The Morton Arboretum in west suburban Lisle, Ill., is a self-described “museum of trees,” with a collection of species from around the world. The 1,700-acre preserve started in the 1920s and now features more than 4,000 different species of trees and shrubs. And, of interest to us, you’ll find 16 miles of hiking trails and 9 miles of road that’s perfect for runners looking for a challenging yet scenic run.
What Makes It Great
Yes, challenging. To the uninitiated, the Morton Arboretum is downright hilly. There are very few flat sections of road in the preserve, so be prepared to get your heart-rate up. And for runners, we are talking about sticking to the roads.
While there are those 16 miles of off-road hiking trails, mostly woodchip covered, runners aren’t permitted on them. They are for hiking and walking only. While it would be nice to take advantage of those trails, for now you need to stick to just the paved roads. The roads are open to vehicle traffic, but just those who have paid to enter the arboretum to sight-see. Plus with the one-way loops and low speed limits, you really don’t have to worry about cars on the route.
The arboretum is divided into two sections. The bigger east side features a big loop that’s approximately four miles long, with two connecting roads that allow you to shorten the loop. You’ll run through groves of magnolias, buckeyes, oaks and maples, in addition to a section of trees from China and Japan. And that’s just to name a few.
The west side of the park features a smaller loop, this one about three miles, once again with a couple of connecting roads to make smaller loops if you like. On this side you’ll find groves of flowering trees, pines, spruce, hemlocks, birch and willows, once again, just touching on some of the biggies. The Thornhill Education Center is on the west side, which is used for classes as well as wedding on the weekends. There’s more water on the west side, with the east branch of the DuPage River snaking through, in addition to Sunfish Pond, Lake Marmo and Sterling Pond. Take the alternate route road on the east side for a really fun run through both oak and pine forests and great views of the lake.
As you’d probably guess, the trails are at their best in the spring and fall. The annual Fall Color 5K takes place each October while the Arbor Day 10K is in April. But what makes the arboretum a real find for runners is that the roads are all open—and plowed—in the winter.
When the usual trails are covered in snow, you can find dozens of runners taking advantage of the plowed roads every weekend morning. And the arboretum is open 365 days a year, meaning that you always have access to the roads.
Who is Going to Love It
The Arboretum is a beautiful place for a runner anytime of the year. The challenging hills are difficult to find anywhere else in the area, and the snow-free roads are a Godsend in the winter months.
Plus, you will love the amenities! After the run you can take advantage of the excellent restaurant on the premises to grab breakfast or simply get a drink and enjoy the view. You also have a water fountain and bathrooms in the visitor center.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
You enter the Morton Arboretum off of Route 53, just north of I-88. The main parking lot next to the visitor’s center usually has plenty of spaces and is a good place to start any run, but you’ll find additional parking at smaller lots along each route if you so desire.
The entrance fee is $12, or $60 for a yearly membership.