with nature. For the Chicago Park District, these sites offer an opportunity for intentional design to create and promote active recreational opportunities for people and at the same time improve the local ecology.