Summer is the season to eat outside, so pack a picnic and find a spot around Champaign-Urbana to visit with your family
Summer means picnic season. And while we’re sticking close to home in 2020, a planned picnic is a great “excursion” to have some budget-friendly fun nearby and shake up the routine.
We’ll give you a hand and show you the best picnic locations in and around Champaign-Urbana to make sure you’re taking advantage of summer and this timeless tradition.
Many times when we venture out to places, especially parks, we like to make a morning of it; it is helpful to have an activity to do beyond the playground and end with a picnic lunch. Find eight great places below to picnic in the Champaign-Urbana area and why we like them. Don’t be fooled, this list can still be fun even if you don’t have little ones (or don’t want to bring them along).
A 2020 summer highlight, check out one of the picnic parks located throughout Downtown Champaign for super convenient access to food on-the-go followed by dining outside.
This is a great place to explore new plants and flowers with your kids although be warned — if you have little ones, picking flowers can be very tempting. In addition, it makes for an amazing backdrop for photos. Bring a picnic lunch and a good camera and enjoy an opportunity to get pictures for your Christmas card! Picnic among the pines where it’s nice and shady.
Support one of our unique local restaurants in downtown Champaign and get takeout or bring your own basket. Check out the sculptures at West Side Park and the recently upgraded playground.
Beyond the playground and its awesome parent-child swing, there is a small pond filled with fish (people like to fish here) and inhabited by ducks and geese, along with a hill to get that last little bit of energy out. Run the kids around, then set up at a picnic table or take shelter under a pavilion to have your picnic.
The summer is an awesome time to explore the University of Illinois with your kids primarily because many of the students are gone and it’s, well, enjoyable. The quad is a great place to bring a picnic and play a little Frisbee. Explore the top 5 things to do on the quad, like taking a selfie with Alma Mater.
Helms Park/Scott Park
Both part of the Boneyard Creek area, these parks pair nicely for a picnic lunch. Kids can play on the playground in Scott Park on the south side of Springfield Avenue, and then when everyone gets hungry you can venture across Springfield (north) to Helms Park for a picnic amongst beautiful landscape, including a nice little waterfall.
A couple words of caution on Helms Park: Watch out for the rocks and water if you are visiting with little ones. And geese are known to hang around here, so there may be a bit of goose poop on the ground.
The spots to have a picnic at Lake of the Woods are endless. Visit the bell tower (which is also conveniently near the playground), enjoy a shaded spot in the little area off Tin Cup Road (by the boat launch and the bridge) or head over to the west side of the park and picnic among the Botanical Gardens. You can’t pick a bad spot at the lake — the map is here for your convenience.
This is another park that offers a fishing opportunity fairly close to the play structure. This park would be perfect for a family that has older kids who like to fish and ones young enough that still want to swing and play on equipment. While there are a lot of beautiful prairie flowers, grasses, etc., it has an area that is wide open and perfect for kite flying. Something for everyone!
A longer drive than the others, Allerton Park makes an incredible picnic spot. Pack that basket and blanket, and get ready to find somewhere beautiful to enjoy your packed meal. This would make a great budget-friendly date night, too. The Greenhouse Cafe serves up breakfast and lunch if you’d rather not pack your own (but they haven’t opened for 2020 as of the writing of this post).
From the newer playground structure (mulch-free) just outside Sholem Pool (closed for 2020), to the public tennis courts, to the hill for kids to hike up and down (this activity is likely not suitable for kids under age 5 without parental help due the steep incline), there’s a lot to do here within just a short walk. Remember you can’t bring food into Sholem Pool so pack your picnic to enjoy outside (there’s a bunch of picnic tables by the Leonhard Recreation Center).
What are some of your favorite picnic spots in CU that we missed? Email them in to firstname.lastname@example.org.