The Morton Arboretum

Joy Morton of Morton Salt fame turned his country estate in Lisle, Illinois, into an outdoor museum of evergreen and deciduous trees.

The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois (photo by Michael Hudson)

J. Sterling Morton’s motto was “plant trees,” and the Nebraska newspaperman established the first Arbor Day in 1872. Heeding those words, his son, Joy, of Morton Salt fame, turned his country estate 25 miles west of Chicago into an outdoor museum of evergreen and deciduous trees. His mission was to create a greener, healthier and more beautiful world. 

Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2022, The Morton Arboretum has grown to 1,700 sprawling acres and more than 4,600 types of plants. The oldest — native maples  — are estimated to be more than 250 years of age. Among the living collections are stands of Asian, conifer, elm, linden and ornamental flowering trees.

Drive along 9 miles of paved roads, or walk along 16 mostly shady miles of wood-chipped and paved trails. Either route meanders through picturesque woodlands, prairies and wetlands. Check out the Children’s Garden, an imaginative playground of learning activities, water play and giant acorns for climbing. Or wander through the Maze Garden, a puzzle of twisty paths enclosed by steep hedges. The on-site visitor center houses a casual restaurant and stylish shops.

The newest attraction, The Grand Garden, opens in September 2022. The rectilinear formal garden is a reimagining of the arboretum’s historic hedge garden, with a landscaped promenade interspersed with pergolas, water features and gathering spaces.

Mother Nature’s dazzling shows are on display year-round. Take in the teeming daffodil glade in the spring and the glorious colors of fall foliage. Feel the joy at the annual “Illumination” light-and-sound spectacle that wraps around Meadow Lake and through coniferous forest throughout the month of December. 

“Human+Nature,” an exhibition by South African artist Daniel Popper, features mega sculptures — up to 26 feet high — of humanesque forms tucked into the landscape and is scheduled to run through March 2023.

Insiders know to visit early in the day when crowds are thinner or in late afternoon when the setting sun casts a golden glow. Be sure to stop at the visitor center to learn what’s in peak bloom that day. 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, Illinois 60532, 630/968-0074,