Get outdoors and experience nature as a family
The area surrounding Champaign-Urbana offers great opportunities for families to get outdoors and experience nature together
No matter what time of year it is, there are a long list of benefits to spending time in nature with your children. This “unplugged” time is valuable for deepening connections among parents and children, encouraging creative thinking with unstructured play and improving physical and mental well-being for adults and children alike. Champaign-Urbana is full of areas to safely explore nature with children, and with just a short drive outside of town there are even more options. Here is a list of our six favorite places to experience nature with children near Champaign-Urbana year-round.
1. Busey Woods, Urbana
There are many things to love about Busey Woods, tucked away in the north end of Crystal Lake Park in Urbana. You may recognize it as sharing a parking lot with Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center and the Anita Purves Nature Center. The elevated boardwalk makes the walking path through the woods perfect for navigating a stroller or two, as well as handicap accessible. Kids will love the bridge over the creek, the chance to see deer up close and many opportunities to hop off the beaten path and climb logs or gather sticks. Stop by Friendship Grove to continue your nature exploration outing before or after you walk through the woods.
2. Meadowbrook Park, Urbana
Where can you fly a kite, ride a bike and even stroll by an old farm? All of this and more can be found at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana! Located on the south end of Urbana, near Meijer, Meadowbrook is one of the largest pieces of land owned by the Urbana Park District. In addition to featuring a truly impressive playground, there are three miles of walking trails that will have park-goers enjoy the Illinois prairie at its finest in the Champaign-Urbana town limits. So bring your strollers, scooters and bikes for this long loop of a walk as kids will love the sculptures you find along the way!
3. Hessel Park, Champaign
If you only know Hessel Park as a playground and splash pad, you may not consider it a place to experience nature! However, as soon as you take a walk around the 0.6 mile paved walking path and walk away from the playground, you’ll enjoy the quiet, tree-lined stroll towards the back of the park away from Kirby. Add the beautiful trees to the fact that this park is located right in the center of Champaign-Urbana and footsteps away from the University of Illinois and you have a winning place to enjoy the outdoors. Pack a picnic for your kids and don’t even start down by the playground. Just pull in to the lot off of Grandview Drive to park, sit at the edge of the pavilion with your snacks and take in the view!
4. Lake of the Woods, Mahomet
This destination in Mahomet is a popular place for all kinds of outdoor outings among families all over the area, U of I students and more. Just a short drive down 74, the expansive lake and beautiful views make Lake of the Woods what it is. There are multiple entry points: the Route 47 entrance is near the Botanical Gardens and Museum of the Grand Prairie, the main entrance on Lake of the Woods Road will take you to the Bell Tower and a great playground, the peninsula entrance on Lake of the Woods Road will give you a good spot to fish, rent paddle boats in the summer or walk across the bridge and the lesser known entrance to the woods (technically Stidham Woods at this entry point) is the start of the walking trails/bike path and located north on Prairie View Road right where it bends into Fogel Road.
5. Homer Lake, Homer
Another Champaign County Forest Preserve District destination, Homer Lake is a beautiful example of a natural area with some areas intentionally designed with families in mind. The Homer Lake Playscape may be what many families know it for, but there are also some great walking trails (be ready to go “off the beaten path” with your kids) and some wonderful fishing spots, too. Drive around the lake to the side opposite of the playscape for some scenic docks and plenty of quiet space to explore as a family. A perfect place for a picnic, as you can spend the whole day here!
6. Allerton Park, Monticello
The farthest drive from C-U on our list, we think Allerton Park is worth the travel time! Wandering the Allerton grounds will take your family on an adventure that just happens to be set among some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve wandered. The massive sculptures, Formal Gardens, and beautiful plantings could take hours to explore. Decide before you arrive what you would like to see most, as it would be difficult to explore all the grounds in one visit with kids in tow. The Fu Dog Garden and Sunken Garden are two favorites among our kids. Visit during the holiday season and you’ll see gorgeous light displays in the evenings, too!