In the Northwest Suburbs, Elk Grove Village is a community of 35,000 along the prosperous Golden Corridor where several Fortune 500 companies are headquartered.
The name of the village comes from the native elk that roamed the grassland and forests when this area was settled by German farmers in the first half of the 19th century.
Today a herd of elk lives in semi-freedom at an enclosure at Busse Woods, a massive forest preserve that marks the village’s northern boundary.
The local park district runs some wonderful facilities, like a water park and children’s theme park in summer, an indoor playground and one of the most enjoyable golf courses in the NW suburbs.
1. Busse Woods (Ned Brown Forest Preserve)
One of the great expanses of nature in the Chicago area lies on the north side of Elk Grove. Part of the Cook County Forest Preserve system, Busse Woods encompasses some 3,700 acres, much of which is made up of mature Great Lakes hardwood forest.
A portion of this is protected as the Busse Woods Nature Preserve, where there’s a 440-acre parcel of flatwoods, an important variety of damp ground forest found on level terrain in the Great Lakes region.
As a whole the preserve has more than 10 miles of bicycle trails, about three quarters of which is made up by a single loop.
Much of the southern side of Busse Woods is open water, and the 457-acre Busse Reservoir is one of the largest boating and fishing waters in Cook County. April through October you can rent a rowboat, electric motorboat, canoe or kayak from the Busse Lake Boating Center.
2. Pirates’ Cove Children’s Theme Park
Aimed at children aged two to nine and open in spring and summer, this unique attraction beside the park district administration offices is designed to encourage imagination and creative exploration.
Perched at the park’s highest point is Pete’s Pirate Ship, which has a great view from the upper deck and the Galley Activity Area below for arts and craft projects.
To name just a few of the other attractions there’s the paddle boats at Barnacle Bay Boats, the Captain’s Bay Carousel from the 1950s, the Jolly Roger Jump bounce house, the Safari Express mini train, PJ’s Perch climbing wall and the Pirate Plunge slide.
3. Rainbow Falls Waterpark
Open Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, this Park District water park is sensational considering it’s a public facility.
All with a tropical theme, Rainbow Falls has a wading pool with beach entry, a shallow pool for tots and a lazy river.
To go with this are three huge water slides, a plunge pool, a drop slide and an impressive three-story funhouse.
There’s no lack of sun loungers all around, shielded by giant parasols, and you can grab a bite at the Hide Away Cafe. Throughout the season Rainbow Falls hosts all kinds of events and programs, like Night Slides, a lazy river 5k and an aqua summer camp for kids.
4. Elk Grove Historical Museum
The Elk Grove Historical Society maintains this museum in front of the Elk Grove Park District Administrative Offices at 399 Biesterfield Rd.
You can find out about local life going back to the early 1800s at a little campus made up of an orientation center, farmhouse from the mid 1800s, a barn from 1880 and outbuildings including a chicken coop and privy.
The farmhouse is a real highlight, shining a light on life in this German farming community in the 1860s as you tour the kitchen, parlor, sick room, bedrooms and sewing room. The barn has all sorts of antique farming equipment to browse, including tools, a surrey, buggy and sled.
5. Elk Grove Farmers’ Market
Saturday mornings, June through mid-October, the parking grounds by Elk Grove’s clock tower host a bustling farmers’ market.
This is a well-attended community event, filled with booths and shoppers throughout the summer. It’s also nice to know that a cut from the vendors’ fees also goes towards Elk Grove’s pantries.
There’s always a wide selection of seasonal fruit and vegetables, microgreens, baked goods, popcorn, sauces, flowers, nuts, farm-raised meats, jams, spices, fresh roasted coffee, even natural pet treats.
Olde Salem Cafe also has a stand here, serving hot dogs, grilled bratwurst and apple pancakes.
6. Jack A. Claes Pavilion Community Center
Surrounded by the village’s municipal buildings, as well as Pirates’ Cove and the historical museum, is an all-encompassing community center managed by the park district.
This houses the Pavilion Aquatics Center, with an Olympics-size lap pool and a zero-depth entry lagoon pool with a 72-foot water slide.
Also here is a state-of-the-art fitness center, an art center, dance center and an indoor playground for kids (more below). Also part of the facility is the Garden Terrace reception hall and a landscaped area outside with a pond and gazebo for events.
7. Jumps n’ Jiggles Indoor Playground & Carousel
One of the superb facilities at the Jack A. Claes Pavilion is this indoor playground and a charming carousel, safely out of the elements.
The latter is almost 30 feet high and boasts 18 horses and a swan chariot, all lovingly painted by hand.
Jumps n’ Jiggles meanwhile has a big top theme, featuring a spiral slide and a small maze of tunnels and obstacles, as well as a bouncing yo-yo ball.
In the summer it’s also worth keeping an eye on the Park District’s website, as there’s a series of family movie screenings at the nearby J.M. Heffern Park.
8. Classic Cinemas Elk Grove Theatre
Classic Cinemas is the largest Illinois-based movie theater brand, and one of its 15 locations is here in Elk Grove Village.
While several of the theaters in the chain are restored movie palaces, the local one is a modern multiplex with ten screens equipped with the latest amenities.
These include 4K digital projection, 7.1 surround sound and four auditoriums with luxury recliners that have heated seats and power headrests.
And as with all Classic Cinemas, you get free refills on popcorn, fountain drinks and ICEEs. There’s a range for specials on Tuesdays, for matinee shows all week and for seniors.
9. Busse Forest Elk Pasture
On the Elk Grove side of Busse Woods is an enclosed 17-acre area that has kept an elk herd since 1925.
The ancestors of these elk, nine cows and one bull, were originally brought over by train from Yellowstone National Park, and every few years new males are introduced to the herd to encourage genetic diversity.
Once a year the herd is also given a health check by a veterinary team from the University of Illinois.
The main trail at Busse Woods leads right past the enclosure, and as the elk are relatively sociable you’ll be sure to see them on your walk, jog or bike ride.
10. Fox Run Golf Links
Touted as one of the most enjoyable rounds in the NW suburbs, this championship 18 hole course was redesigned by Greg Martin in 2012 and strikes a great balance.
For newcomers Fox Run Golf Links is a forgiving and fun track, while serious players face an engaging challenge.
The driving range is also one of the best in the area, at 300 yards and with 55 hitting stations offering both grass tees and mats. When we wrote this article the Park District was in the process of building a brand new clubhouse and bar.
11. Fountain Square Park
This neighborhood park is one of several clustered close together in a residential area on the west side of Elk Grove Village.
In fact there’s a convenient multi-use trail connecting Fountain Square Park with the nearby Hampshire Park, Potomac Park, Mead Park, Newberry Park and Colony Park.
What elevates Fountain Square Park, especially for families with younger children, is the spacious water playground, accompanied by conventional dry play equipment. Close by are exercise stations, a picnic area, shelter and bocce ball.
12. Spring Valley
Just over in Schaumburg, next door to Fox Run Golf Links is a beautiful natural refuge, in 135 acres, with marshes, fields, forests, streams and a preserved heritage farm which we’ll come to later.
Spring Valley is designed for passive, nature-oriented activities like walking, birdwatching, photography, sketching/painting and learning about wildlife and natural history.
You can do this at the Vera Meineke Nature Center, which has superb interactive exhibits about local plants and animals, as well as a living turtle pond display and children’s activity area.
Outside there’s a monarch butterfly rearing station, with daily releases between May and September.
13. Volkening Heritage Farm
On the same site is an historic farm dating back to the 1880s, when Schaumburg was another rural community newly settled by German immigrants.
The Volkening Heritage Farm, open March through November, is a wonderful living history attraction where costumed volunteers demonstrate the skills and seasonal jobs that kept the farm running.
There are plenty of opportunities to join in, and kids will adore seeing the domestic animals at the farm, like horses, cows, pigs and chickens.
You can also take a tour of the preserved homestead and barns, filled with furniture, appliances and equipment going back well over a century.
14. Bison’s Bluff Nature Playground
Close to Spring Valley’s parking lot on Schaumburg Rd is an extraordinary play facility that attracts families from miles around.
Mimicking craggy outcrops with a stream, forest and beaver lodge, Bison’s Bluff is custom-designed to incorporate natural materials like logs, sand, boulders and water into children’s play for open-ended fun.
The idea is to encourage qualities like cooperation, agility, problem solving, resilience and creativity, recreating the wild natural environments that children from previous generations were free to explore, while ensuring children’s safety.
15. Chicago Athenaeum International Sculpture Park
Across Plum Grove Rd from the Spring Valley Nature Center is the Chicago Athenaeum’s sculpture park, first laid out during the 1990s in 20 acres of meadow and forest.
There are more than a dozen works in the park, by the likes of Jerzy S. Kenar, Dennis Oppenheim, Oded Halahmy, Nina Levy, Páll Guðmundsson and Jerry Peart.
The Village of Schaumburg has a webpage dedicated to the sculpture park, with an interactive map that includes info about each work and the artist behind it.