4 Top Activities for Summer
With warm weather upon us, it's time to explore the many safe summer activities available in the greater Champaign County area. Check out our top five recommendations for getting out safely this summer.
Gaze in Wonder at the Night Sky
As weather warms and we break out our camping gear, plan a trip to Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. This hidden gem, one of Champaign County’s five forest preserves, was recently named an International Dark Sky Park. The only Dark Sky Park in Illinois, Middle Fork offers wonderous views of the cosmos for stargazers. The 688-acre preserve features a campsite on the grounds so you can plan your night-time views, and during the day, you can hike and spot the ample wildlife in the area, or swim in the lake in Central Illinois’ only beach!
As the signs of winter faded, wildflowers poke through the ground, shades of purple and pink appear in the earliest blooms, and cherry blossoms and lilacs abound, ripe for the picking. Gardens in all corners of the greater Champaign County area lie in wait for your senses to discover. Allerton Park & Retreat Center, a majestic estate with fourteen formal gardens has over 100 ornamentals deliberately placed along the turns of every path so regardless of the time of year you visit, you’ll be accompanied by an abundance of color.
Peace and tranquility will wash over you as you find yourself in the adjacent gardens of the Japan House and the Arboretum. The Sen Cherry Tree Allee ushers in spring with the blooming of cherry blossoms leading up to the Japan House. Surrounding this cultural facility, you’ll find traditional Japanese gardens such as their Tea Garden, which is based on the historical gardens dating back to the 16th century, and the Dry Garden with rocks and sand that doesn’t fit with the Western world’s view of a garden. The Idea Garden showcases the latest in borders, ornamentals, and vegetables to inspire you on garden design.
At the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve, you’ll find eight acres of the park dedicated to the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden. A popular backdrop for photos, this garden boasts some of the most beautiful and diverse flora in Central Illinois. The red Japanese bridge pops against the pond filled with lily pads and the waterfall trickling behind it.
As Midwest Living's Greatest Midwest Food Town, our incredible locally-owned restaurants have pivoted to expand patios and outdoor seating so you can continue to taste the freshest ingredients available.
Head to downtown Champaign, the hub of our culinary scene, where tents adorn city streets, and beer gardens offer opportunities to sit outside, six feet apart. Downtown Urbana, campustown, and outlying communities offer gems like The Wheelhouse, Crane Alley and their iconic patio, and J.T. Walker's in Mahomet.
Get Out on a Bike
Head through any part of our community and you’re likely to see bicyclists out for a ride or commuting. The League of American Bicyclists ranks bicycle-friendly communities across the country, and we’re proud to have Urbana as Gold-Level, and Champaign as Silver-Level communities. How can you enjoy biking in our community? We make it easy!
Kickapoo Rail Trail—Catch the trailhead for the first 6.7 miles at Weaver Park in Urbana and head east to Saint Joseph, where you’ll end in the heart of the village. Along the way, you’ll pass acres of farmland, prairie, and wetland featuring one of the most diverse ecosystems in this part of the state.
Bike Paths—While our city streets are lined with dedicated bike lanes, our communities are filled with bike paths for an afternoon of riding or commuting. In Rantoul, enjoy nine miles of trail looping around the Village that will take you downtown, to the Bill Seeber Sports Complex and Willow Pond Golf Course. The Mahomet bike trail leads you through the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve, past Main Street, and to Barber Park with four complete miles of trail. Parks in and around Champaign and Urbana offer trails such as the Boulware Trail in Champaign connecting to Mattis Park, and trails around Meadowbrook Park in Urbana.
Don’t have a bike? Check out our bike share & rentals. Locally, you can access bikes and e-bikes (for a little extra help!) through VeoRide’s app to find the closest bike to you. Simply scan the QR code to unlock the bike and only pay for the length of time you use the bike. Hop on and off where it’s most convenient for you, and bikes will be picked up later! At Neutral Cycle on the University of Illinois campus, you can rent a variety of bikes by the day or week. Rent a tandem to tour the community with a partner and check out all the Outside of Ordinary spots around the greater Champaign County area.
Ready to plan your summer getaway?
Get your free copy of the greater Champaign County area Experience Guide!