The top places to see animals up close in Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities
Where to go in the Champaign-Urbana area to find family friendly animal experiences
Whether they’re furry or feathered, scaly or slimy, animals are beloved by kids both small and big. Looking at — and maybe even feeding — some new animal friends makes for a great family outing. There are a number of places where Champaign-Urbana families can get close to animals and we round them all up right here for you.
Here are some of the top places in the Champaign-Urbana area that will give you and your child the opportunity to see a variety of creatures and critters up close and in person.
Open Memorial Day through early August, this “farm” includes a variety of animals for kids to see and some they can touch. Cows, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, llamas, donkeys, miniature horses, peacocks, rabbits, turtles, goats and turkeys are all featured at the farm. There’s also a nice koi pond to watch the fish swim. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon with little ones and a sweet family summer tradition. FREE.
This unique drive-through animal park in Arcola (at the former Rockome Gardens location) features zebras, camels, peacocks, llamas and more. Read one mom’s review. About 45 minutes from Champaign-Urbana. Admission rates vary by type of experience you want. Typically open five days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day, only open weekends between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
It’s goats galore at Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign (as well as a few chickens too.) Your kids will love the adorable four-legged kids at this working goat farm that’s known for its delicious goat cheese products, U-pick apple and peach orchards (late summer, depending on growing conditions), and farm to table dinners. Hours vary by the season, so check their website. FREE. (Special events may have a cost or suggested donation.)
The different types of snakes, box turtles and Eastern Screech Owls at this nature center are used to getting visitors as many people stop in during a typical year. FREE.
A snake, turtles and fish are the resident animals used to educate visitors at the center. FREE, but sponsoring the animals is appreciated to help support their ongoing care.
Open seasonally in the fall through Christmas, this unique family-owned attraction includes a herd of Alaskan reindeer you can get up close and personal with. FREE. (Reindeer tours and other activities have a cost).
Opening in July and varying hours/attractions through Christmas Eve, you can almost always see goats, chickens and more at the Orchard. Enjoy the kittens during the warmer months, too. FREE. (Attractions, like pony rides during the fall, have a cost.)
If the delicious free popcorn doesn’t lure you in, the fuzzy chicks and fluffy bunnies will do the trick. “Chick days” start in early spring.
Don’t worry, nobody will think you’re weird if you pull over and park to look at the cows and horses at the South Farms. If they do, just tell them it’s a local tradition. It’s located on St. Mary’s Road between Lincoln and Fourth Street.
Local Pet Stores
Whether you’re shopping for a guinea pig or just admiring the tropical fish, Sailfin, Pet Smart, and Pet Supplies Plus are local pet stores that will allow your child to see a variety of different animals up close. Beware though, when your child finds out these animals are actually for sale, they may want to bring one of them home.
Special Animal Events
U of I Vet Med Open House
This annual event attracting thousands of visitors is an amazing opportunity for animal-lovers of all ages to get a behind-the-scenes look at the only veterinary school in Illinois. See dozens of exhibits, demonstrations and large and small animals at the open house (be sure to check our calendar).
Prairieland Feeds has special events with many animals – in the spring with baby chicks and in the fall with its annual Pet Fair (be sure to check our calendar).
Sundance Alpacas, Bement
Sundance Alpaca farm in Bement may have special events throughout the year open to the public. Follow them on Facebook for that info.
If you’ve got more time, we have a number of zoos within a few short hours from Champaign-Urbana. Here are some of our favorites:
- Scovill Zoo in Decatur, FREE on Thursdays all summer
- Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington
- Wildlife Prairie Park in Peoria
- Indianapolis Zoo
- Brookfield Zoo
- Lincoln Park Zoo
- St. Louis Zoo, always FREE
- Henry Vilas Zoo
Some ideas for trips you can take with your family:
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- Visiting the Indoor Waterpark at Grand Bear Resort Near Starved Rock
- Midwest Indoor Waterparks Within a Few Hours of Champaign-Urbana
- Winter Road Trip: Visiting Ice Castles at Lake Geneva, Wis.
- How to Rent a Boat on Lake Shelbyville with your Family
- Road Trip: Visit St. Louis as a Family
- Visiting Imagination Grove Near Bloomington-Normal
- Road Trip: Visiting Wisconsin Dells
- Day Trip from Champaign-Urbana: Living Large in Casey
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- An Insider’s Guide to a Springfield Getaway
- A Whole New (Old) World: Exploring the Arthur Amish Area with Kids
- Effingham, a Trip to the Crossroads
- Winter Break Day Trip: Family Fun in Peoria
- Travel Back in Time at Lincoln Log Cabin