FermiLab: Chicago’s Hidden Dog Parks

Wilson Hall is the epicenter of the FermiLab site.

Want to inject a little intellectual intrigue into your next dog trip?

Drive approximately 45 minutes west from Chicago to Batavia, Illinois, and you’ll find one of the most unusual dog-friendly locations on the planet: the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Known popularly as FermiLab, this facility is one of the two most famous particle colliders in the world (the other – CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research – will require a plane ticket, not a short drive).

FermiLabs offer guided tours of the facilities, though dogs are not allowed indoors so if you take your dog you’ll need to make arrangements for him/her if you want to go inside.

In 2006, the FermiLab Natural Areas program began, a non-profit organization that “volunteer network dedicated to restoring, managing and enhancing the natural areas and resources of Fermilab in order to maintain and improve their ecological health and biodiversity” (more info). The result is a huge, open natural area that offers acres and acres of dog-friendly space in which to run.


Rocky is not sure what to make of the bison herd.

The most popular feature at FermiLabs has to be the herd of bison maintained on site. Approximately two dozen bison live in the barns at FermiLab. The public is encouraged to visit and enjoy these massive animals. Don’t worry, there’s a double fence to protect everyone: a secure traditional fence keeps small dogs from getting into the bison pen and an electric fence keeps the bison from getting too close to the traditional fence.

I can vouch from personal experience that our 33-pound Border Collie mix did not know what to make of the bison, which tend to lay around mostly. Because they are so docile, it can be easy for dogs to not even notice the bison at first. Our dog didn’t even realize there were animals just 20 yards away until one of the large ones stood up and shook himself off. At that point, my dog offered a soft, unsure growl, walked behind me, then growled again a little louder, though looking at me as if to say: “you take of him!”

Take the cautions seriously: we saw coyotes roaming around the site and they came within about 15 feet of us. While coyotes may look like dogs, they’re feral and regard your dog as an enemy. When a coyote attacks, he will attack your dog – not you – most likely because you are not trying to eat the same food your dog and the coyote like. To be safe, keep your dogs close.

You can get more info about tours and other programs and events at FermiLab here.

  • Folk and Barn Dancing: Yes, physicists like to kick up their heels, apparently. Throughout the year FermiLab plays host to all kinds of dancing events so check out their page of upcoming dancing opportunities here.
  • Lederman Science Center: If you have children with you and someone can take care of your dog for an hour, check out the Lederman Science Center that has exhibits and labs for children ages 10 and older. More info is here.
  • Bison babies: If you want to see the young bison be sure to visit in the spring when young bison calves are present.
  • Ticks: Be sure your dog has tick repellants and that you’re prepared to check your dog and yourself for ticks after your visit if you go in the spring, summer, or fall. With more than a decades’ worth of growth, the natural grasses and lands of FermiLab have been restored to their original beauty. But part of that includes the natural animals that come with the natural lands and for dogs that means ticks. We found several ticks on our dog after our visit, but they were easy to remove.
  • Coyotes: A coyote came within about 15 feet of us while we were there. While it’s fun to experience wildlife in close environs, you must remember that coyotes attack domestic dogs, who they consider to be a potential poacher of their resources. If a coyote becomes aggressive, he will most likely go after your dog, not you. So keep your dog on a leash, especially around bushes and anything that can provide cover in which a coyote could hide. They will gladly ambush your dog and kill him/her out of fear that your dog will try to eat some of the local prey.
  • Photo I.D.: The FermiLab is a protected area with armed guards who require to see your photo identification if you want to enter and they will ask the purpose of your trip. Be sure everyone has a photo I.D. as they are serious about this requirement.
  • Food/drinks: Be sure you bring food and drinks with you as there are not any concessions at FermiLabs. There is a small pub on site, but we did not visit on our trip so I cannot vouch for what’s there (plus it appeared to be closed even though we were there on a Saturday afternoon). My suggestion: treat the day like a picnic and bring your lunch so you won’t be disappointed.


One of the entrances to FermiLabs.

From Chicago: From Chicago, travel west on the Eisenhower (I-290) to I-88 (80 cents). Exit I-88 at the Farnsworth exit, north or right (60 cents). Farnsworth becomes Kirk Road. Follow Kirk Road to Pine Street. Turn right at Pine Street, Fermilab’s main entrance.

From O’Hare Airport: From O’Hare, take I-90 east toward Chicago. After just a couple of miles, take I-294 south, toward Indiana (80 cents). From I-294 take the exit to I-88, the east-west tollway, toward Aurora (80 cents). From I-88, take the Farnsworth exit (60 cents). Turn north onto Farnsworth. Farnsworth becomes Kirk Road. Follow Kirk Road to Pine Street. Turn right on Pine Street, the main entrance to Fermilab. Come to Wilson Hall, the high-rise building. You’ll see it sticking up off the prairie.

From Midway Airport: Take Cicero Avenue north to the Stevenson Expressway South (I-55) to I-355 North (toward northern suburbs). Take I-355 to the East-West tollway (I-88). Take I-88 West for approximately 10 miles to the Farnsworth North exit and turn right. Travel 2.9 miles to the Pine Street entrance to the Fermilab site.

A couple of massive magnets that have been demagnetized have become some of the cool art that populates the grounds at FermiLabs.
There are hundreds of acres to explore.
Once our dog saw the bison, she could not stop watching them even when trying to enjoy all the land surrounding the bison pen.
The beige, light-colored animals laying in the grass are the bison calves that were born in the spring. Be sure to check the Fermi website to get updates on calf births before visiting in the spring as seeing the young calves is a popular treat.

Get more information at the official site for FermiLab.


#dogs #dogparks #Chicago #FermiLab #4L