Take a road trip to Bloomington-Normal and do some hiking, creek stomping, mud-pie-making and more at Imagination Grove
Located outside the Sugar Grove Nature Center at Funks Grove, Imagination Grove is beckoning your family to visit
If you want to get your kids outside (and don’t mind some dirt and mud), Imagination Grove is calling your name. This outdoor natural playscape was built with accessibility, convenience, and hands-on considerations that encourage your kids to get dirty and have fun, while also preserving the natural area surrounding the playscape. Read on to find out why we think a visit to Imagination Grove is reason all by itself to drive over near Bloomington-Normal.
Imagination Grove is the natural playscape located outside of the Sugar Grove Nature Center (closed indefinitely due to COVID-19). Sugar Grove Nature Center is located in Historic Funks Grove, a wooded grove along Route 66 known for its history with maple syrup. On our visit we stuck to exploring Imagination Grove, knowing we’d have to return to see more of the natural areas to explore surrounding it.
You’re going to want to enter Sugar Grove Nature Center (in McLean) into your navigation to get to the area. It takes just under an hour from Champaign-Urbana. Take I-74 west to Bloomington-Normal and then switch to I-55 south for a short few miles. Once you leave the interstate, you’ll have a few more miles to drive along Route 66 before you arrive. Park near Sugar Grove Nature Center, as this is also where you will find bathrooms (no running water, so bring that hand sanitizer) while you’re visiting.
Finding Imagination Grove
From the parking lot, you’ll see a few different directions you can go for a hike. If you’re feeling like a good short walk in the woods, you can follow the signs for the yellow trail and you will take a 0.8-mile hike that lands you at Imagination Grove. For the rest of us that want to take the shortest path possible to get to the destination, look for the covered (walking) bridge that says Imagination Grove. You can see it just beyond the parking lot. This is the shortest path to get there.
A Natural Playscape Awaits
As soon as you cross the bridge, get ready for your kids to run off until you drag them back to the car hours from now. Creek stomping is an immediate draw here, so if you’re going to let your kids get wet, make sure you have the right shoes and change of clothes for that activity.
This is a very toddler-friendly excursion with one exception — the ladders. Our elementary-age kids were scurrying up and down them when we first arrived and admittedly, they made me a little nervous. Again, decide for yourself if you will let your kids try these themselves. But if you do, they’ll be begging you to take their picture at the top as it feels like they’ve climbed Mount Everest.
The “clubhouse” is stocked with pots, pans and other supplies for perfect mud-pie-making fun. This is the part where you get to sit back and relax as your kids play with mud, sand and other perfectly dirty parts of the playscape. There are benches and tree stumps throughout and if you have a stroller with you, you’ll still be able to push it around this area easily. It is located next to the creek, so our kids were busy getting water and lugging it back to the clubhouse for their creations.
Again, creek stomping is a real draw here. This playscape was built along the creek to encourage creek stomping and we even saw some adults on a hike stepping into the creek themselves to enjoy. During the springtime, you can find many crayfish here and we expect frogs and other creatures to be here later in the summer, too. Out of all the places we’ve gone creek stomping, this one surely lands in the top three and might even be our family’s favorite yet.
Trails are well maintained here and you can pick a nice short hike from the playscape if you wish. Hopping on the yellow trail here will take you on that loop back towards the parking lot (the long way, that is) and will have you wandering past wildflowers and underneath many old trees.
Imagination Grove gets two big thumbs up and we think it is worth the drive from Champaign-Urbana. Pack a picnic (and a change of clothes) and head over there for a fun and easy day trip idea!
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