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 numerous places where Champaign-Urbana families can get close to animals and we round them all up right here.
Here are some of the top places in the Champaign-Urbana area that will give you the opportunity to see a variety of creatures and critters up close.
Open Memorial Day through early August, this “farm” includes a variety of animals for kids to see and some they can touch. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, llamas, donkeys, 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. Bring closed-toe shoes and arrived between 3 and 5 p.m. for the petting zoo area. FREE.
It’s goats galore at Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, as well as a few chickens. Your kids will love the adorable four-legged kids at this working goat farm that’s known for its delicious goat cheese products, wines and other drinks and occasional farm-to-table dinners. Special events will give you the best chance to get up close to the animals, like Dote on the Does in the spring (pictured below) or Goaty Halloween, where goats in costume will roam around. Hours vary by the season, so check the 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).
The orchard, open July 20 through Christmas Eve, features goats, chickens and more. Enjoy the kittens during the warmer months. FREE. (Attractions, like pony rides during the fall, have a cost.)
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. Open only on weekends between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
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, typically each fall
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).
- Sundance Alpacas, Bement
Sundance Alpaca farm in Bement may have special events throughout the year open to the public. Follow it on Facebook for that info.
- Harden Ranch, Fairmount
Harden Bison Ranch has special events throughout the year open to the public. Follow it on Facebook for that info.
If you’ve got more time, we have a number of zoos within a few hours from Champaign-Urbana. Here are some of our favorites:
- Scovill Zoo in Decatur, FREE on Thursdays all summer
- Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington
- Peoria Zoo in Peoria
- Wildlife Prairie Park in Peoria
- Indianapolis Zoo
- Brookfield Zoo
- Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
- St. Louis Zoo, always FREE
- Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wis.
Some ideas for trips you can take with your family:
- Road Trip: Visiting Indianapolis as a Family
- Best Midwest Summer Road Trips for Champaign-Urbana Families
- 31+ Unique Summer Day Trips from Champaign-Urbana
- Midwest Indoor Waterparks Within a Few Hours of Champaign-Urbana
- Winter Road Trip: Visiting Ice Castles at Lake Geneva, Wis.
- Visiting the Arthur Amish Area with Kids
- Spend a Saturday in Tuscola
- Peaches Aplenty at Okaw Valley Orchard
- Visiting the Indoor Waterpark at Grand Bear Resort Near Starved Rock
- 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
- Head North for Family Fun: What To Do On Your Chicago Trip
- An Insider’s Guide to a Springfield Getaway
- Effingham, a Trip to the Crossroads
- Winter Break Day Trip: Family Fun in Peoria
- Travel Back in Time at Lincoln Log Cabin