Parks exist around Champaign-Urbana where it is possible to keep your social distance with your kids and avoid playground equipment
The idea of getting outside sounds great … until you’re carrying a screaming toddler away from the playground equipment they so badly want to explore
As the weather warms up and we continue to practice social distancing due to COVID-19, we’ve received this question from our readers: “Which park can I visit with my kids where they won’t be tempted to run toward playground equipment?”
As long as safe social distancing practices are maintained, spending time outdoors is OK while we’re under the stay-at-home order in the state of Illinois.
Playground equipment is in fact off limits, but you can still visit other green locations in and around Champaign-Urbana to get some fresh air, run through the grass and keep your distance all at the same time. [Update: outdoor playgrounds reopened with restrictions as of 6/26/2020 when Illinois entered Phase 4. Since cleanliness cannot be guaranteed some families may still wish to avoid them.]
Some ideas on what to bring on your COVID-19 park trip, to be used only with your immediate family please:
- strollers, scooters, or bikes
- kites, frisbees, hula hoops, jump rope
- chalk (encourage people that will walk through the park later)
- picnic basket and snacks
- football, soccer ball or baseball and mitt
Here’s our list of suggested parks:
Located near Parkland College and best known for its many softball fields and soccer fields, Dodds Park in Champaign has ample space to run around without playground equipment. If your kids are missing spring sports, you can challenge them to a showdown on the fields with you and their siblings. And while you may not be familiar with the activity, now is a great time to pick up disc golf as an activity to do with your family. Go walk up to the Olympic & Paralympic Tribute while you’re there, too. It’s quite impressive!
Nestled along Devonshire Drive in Champaign, the beautiful Mattis Park winds around a lake and provides a great (and quiet) outing for your family. This is more of a “go for a nice walk” park. Your kids will enjoy looking for bugs and checking out all the flowers as they come to life this spring. Don’t miss the “piano garden” while you’re there, and take your child’s photo with their feet on the keys.
Crystal Lake Park in Urbana is huge and with parking locations throughout the park, you can decide which part of the park you hang out in during your visit. A great spot to have a picnic or just chase your kids through the grass, Crystal Lake Park also connects to the natural Busey Woods area on the north end of the park, so you can visit those beautiful trails in hopes of seeing some wildlife while you’re out there.
We’re not going to instruct you to turn into the usual spot at Meadowbrook Park off Windsor Road for your upcoming visit, but we will let you know about the “secret entrance” located off of Race Street so that you can visit Meadowbrook Park without your kids even realizing you’re at the same park they know and love. Hop on the walking path and enjoy the fields, walking nearly a mile before you come upon the playground in your view. Simply turn around before then if you don’t want to walk past it. You can enjoy the sculptures lining the path and have a great visit in this way.
Weaver Park is full of prairie fields, wetland natural areas and wildlife habitats. You’ll find some unpaved paths here, so bring that infant carrier or something along those lines instead of a stroller, if you have a baby with you. And due to the wetland environment here, you may want to pack some bug spray (certainly for the warmer months) to keep the mosquitoes away, too.
Not technically a park but certainly a beautiful outdoor space, Japan House is full of beautiful walking paths and gardens. Not only can you catch the cherry trees blossoming during the spring (click here for details on how to view them during 2020 with the COVID-19 circumstances in effect) but you can see all kinds of other flowers coming into bloom, too. Japan House is a public garden open daily between sunrise and sunset. Parking is available on the street and in two lots, and have meters. Meters are not generally enforced after 5 p.m. and on weekends, but please always read the meter itself.
We’re full of ideas on how to enjoy Lake of the Woods without ever having to go near a playground. Pick any entry point near the paved 3.3 miles of biking/walking paths; but really there’s much more than that as the Lake of the Woods trails connect to the Buffalo Trace Prairie on the west side of Route 47 and some trails between Lake of the Woods Road and Prairieview Road, too. Run up and down the hill near the Bell Tower, walk across the suspended bridge or wander through the beautiful botanical gardens. It’s a great spot to fish, too. The options are endless!
You don’t need to visit the playscape to have a blast at Homer. The beautiful lake provides a serene backdrop for your family outing. You can wander the perimeter of the lake itself or mosey off onto any of the trails, paved or unpaved. Another great fishing location, the water has multiple points that are ideal for casting in. Like other Champaign County Forest Preserve properties (above and below), this one is pretty spread out, so you may want to decide where you want to set out for your walk ahead of time. Or just drive around when you get there to make your choice.
One of the quieter and lesser known forest preserve properties, Riverbend makes a peaceful escape. In fact, you may only see one or two other families while you’re out there on your visit. This is another location that will have lots of unpaved paths so bring your infant carriers instead of strollers. Our kids love “Possibility Pier” which is an accessible-for-all picnic area and fishing spot.
Allerton Park is an admission-free public space that will feel like you’ve been transported into a secret garden oasis far, far away. Pack a picnic, wander the trails and gardens and don’t forget your camera for this outing. There’s good reason that weddings and special events happen often here, because it truly is just that beautiful.
Editor’s note: only certain trails and parking areas are open at Allerton Park during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check the website here for details.
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