It doesn’t matter if you own a pair of hiking shoes, can’t stand bugs, or spend every waking minute soaking up the fresh air and sunshine. No matter what time of year, find outdoor adventures with your family around Champaign-Urbana
Families with kids of all ages can get outside and have fun in the great outdoors all year long, from hiking to kayaking to sledding and more
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. So hike, fish, bike, camp, sled and walk your way through the outdoors all year long!
Walk, Bike or Hike
Start with the basics when you head outside and 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.
When you’re biking as a family, you probably have two goals for your journey: somewhere out of the way of major traffic, and somewhere 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 to get an in-depth look at its features.
When the weather finally breaks and we just HAVE TO get outside in the spring … 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.
We’ll give you a hand and show you the best picnic locations in and around Champaign-Urbana to make sure you can enjoy a 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.
Fish, Stomp, Canoe and Camp
Fishing might 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 can fish about nine months a year in Champaign-Urbana!
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.
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 in an instant.
Fall is our favorite season to go camping; bonfires, warm sweatshirts and hot dogs. So make it a night or two and dodge the summer heat and crazy bugs by camping during the fall. Of course you can go camping year round, so choose the location that sounds most ideal for you.
Don’t scoff at “boat rental” as being 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. Most options are seasonal and are available between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though you may find some boat rentals that start earlier and end later in the season.
Did you know that autumn is one of the best seasons for stargazers? It’s also more family friendly as the night skies get darker earlier. For optimal star gazing away from city lights, head to the Dark Park at Middle Fork Forest Preserve.
Winter Fun Outdoors
Kids big and small will love the thrill of careening down a hill on a piece of plastic, holding on for dear life. Just try to make it down the hill without smiling — we double-dog dare you. And when you’re done, you can go home and have cookies and hot chocolate. There are plenty of options in the Champaign-Urbana area for this classic winter pastime.
In addition to our favorite ice rink at the University of Illinois, we point you toward all of the ice rinks a short drive from Champaign-Urbana and tell you where you can find a true outdoor ice rink.
Anywhere you could go for a walk or a hike proves to be a great place to try out snowshoeing. No hills required, no road-tripping necessary — unless you decide to seek out state parks or forest preserves.
No joke, there are places within a day’s drive that will get your little ones on some skis. It might not be serious powder like our friends out west have, but it works.
Find a collection of all of our visits to Champaign County Forest Preserve locations here.
Want to break it down by destination? Here are our top spots for outdoor recreation near Champaign-Urbana:
- Dark Sky and More: Visiting the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve with Your Family
- Everything You Need to Know About Visiting River Bend Forest Preserve in Mahomet
- Cool Off at the Homer Lake Natural Playscape
- Visiting Clinton Lake With Your Family
- Visiting Imagination Grove Near Bloomington-Normal
- Meet Me Halfway: Kankakee River State Park
- Hidden Treasure in Central Illinois: Weldon Springs State Park
- The Perfect Family Hike: Explore the Sangamon River Forest Preserve near Fisher
- Best Kept Secret: Buffalo Trace Prairie in Mahomet
- Getaway for a Day: Matthiessen State Park
- Best Kept Secret: Forest Glen Preserve
- Hiking the Sangamon River Corridor Reserve in Monticello with your Family
- What to Do at Kickapoo State Recreation Area
- What To Do At Turkey Run State Park With Your Family
- Everything You Need To Know about Visiting Homer Lake Forest Preserve with Your Family
- What To Do At Moraine View State Recreation Area With Your Family
- Visiting Lake of the Woods in Mahomet with Children
- 8 Reasons You’ll Love Visiting Allerton Park with Your Family
- Parent’s Guide to Busey Woods in Urbana