Owned and operated by the St. Charles Park District, Hickory Knolls Discovery Center is a FREE, family-friendly facility. Come on out today to visit our 130 acres of oak woodlands, wetlands and prairies, to say “hello” to our live animals, and to explore our natural play areas and exhibits.
Click here for directions and parking information.
Once you’ve arrived and parked your vehicle, you’re ready to start your adventure! Read through the below FAQs to get the answers to our most common visitor questions:
Because we offer free admission, there is not a ticket and you’re not required to check in. However, the front desk in the Discovery Center is staffed by helpful employees and volunteers who are happy to recommend hikes, orient you to the building, or provide trail maps and other materials.
By all means, please visit us at any time! Our building is open Monday to Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday from 12pm-4pm. There is no membership or entry fee and the trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.
For more information on our hours, click here.
To find out more about what you can do once you arrive, click here.
Whether you have a full day or less than an hour, come on out and find the naturalist in you. The opportunities to learn and play are endless! Inside the Discovery Center, visitors can:
Say “Hello” to the animals
Check out the interactive floor-to-ceiling mural
Observe the birds at the feeders
Learn about Ice Age landforms and dig into geology in the sandbox
Out in the Natural Areas, visitors can:
Unwind on 3+ miles of trails
Discover unique flora and fauna
Observe scenic woodland, wetland, and prairie habitats
For more information, click here to go to our things to do page.
Hickory Knolls is home to a variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects – everything from Peter Rabbit to Mary the Milksnake to Grandma the Bearded Dragon. More information on all of our animal residents can be found here.
As you review our website and later as you take in the displays at Hickory Knolls, please remember that no animals were taken from the wild to be put on display. All were either owner surrenders or were captive bred specifically for education purposes.
Each animal at Hickory Knolls has a special diet created just for them. We appreciate you leaving their feeding to the naturalists. If you are interested in learning about what our mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects eat, sign up for one of our behind-the-scenes classes and find out more! Information on current classes can be found here.
For example, did you know that our snakes only eat about every 10 days or so? Their favorites include mice, chicks, and other small mammals. The naturalists typically feed them during the day and sometimes as part of a birthday party or program. Click here for more information on our snakes and other animals residents!
Most of our animals live in displays that make it impossible to reach them on your own. Our staff, however, is trained to handle and care for our wildlife and will often take out an animal upon request. Please note – our ability to bring out animals is based on staff availability, program schedules and animal comfort.
Keep in mind, even on days when there may not be an opportunity for a close-up encounter, you can always sign up for an upcoming animal-focused class or program during which the naturalists are bound to get out a few fuzzy and not-so-fuzzy creatures for you to interact with. Information on current classes can be found here.
There are a large variety of creatures great and small residing in our natural area. Deer, fox, coyote, rabbits, opossum, raccoons, voles, mice, snakes, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, chorus frogs, honey bees and hundreds of other insects, birds and critters call our natural area home. Our restoration crew works to maintain and recreate many natural areas to provide our wildlife with various food sources and habitats. Come out and see if you can find tracks in the snow or mud, scat left behind, or other evidence of our wildlife friends.
The Hickory Knolls Natural Area is located just north of the Illinois Youth Correctional Facility, formerly known as the Boys Home. When the St. Charles Park District acquired land from the State of Illinois before building Hickory Knolls, it came with several historical sites including this structure.
Historic documents do not provide conclusive evidence regarding the use of this building. Some state it may have been a small zoo, some suggest it housed pet monkeys during a time period when they were seen as “stylish,” and still other documents purport that the structure was merely used for housing the boys when they worked on the adjacent farm. Needless to say, the intriguing stories have led to it being fondly known as the “Monkey House.” The building burned in recent years and no longer has a roof, but slate tiles have been found inside the structure and are likely from either a slate roof or a slate chalkboard.
Yes, the water tower located in the Hickory Knolls Natural Area is a functioning water storage facility for the Illinois Correctional Facility. And, before you ask, no – you can’t access it or climb it!
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) devised Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) as a rating system to evaluate the environmental performance of a building. The system is credit-based, allowing projects to earn points for environmentally friendly actions taken during construction and use of a building. Because the program is not rigidly structured, not every LEED project meets identical requirements. The overall goal of the LEED system is to encourage market transformation towards sustainable design and green building practices. More information on LEED-certified buildings can be found here.
Yes! Completed in 2011, the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center was the first LEED-certified building of its kind in Kane County. It obtained a silver LEED-certification.
From its overall architectural design to the materials incorporated throughout the building, the center represents cutting-edge ideas, techniques, and resources that demonstrate and promote sustainability and eco-responsibility. The facility serves as a showcase for green building features as well as a source of ideas for how to make eco-friendly lifestyle choices. Green features include a geo-thermal heating and cooling system, a green roof, on demand hot water, sensor faucets and toilets, and photovoltaic solar panels. The building also contains many renewable and recycled materials.
Of course! Hickory Knolls is the perfect place to hold your next birthday or anniversary party, wedding or corporate event. We offer a variety of packages based on your needs. Click here for more information.
Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to use the fire pit/ring located next to Hickory Knolls. You are allowed to use the fireplace in the pavilion located just west of the building in the natural area though. Click here for more information on pavilion rentals.
Yes. You are encouraged to picnic at the Discovery Center. We typically have a few tables on our back patio and there are other tables throughout James O. Breen Community Park. After your picnic, please dispose of all trash and recyclable items in the containers provided.
Coming soon, Hickory Knolls Discovery Center will have its own nature play area! In the meantime, please note that Hickory Knolls is located in the James O. Breen Community Park and park amenities include a playground, picnic shelters, basketball courts, athletic fields, dog park, disc golf course, and the Otter Cove Aquatic Park. For more information, click on the links below: