Central Illinois is not really known for its scenic beauty, unless you consider flatlands and cornfields majestic. But hills, trees and picturesque landscapes are closer than you think. Leave Champaign-Urbana and hop on I-74 headed west for just a few miles and you’ll arrive at Lake of The Woods in Mahomet, with 900 acres of natural beauty that includes wooded areas adjacent to the Sangamon River and reconstructed prairie land where native animals and wildflowers thrive.
Lake of the Woods, owned and operated by the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, is nature’s playground for kids and adults alike. Some of the activities that draw people:
- walking, running or biking on paved trails
- fishing or renting a pedal boat on the lake
- playing at the playground
- renting a pavilion and/or grilling out or picnicking
- climbing the bell tower or exploring the covered red bridge (look for bats!)
- sledding or cross country skiing in the winter
- meandering through the (free) Museum of the Grand Prairie
- playing foot golf (or regular golf) with your big kids
Tips For Your Trip From Other Parents
- Decide where you’re going to park before you arrive. There are so many places to enter Lake of the Woods and if you have kids in tow, you won’t be able to walk the entire preserve, so do just a little bit of pre-planning. To find the playground and the bell tower, enter at the entrance off of Lake of the Woods Road just south of Tin Cup Road. To visit the botanical gardens and Museum of the Grand Prairie, enter off of Route 47 (the second Mahomet exit) and park at the museum.
- Figure out where the closest bathrooms are to where you’re hanging out when you arrive. We’ve had to drive to bathrooms before and also walked up to bathrooms that were locked depending on the season.
- Pack some snacks. (Isn’t this a tip for nearly any outing with kids?) We know you’ll all work up an appetite here.
- Wear your walking shoes and bring your strollers. It’s easy to wander from wherever you begin. Just make sure you account for having to walk back to your car when you’re done!
- Bring your camera BUT also be intentional about putting your devices away while you’re here. Lake of the Woods is a great place to truly be in nature with your kids and we think you’ll all get more out of the experience if your phone is in your bag instead of your hand.
Is Lake of the Woods good for toddlers?
Lake of the Woods is great for all ages! We think toddlers will love exploring with you alongside them. Do figure out where the closest bathrooms are since they may be a short drive away and watch your littles closely since there are some steep drop offs, bodies of water and patches of poison ivy located throughout the woods.
What amenities are offered?
Lake of the Woods offers many amenities including:
- Boat rentals (pedal boats, kayaks and rowboats) on weekends Memorial Day through Labor Day
- 3.3-mile paved biking/walking path perfect for strollers, scooters and more
- 6-story observation deck at the top of the bell tower
- Lake and river to fish (review local fishing guidelines and check out our tips here)
- Picnic tables, grills and rentable pavilions
- Restrooms throughout the park
- Playground and other recreational areas, including sand volleyball and swing sets throughout the park
- Educational Museum of the Grand Prairie, free admission
- Beautiful Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden, also free and a beautiful spot for pictures, includes garden, koi fish pond, waterfall and picturesque bright red bridge
- Golf course featuring a 9-hole Par 3 course and an 18-hole course and foot golf
How are the bathrooms?
The bathrooms are usually in great condition but you need to make sure they’re unlocked before you count on them. Check them when you arrive for your visit and figure out where the next closest ones are if the ones near you are closed.
Are there picnic tables and grills?
Yes! And they are everywhere. You’ll find an abundance of them located throughout the park and in recreational areas. Even on the busiest of summer weekends, we don’t think you’ll have a problem finding at least one table for your family. But if you are going to have a larger group, you may want to arrive early to get a space or reserve a pavilion ahead of time.
Is there any shade?
Yes! There is an abundance of shade. The trails are especially shaded and the playground offers great shade, too.
When is this park open?
Lake of the Woods is open at 7 a.m. year-round and closing times vary from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. seasonally. Click here for their full list of hours.
What is parking like?
Parking exists throughout the entire park. You’ll see some patches of gravel that you can park on in addition to the paved lots.
How do you get there?
From Champaign-Urbana take I-74 west past I-57 and to one of the the two Mahomet exits. To enter on the east side of the park, get off at exit 174 and take Prairieview Road north to Tin Cup Road, where you take a left and drive straight into one of the park entrances (for pedal boats and more). If you’d like to find the playground, turn left on Lake of the Woods Road instead of driving into the park and take the next right into the park and follow the signs for the area you’d like to visit. To visit the gardens or the museum, take I-74 west to exit 172 and head north on Route 47 until you see an entrance to the park and turn right to park near the museum.
The entrance to the Buffalo Trace Prairie is at Route 47, directly across the street from the museum and botanical garden. Buffalo Trace is a reconstructed prairie that includes a wide variety of wildflower species. Both paved and mowed walking trails wind throughout the area. A brochure is available to those interested in identifying the various types of flowers at Buffalo Trace.
The paved Lake of the Woods trails connect to miles of other trails that wind through Mahomet, making it a great spot for a long bike ride or run if you’re training for something. This map shows you the connections to Buffalo Trace and Stidham Woods, too.