Drive over to the Botanical Gardens at Lake of the Woods and experience the festive, outdoor decor that awaits your family
So many picture opportunities and lots of room to keep social distance between your household and others, a visit to Lake of the Woods this holiday season is sure to be enjoyed
It’s 2020-inspired perfection, really – somewhere to go for a family “field trip” that isn’t too far away, is outdoors, FREE and full of holiday cheer. We’re so grateful the staff at Champaign County Forest Preserve District took the time to make these holiday decorations happen and we want to make sure you get the chance to go enjoy them this month.
If you’ve never visited the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden at Lake of the Woods, this December is the perfect time. The weather is still quite agreeable and if you bundle up, you’ll barely even be phased by the chill in the air. The gardens are just the right size, not too big and not too small. You can’t drive through them, but the walk from parking spots to the path through the gardens is very brief.
No admission, no timed entrances, just a peaceful stroll through the garden during a time of year when many of the flowers that typically bloom are lying dormant. Never fear, there are plenty of holiday decorations added to the mix to enjoy.
You’ll definitely want to wander over to the bridge and (hooray!) the waterfall is flowing even in December. This “photo stop” on our tour is a popular spot for Champaign County high school students for prom/homecoming/etc., not to mention the many family portraits that have been snapped here.
And this year, you can grab a beautiful holiday family photo right in front of the waterfall. The koi are still swimming around the pond and your kids will love seeing these giant, brightly colored fish from multiple vantage points.
Not bringing anyone outside your household unit due to COVID-19? See if you can borrow a tripod from a friend for this trip as the paths are mostly paved and pretty flat around the garden. You’ll be able to set your phone up on something and use the timer feature to snap that photo all on your own.
One of the photo stops that is getting the most attention since the decor was set out following Thanksgiving is “reindeer sleigh rides.” This wagon served as a fun, autumn-themed backdrop for the previous few months and the holiday theme does not disappoint.
In fact, we may love it even more than the one that was out during fall. Get your kids to cozy up on the bench together, find the right angle (since the sunlight is a little tricky in this particular spot in the afternoons) and snap away.
Since this part of the garden seems to be a little darker in the later half of the day, we like to take the photos we snap and brighten them up a bit right on our phone so we can see those smiling faces better. Just a helpful note of advice.
Have you seen reindeer assembled from real logs yet in 2020? We’ve seen a few on people’s lawns but this display right near the entrance of the garden will make you feel like you’re on a real tree farm.
Sit on the logs and you’ll be able to capture the reindeer in the background or let your kids walk right up to the reindeer, as long as they’re careful not to squish any greenery below their feet.
Look up as you wander the paths through the garden, as many sections have colored ornaments (beyond red and green) hanging from their bare branches. Our kids loved looking for unique ornaments, like giant stars, as they explored the gardens.
And while Museum of the Grand Prairie is closed right now due to Tier 3 Mitigations in Illinois, Lake of the Woods is OPEN for all kinds of outdoor recreation. From this point near the botanical gardens, you can wander over to the famous covered bridge.
You can drive across Route 47 and park in the Buffalo Trace parking lot to go explore the trails over there (which are pretty breathtaking this time of year, and well, any time of year).
And if it’s been a while since your children played on a playground, there are standalone swing sets all over Lake of the Woods, including one right outside the Botanical Gardens, that are typically empty (especially in winter), so it might be a fun detour to go swing next to your child and laugh together for a few minutes while you’re out at Lake of the Woods.
There are about a hundred ways to make this “field trip” a special one that your kids will love, and you may even find yourself returning to visit again before the month is up!
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