We don’t call it a Champaign-Urbana bucket list; it’s a MUST DO LIST for kids who live in the Champaign-Urbana area
From the tiniest of toddlers to the most tenacious teens, Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding areas have plenty to offer in terms of fun for everyone. We offer here some of our top picks of ways to stay healthy, active, and on the move in every season.
Thank you to our friends at Christie Clinic for presenting this list of activities to enjoy with your children as they grow and develop. These activities represent a few of our favorites; we hope that you have the opportunity to enjoy all 16 if you are the parent of an infant, toddler, or big kid — or maybe are 16+ in a few years or so.
True to our mission, most of these events are free or low-cost.
Enjoy every minute.
Stroll or roll through Meadowbrook Park. Champaign-Urbana is full of amazing parks but Meadowbook Park is consistently named by our readers as the best of the best, a true favorite. Life in Champaign-Urbana is not complete without at least one visit to beautiful Meadowbrook Park located in southeast Urbana. Part of the Urbana Park District, Meadowbrook Park combines a great playground, wide open space, a great path, beautiful artwork and sculptures. If you feel like hauling bikes along, children and families alike will appreciate the paved pathways through gardens, wildflowers, and beautiful scenery. Check out our parent’s guide to Meadowbrook Park before you plan your trip.
Check out the locally grown food and food trucks at Urbana’s Market at the Square. A trip to the Urbana Farmers Market is definitely a treat for children and adults. From the delicious food trucks to the locally grown foods, beautiful accessories, lovely flowers, and even live music, there is something for everyone on Saturday morning. Runs from the first Saturday in May to the end of October.
Take a family bike ride on the Kickapoo Rail Trail. Load up the bikes and head out to the Kickapoo Rail Trail for your family’s next active adventure. A 6.7-mile path from Urbana to St. Joseph is open for families to hike, bike, or use other means of non-motorized transportation.
Take your kids creek stomping in nature at Lake of the Woods or Homer Lake. Dust off the rain boots and pull out the play clothes. The Champaign County Forest Preserve District offers ample opportunity for outdoor play and their creeks and wooded areas are no exception. If there is one thing that a year of social distancing has taught us, it is that there is beauty and serenity to the outdoor life. Children’s imaginations are free to run wild in the great outdoors and creative play can come alive. Toss a change of clothes in the car and don’t be afraid of the messy sensory play.
Run the Busey Kids Run or the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. Whether racing in the Busey Bank Kids Run or the Illinois Marathon 5k (or 10k, relay, or marathon if you are really adventurous), the Illinois Marathon weekend experience is one that you just can’t miss. A photo finish on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium is sure to be a memory not forgotten as your child ages. If running isn’t your family’s thing, make sure to take your children to the race route in order to cheer on the runners as they persevere through the 26.2-mile course around Champaign-Urbana. (Typically in April, the race in 2021 has been cancelled but expects to return in 2022.)
Take the entire family to Champaign Park District’s Taste of Champaign-Urbana. Whether you are young or old, the Taste of Champaign offers a little bit of something for everyone. Check out the fun activities in the kids’ zone, check out local artists work, or try sampling some of Champaign-Urbana’s finest bites. Make sure to come hungry as the experience does not disappoint. The Pie Run, held during the Taste of Champaign weekend, offers a unique family fitness opportunity to run a 5k while enjoying small sample sized bites of pie along the way. It comes complete with a whipped cream finish at the end of the race.
Visit at least one of our amazing local libraries. From engaging summer reading programs, students keep track of their progress with age appropriate reading goals and earn some pretty fantastic prizes throughout the process. Prizes are awarded at intervals to keep readers engaged and focused on the fun. It’s a great way to learn all about the programs and opportunities provided by the library. We’re especially fond of our friends at Champaign Public Library and Urbana Free Library.
Slip, slide, and dive your way into Champaign-Urbana pools. We are fortunate to have some top-notch swimming pools around Champaign-Urbana. Take the opportunity to jump off the diving board or climb the water wall at Crystal Lake Park Aquatic Center. Zoom down the water slides at Sholem Aquatic Center or glide on the lazy river. Rantoul’s Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center features a fast vertical drop slide that will leave your kids asking for just one more turn before you leave.
Pack a blanket, snacks, and bug repellent and enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks. If there is one thing that we know for certain, we love a good summer holiday with family and friends. There are amazing options for fireworks in our area: locally, you catch the fireworks in Champaign from Memorial Stadium on July 4. Cars line up around Champaign-Urbana’s streets in order to catch a glimpse of the beautiful night sky. We recommend at some point in your child’s life to make it a goal to take in the fireworks from campus in order to relish the experience. If you’ve never been to the fireworks in Arthur, they offer an impressive display as well. If you are looking for more Fourth of July fun, make sure to include the Champaign County Freedom Celebration Parade in your plans. We have many ideas for celebrating the Fourth of July in and around Champaign-Urbana.
Take a tubing trip down the local waterways. Who says there isn’t water fun to be had in Central Illinois? Load up the car, pack some snacks, sunscreen, and drinks, and head to Kickapoo Landing for an afternoon or day of fun. Rent your tubes (there’s even one for your cooler) and enjoy the shuttled ride to the start of the floating trip. With plenty of opportunity to hop off your float and enjoy a picnic, you can spend time in nature and water on this unique float trip within a short drive from Champaign-Urbana.
Have an Allerton Park experience. There’s a reason why it’s called one of the seven wonders of Illinois. There are so many ways to engage at Allerton, from taking tours at the mansion (whenever allowed again), taking a hike, checking out the peony garden (and other formal gardens), or bundling up for a new favorite — the Winter Walk, which goes through much of December and January.
Explore the fun at the University of Illinois Vet Med Open House. Learn more about careers and opportunities in veterinary medicine at this fun event that your children will want to visit year after year. From cow milking demonstrations to the wildlife clinic and horseshoeing expos, there are plenty of fun exhibits for the animal lover in your household. Typically held in early October.
Take in a show at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. If we had to pick only one thing that we missed the most from the pandemic, it was seeing live shows. We challenge you to find a campus performing arts center that can top Krannert Center. We’re big fans of the many free and low-cost programming offered by Krannert Center that helps local families access high quality, diverse artists in such a wide array of performance media. We look forward to jamming together once again soon.
Pick apples or pumpkins at Curtis Orchard. Did you know that your family can pick your own apples at Curtis Orchard? Sure, it’s fun to go to the orchard and experience all of the fun activities but we think that picking your own apples and hand selecting the “perfect one” is so much fun … not to mention, it’s also a healthy snack. While you are there, enjoy the goats, cats, and other fun activities. Make sure to grab an apple cider slushy or donut for your trip home.
Take a selfie with Alma Mater and cheer on the Illini at a game. With so many sporting opportunities, there is bound to be one that the whole family can agree upon. While on your way to the game, make sure to stop by the Alma Mater to grab a photo of your child (or the entire family). That may come in handy some day for a graduation down the road for some future Illini. Find a family friendly tailgate or hold one of your own and invite your friends and family for a game-day experience your family is sure to remember. Don’t forget your orange and blue, and GO ILLINI!
Go sledding at Colbert Park. There are so many opportunities for winter fun around Champaign-Urbana that we couldn’t pick just one thing. Kids need to experience them all. Snowfalls can be few and far between, but if and when there is a snowfall, make sure to take your kids sledding at Colbert Park. Insider tip: Make sure to order the snow gear before the first snowfall is expected so that you are prepared when the first flakes hit the ground. Make sure to attend the Champaign Center Partnership’s Parade of Lights and wave to Santa as he greets children and their families from his sleigh in downtown Champaign. It’s typically a chilly night, so make sure to bundle up tight and enjoy the parade. Afterwards, load up the kids, grab some hot cocoa, and check out some of the amazing holiday light displays around Champaign-Urbana, Mahomet, and other towns around central Illinois. We also think that taking a holiday goat selfie at Prairie Fruits Farm should be on that list of things to do with your family.