How to enjoy the great outdoors during a messy, muddy and delightfully pleasant Champaign-Urbana area spring
Grab your galoshes and get ready to enjoy everything outdoors with your kids
Maybe your family has made it a year-round, every-year tradition to get outside no matter what, or maybe you have a newfound love for the great outdoors as we embark on the warm season of 2021. As we continue to navigate what is open and what is closed, what we need to reserve and when we can be spontaneous, we can count on this – heading outdoors is wide OPEN. Hooray!
Champaign-Urbana is filled with and surrounded by picturesque nature escapes. Spending time together in nature as a family is great for mental and physical health, and we think you will experience the benefits first hand rather quickly as you head out with your family this spring.
Editor’s note: During COVID-19, some trails, facilities, or entire parks may be closed. Be aware of any safety protocols or group size limitations currently in effect for the area you will be visiting. Before you go, please check the website or social media for the specific park you plan to visit – and remember to pack your masks.
Walk, Bike or Hike
Start with the basics when you take a walk as a family. We round up all our favorite walking paths in Champaign and Urbana and give you the distance of the path in most cases. Enjoy some fresh air as a family as the flowers come up.
When you’re biking as a family, you probably have two goals for your journey: finding someplace out of the way of major traffic, and someplace that’s not too strenuous for little peddlers. We take you to some of our favorite riding spots in the area, including the Kickapoo Rail Trail.
Different than a walk, hikes will take you into the woods and off the beaten path, so to speak (though near Champaign-Urbana, we have a lot of beautifully paved paths you can hike). Nonetheless, find out how and where to start hiking near town with a handy legend showing you the varying levels of difficulty you’ll encounter as you tackle the trails with your kids.
Play at a Park
Champaign-Urbana has so many wonderful playgrounds! We provide a roundup of the ones we love to visit. Click on the details of each park we share to get an in-depth look at that park’s features.
When the weather finally breaks and we just HAVE TO get outside … but everything is muddy and mucky and we just aren’t in the mood to trudge through it all … find a mulch-free playground! Rubberized surfacing makes play safe (and mess free) and you’ll find it on many of our playgrounds in Champaign-Urbana.
Because you may want to carefully plan your park outings around locations where your toddler won’t make a mad dash for playground equipment during a pandemic, we’ve got the scoop on what parks you can visit that do NOT have playground equipment — or parks where you can stay far away from playground equipment.
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 warm weather and this timeless tradition. Whether you pack your own or pick up a local delight on your way to your picnic, we know that picnics make for the “best day ever” when it comes to fun on a budget with kids.
Fish, Stomp, Canoe and Camp – Outdoorsy Fun for Nature-Loving Families
Sometimes heading outdoors is simply to enjoy and experience nature. We give you the scoop on the closest places to C-U that have you feeling like you’ve retreated to a nature oasis, any time of year.
Did you know, we have Illinois’ only official “dark park” right in Champaign County? For optimal star gazing away from city lights, head to the Dark Park at Middle Fork Forest Preserve.
Fishing may sound intimidating but it’s a fairly easy family activity to pick up and start to do together. Spending a little to get a fishing rod and reel and making sure you have an applicable fishing license pays off rather quickly when you see how much fun you can have casting into the water at convenient locations close to C-U.
You didn’t know this was a thing? Creek stomping is an absolute blast and requires absolutely nothing to “do” other than a parent’s permission to get muddy, wet and dirty. We round up where you can take your kids to stomp around and have a blast in local creeks.
When you decide to not just head outside for the day but for a night or two, making it an overnight adventure. There are a number of spots to camp as a family throughout Central Illinois, so choose the location that sounds most ideal for you.
Don’t scoff at “boat rental” as out of your budget. Renting a canoe or kayak for a few hours is a special summer outing you can plan with your older kids and teens. We’ve got options within an hour’s drive of Champaign-Urbana that will make it possible.
A Closer Look at Some of our Favorite Outdoor Spots
- Busey Woods
- Allerton Park
- Lake of the Woods
- Homer Lake
- River Bend Forest Preserve
- Sangamon River Forest Preserve (Fisher)
- Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
- Sangamon River Corridor Reserve (Monticello)
- Moraine View State Park
- Clinton Lake
- Kickapoo State Park
- Forest Glen
- Matthiessen State Park
- Turkey Run State Park
- Weldon Springs State Park
- Kankakee River State Park