What to Do at Kickapoo State Recreation Area: Easy Access to Nature Right from I-74
Editor’s Note: According to a statement by the Illinois Department of Natural, effective May 29, all state parks, fish and wildlife areas and recreational areas, as well as select historic sites, will be open to the public! Historic sites which do not have outdoor acreage will remain closed until further notice.For additional information on the reopening of sites, be sure to check the IDNR website at https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/closures/Pages/ParksOpenDuringCoVID19.aspx.
Here in Central Illinois, we’re accustomed to hopping on I-74 to travel between North Prospect and Lincoln Avenue, and everywhere in between. Why not hop on the interstate and stay on an extra bit as you head east towards the Indiana State Line to reach Kickapoo State Recreation Area, just about 30 minutes outside of Champaign-Urbana. It’s easy to find and a whole “playground” of nature fun, too. And it’s pretty fun to say “Kickapoo” (at least we know your kids will think so).
Whether you love to fish, camp, hike or simply sit on a park bench and feel like you’re in another world, Kickapoo is an awesome (close!) getaway in Central Illinois. This Illinois Department of Natural Resources State Recreation Area is actually an old mining area that was restored to state park status decades ago. The lush grounds span 2,842 acres of woods and water. The park is basically a series of different ponds and trails with lots of wide open spaces in between.
Make a trip to Kickapoo State Recreation Area a short day trip, a full day or a complete camping experience. We’ll break the different things you can do at Kickapoo down for you so you can best plan the trip that will work best for your family. There is no admission fee just to get into the recreation area, but you will pay for camping and other activities that may be there.
Canoe, Kayak, Float, Scuba Dive and More
There’s lots to do at Kickapoo State Recreation Area, but our favorite things to do are things on the water. You can bring your own kayak or rent your own (seasonally) from the concessions area. The concession offers canoes, kayaks, tubes, and more. Float down the river in your boat/float of choice but be aware that if the river is too high or too low, you may not be able to participate in the activity you are hoping to. Always check the website for updates before making a trip out. If you can’t canoe down the Middle Fork Vermillion River, you may be able to kayak in one of the ponds or lakes. Kickapoo Adventures is on Facebook, too.
Finally, to scuba dive, you must show proper certification, but Kickapoo is one of the few state parks in Illinois that allow scuba diving in their crystal clear waters.
Illinois state fishing rules apply (so have your fishing license). You’re most likely to catch crappie here, but we know that Kickapoo is stocked with rainbow trout in the fall and winter, along with bluegill, catfish, bass and more swimming in the water.
Fishing is one of our favorite activities outdoors in Central Illinois. (Get our whole guide to fishing right here.) Kickapoo offers tons of options with their 22 bodies of water throughout the property. Of course, if you’re out on a boat, you can drop your line in the water.
But if you’re not boating as part of your day, you’ll find lots of lakeside docks to fish from, or can even walk right up to the water in many places and cast out into the lake.
Camping at Kickapoo State Recreation Area
There are 184 campsites with varying amenities spread over two campgrounds to choose from at Kickapoo, making it a popular spot to camp in Central Illinois. Two night (Fri/Sat) minimum stay is required during Memorial Day, Independence Day (when July 4th falls on a Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon) and Labor Day weekends. There is a fee increase during those holiday weekends. You can get the fee schedule and book online here.
Whether you camp in a tent, with an RV or have a large group you want to camp in the same general area, Kickapoo offers a space to fit your needs. Be aware that camp definitely fills up on holiday weekends, so book your campsites well in advance.
We find the campgrounds at Kickapoo to be convenient to areas to fish, hiking trails, shared grill areas and overall a pretty great camping experience. Kickapoo makes a great first camping adventure, thanks to how close it is and how many things there are to do there during your visit.
Hike, Bike or Swing
However you like to physically challenge yourself, Kickapoo has places for you to take a leisurely stroll or tackle the 7.6 mile “Out and Back” Running Trail, if you prefer, with plenty of options in between. Biking is encouraged on the 12 mile mountain biking trail at Kickapoo, or through other areas in the park.
Grab a Bite
While we haven’t visited it personally yet, we have heard of the Park Bistro near the outfittter Kickapoo Adventures (next to Clear Lake). Park Bistro has food, drink and other favorites on their menu. There’s sometimes entertainment during the summer months, too.
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