Tap That: Maple Syrup Events & Adventures

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Our not-so-wintry winter is coming to a sweet finish! This means cool nights and warmer days, but with that comes the flow of maple sap and the maple syrup season. Yes, there is a maple syrup season in Chicago. Who knew? Your family can get in on the fun with these maple sugaring outings for all ages, from back-to-basics demonstrations to full-on festivals to pancake brunches. Reward your new knowledge with some pancakes or vanilla ice cream covered in syrup.

northparkphoto: Chicago Park District

In Chicago: Maple Tapping with the Family
Learn how syrup goes from tree to table and taste the sweet results. You’ll see the process from start to finish, from tapping the maple tree to boiling sap to make syrup. (It takes a whopping 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup!) Finish the day by sampling the goods right off the fire. The festival also includes walks through the sugar bush (a group of sugar maples), storytelling and craft making.

Mar. 4; 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
North Park Village Nature Center
5801 N. Pulaski Rd.
Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

In Oak Brook: Maple Syrup! Kid’s Day Off
Get the kids off the couch and into the woods for their day off school. They’ll enjoy a sugaring adventure to discover how Native Americans and pioneers made maple syrup.  While they’re at it, they’ll learn how to identify and tap maple trees, collect sap and boil sap into syrup.

Mar. 3, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
$6/person; ages 6-8 & 9-13
Fullersburg Woods
3609 Spring Rd.
Oak Brook
Online: dupageforest.com

naper-maplephoto: Naper Settlement

In Naperville: Maple Sugaring Days
Try your hand at old-fashioned drills and tapping spouts, and lug a yoke and bucket the way the early Naperville settlers would have done. Your curious worker bee will be interested to know that maple syrup was the most important food sweetener in the U.S. until the end of the Civil War. Collecting sap was hard work requiring many people, and making it a celebration of spring turned drudgery into a joy.

Mar. 11 & 12; Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun., 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
$12 adults; $8 youth (4-12)
Naper Settlement
523 S. Webster St.
Online: napersettlement.org

In Batavia: Maple Fest
Watch a tree tapping demonstration and learn all about the process of making syrup at the Red Oak Nature Center. Programs begin every hour, on the hour. Purchase a maple snack and enjoy it while taking in beautiful views of the Fox River.

Mar. 18, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Red Oak Nature Center
2343 S. River St.
Online: foxvalleyparkdistrict.org

maple-mortonphoto: Morton Arboretum

In Lisle: Syrup Tree and Silver Dollar Brunch
Families start their adventure with a hike down to Morton Arboretum’s tapped sugar maple tree to see how sap flows and is collected. After traveling down the trail, kids will learn how to drill into a tree and take turns practicing with a tool on a fallen log. It all ends with brunch, including pancakes, sausages, fruit, a special maple treat and beverages.

Mar. 18 & 19, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
$18/members; $25/non-members (registration required & includes admission)
Morton Aboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Online: mortonarb.org

In Schaumburg: Sugar Bush Fair
Your kids will flip for the pancake breakfast. But the main focus is still the sweet and fascinating syrup. You’ll learn to process sugar the way pioneers would have, watch a puppet show and jump aboard a hayride.

Sat., Mar. 18 & 19, 9 a.m.-noon
Free admission; breakfast ranges $4-$6
Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm
1111 E. Schaumburg Rd.
Online: parkfun.com

In Riverwoods: Maple Syrup Hikes
Take a one-hour hike through the woods to learn about maple trees and taste sweet sap in one of the pretty Lake County Forest Preserves. On the trails, you pass historic buildings and through a dense forest. You might just feel like your family has been transported to a woodland retreat.

Sat. & Sun., Mar. 11-26, every half-hour from noon-2 p.m.
$6/person (advance registration required)
Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area
21950 N. Riverwoods Rd.
Online: lcfpd.org

Throughout the Area: Perhaps you’d rather cut right to the good stuff? Check out these local pancake hotspots to accompany your syrup.

What maple syrup season family celebration do YOU love? Shout about it in the Comments!

— Lisa Snart