The Chicago Botanic Garden is no longer free to enter as of this week—but if you're used to traveling to the Glencoe attraction by car, you might actually save some money on your next visit.
How might that work, you ask? Allow us to explain. On February 1, the Garden introduced a new pricing structure that includes its first-ever admission fee for non-members, which ranges from $9.95 to $25.95 per adult (child tickets start at $7.95 for ages 3-12; children under 3 are still free). What you pay depends on a variety of factors, including weather, attendance patterns and when you buy your tickets—the further out from your visit that you purchase them, the cheaper they'll be, and you can purchase up to two months in advance. Off-season tickets, like in late winter, are cheaper than peak season tickets, like during spring and summer or the holiday season.
Here's where the potential savings come in: The new pricing structure has also slashed parking costs from the previous (and fairly pricey) rate of $25 and up—you'll now pay a flat rate of $8 per vehicle. That means if you're visiting via car in a month like February, your true cost of admission might go from $25 to somewhere around $18 plus fees, assuming that you're traveling alone. Things start to look less favorable for your wallet when you add in more people—and if you prefer to visit when the weather's nice—but admission also now includes the price of experiences available during the warmer months, like the 40-minute Grand Tram Tour or access to the Model Railroad Garden. If you're the type of person who normally springs for add-ons, those savings might make your entrance fee feel all the more worthwhile.
Sadly, if you've always visited the Garden by train or bike, this news is far less likely to save you money, so take heart in knowing that your admission fees are going toward ever-increasing maintenance costs for the Garden's 385 acres of plant life. And if you're looking for free things to do in Chicago, don't rush to cross the Chicago Botanic Garden off your list—the Garden plans to offer 52 free admission days per year for Illinois residents, with dates starting this month.