By Kelly Youngblood
Whether they’re furry or feathered, scaly or slimy, kids love to look at animals.
Here are some of the top places in the Champaign-Urbana area that will give you and your child the opportunity to see a variety of creatures and critters up close and in person.
Let us know if we missed one of your favorite animal places!
Prairie Farm: Open Memorial Day through early August, this “farm” includes a variety of animals for kids to see and some they can touch. Cows, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, llamas, donkeys, miniature horses, peacocks, rabbits, turtles, goats and turkeys are all featured at the farm. There’s also a nice koi pond to watch the fishies swim. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon with little ones- mine look forward to going every year.
Aikman Wildlife Adventure: This unique drive-through animal park in Arcola (at the former Rockome Gardens location) just opened last month and features zebras, camels, peacocks, llamas and more. It’s open every weekend (10 a.m.to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 12-5 p.m. on Sundays) until the grand opening on Memorial Day weekend. The cost is $20 per vehicle. Camel rides are also available on Fridays and Saturday (weather permitting) for $5 a ride.
Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery: It’s goats galore at Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign (as well as a few chickens too.) Your kids will love the adorable four-legged kids at this working goat farm that’s known for its delicious goat cheese products, U-pick berry orchards, and farm to table dinners. Self-guided farm visits begin in April, Wednesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Anita Purves Nature Center: The four different types of snakes, five box turtles and three Eastern Screech Owls at this nature center are used to getting visitors as more than 50,000 people stop in a year. The educational wildlife can be viewed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Orpheum Children’s Science Museum: Meet turtles, bearded dragons, a snake, tarantula and roaches at the Orpheum’s Critter Corner. Museum staff are always happy to talk to kids about the animals including their diet, habitat and more.
Local Pet Stores: Whether you’re shopping for a guinea pig or just admiring the tropical fish, Sailfin, Pet Smart, and Pet Supplies Plus are local pet stores that will allow your child to see a variety of different animals up close. Beware though, when your child finds out these animals are actually for sale, they may want to bring one of them home!
South Farms: Don’t worry, nobody will think you’re weird if you pull over and park to look at the cows and horses at the South Farms. If they do, just tell them it’s a local tradition. It’s located on St. Mary’s Road between Lincoln and Fourth Street.
Homer Lake Interpretive Center: A snake, turtles and fish are the resident animals used to educate visitors at the center. Animal sponsors are appreciated to help support their ongoing care.
Rural King: If the delicious free popcorn doesn’t lure you in, the fuzzy chicks and fluffy bunnies will do the trick.
Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch: Open seasonally in the fall through Christmas, this unique family-owned attraction includes a herd of Alaskan reindeer you can get up close and personal with.
Special Animal Events
U of I Vet Med Open House: This annual event attracts thousands of visitors is an amazing opportunity for animal-lovers of all ages to get a behind-the-scenes look at the only veterinary school in Illinois. See dozens of exhibits, demonstrations and large and small animals at the open house, which is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2 this year.
Prairieland Feeds: Twice a year, Prairieland Feeds has special events with many animals – in the spring with baby chicks and in the fall with its annual Pet Fair (be sure to check our calendar.)
A Further Drive
Where’s your favorite place to get close to animals in the Champaign-Urbana area?