Adventures in Nature

With so many opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, central Illinois is rapidly becoming an ecotourism destination. A wealth of natural beauty and wildlife await! 

Wildlife Prairie Park
Wildlife Prairie Park is home to more than 50 different species of animals native to Illinois, including bison, elk, wolves, black bears and cougars.

The Illinois River is the heart of our region, a migratory route for ducks and birds, and a unique platform for recreation and play. The surrounding river valley teems with biodiversity—including oak and hickory savannas, sand prairies, grasslands, marshes, hardwood forests and backwater lakes—and is home to more than 400 bird species and thousands of native plants. With dozens of conservation sites available for wildlife observation, fishing, camping, hiking and hunting, there are many ways to get outside… and get back to nature!

WETLANDS AND WILDLIFE
From more than 200 freshwater bodies at Banner Marsh to the scenic wetlands at Rice Lake, natural beauty abounds across Greater Peoria. To the north, the bottomlands, backwaters and bluffs of the Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area comprise more than 6,000 acres, while the Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area encompasses another 3,000 acres. South of Lincoln, the forest canopy of the Edward R. Madigan State Fish and Wildlife Area boasts Illinois’ largest sycamore tree and a large pheasant hatchery. 

Just outside of Havana, the Nature Conservancy leads the ecological renewal of the 7,100-acre Emiquon Preserve, known for its angler fishing, waterfowl hunting and bird watching opportunities. Visitors can learn about the area’s 12,000-year history at Dickson Mounds Museum—one of the nation’s premier onsite archaeological museums—while in nearby Canton, Giant Goose Ranch features some of the finest lakefront campsites and fishing lakes in the Midwest.

Across the river, the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge offers a diverse habitat of wetlands, swamps and woodlands, while Sand Ridge is Illinois’ largest state forest, with 7,200 acres of native oak-hickory and pine, sprawling fields and grasslands, and unique sand prairies.

JEWELS OF THE MIDWEST
Just outside of Peoria, Wildlife Prairie Park serves nearly 120,000 visitors annually in its mission of conservation, education and recreation. Some 50 native species—including wolves, bison, black bears, elk and cougars—can be observed from viewing areas along hiking trails or from the Prairie Zephyr Express, a two-mile scenic train loop. With unique lodging options like cabooses and teepees, as well as traditional cottages and cabins, it is also one of the area’s top sites for festivals, weddings and other special events.

Less than 10 miles away, Jubilee College State Park features 3,200 acres of rolling valleys, unique bedrock, sloping ravines and a meandering creek, with plenty of options for picnicking, hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, cross-country skiing, mountain biking and fishing.

Rock Island Trail State Park, a former railroad corridor turned recreational trail, offers a wealth of natural beauty for hikers and bicyclists. Spanning 26 miles from Alta to Toulon, it connects to the Peoria Park District’s 13-mile Rock Island Greenway, which cuts right through the City of Peoria, and across the river to the River Trail of Illinois for a total distance of 46 miles.

Stretching from Ottawa to Havana, the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway links more than 100 historic sites and natural destinations up and down the Illinois River. Byway travelers can experience nature up close by hiking its river bluff trails, biking its historic canal towpaths, throwing out a fishing line, or enjoying the serenity of wildlife habitats—all while immersed in the rich history and natural beauty of the Illinois River Valley.

Sankoty Lakes
Coming in 2020: Sankoty Lakes is a world-class resort in the heart of the American Midwest, situated on the immaculate waters of the Sankoty Aquifer in Spring Bay.

ALWAYS MORE TO EXPLORE…
2019 marked the 125th anniversary of the Peoria Park District—the oldest and largest park district in Illinois, encompassing nearly 60 square miles. Its value to the community can be found in the ease of access to its parks and recreational programs. Evidence shows that when people have access to parks, recreational programs and nature, their overall physical and psychological health improves. The Peoria Park District’s own community assessment survey found that 88 percent of local residents believe it is an important partner for community health. 

The Peoria Park District takes great pride in its ability to provide access to the great outdoors through its parks system and nature centers. Meanwhile its variety of events and facilities throughout the community keep residents and visitors engaged and active. 

Glen Oak Park is home to the Peoria Zoo, Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum and Luthy Botanical Garden. The District also hosts all kinds of sports, including softball, soccer, volleyball, tennis and more, while Owens Center offers ice skating year-round. Each year, hundreds of concerts, festivals and special events are featured on the Peoria RiverFront and in their parks, in addition to fun activities at Franciscan, Lakeview, Logan and Proctor recreation centers. And of course, the RiverPlex, its state-of-the-art, medically-based fitness center, is focused on healthy and active lifestyles.

With nearly 9,000 acres of land in public stewardship and more than 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, the Peoria Park District supports the Peoria area at levels commonly found in much larger cities. In fact, its services are comparable to those found in cities like San Diego, Tampa and Miami! Whatever your recreational pleasure, you’ll find there’s always more to explore at the Peoria Park District.

PAR FOR THE COURSE
An array of golf courses, both public and private, can be found across Greater Peoria, challenging beginners and pros alike. The Peoria Park District offers three courses, Kellogg, Newman and Madison, while the Golf Learning Center supports golfers of all levels. WeaverRidge is Peoria’s premier championship golf course, with bent grass tees and fairways, world-class practice facilities, and an elegant clubhouse and restaurant. Recognized by Zagat and Golfweek magazine as one of Illinois’ top public courses, its 18 holes are nestled amongst rolling hills, winding creeks and towering oaks.

Coyote Creek Golf Club in Bartonville features 18 holes and 6,700 yards of outdoor glory, while the Metamora Fields Golf Club, designed by renowned pro D.A. Weibring, offers 18 holes on a picturesque, rolling green. Other area options include Quail Meadows in Washington, Fon du Lac Golf Course in East Peoria, and Lick Creek Golf Course in Pekin.

Greater Peoria has also become a national mecca for disc golf, with more than a dozen courses around the region. Over the last decade, the Discraft Ledgestone Insurance Open has become one of the premier disc golf tournaments in the country—leading to the selection of Greater Peoria to host the 2019 Professional Disc Golf Association World Championships.

IVY Club
Located on the banks of the Illinois River, the IVY Club offers sailing, power boating, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and other water sports—plus a restaurant, marina and pool. Photo by David Vernon

CLUBS, FITNESS & INDOOR RECREATION
High atop Grand View Drive—“the world’s most beautiful drive,” as Teddy Roosevelt once remarked—the Country Club of Peoria is the area’s oldest private club, offering fine dining, swimming, golf and picturesque views. Nearby, Mt. Hawley Country Club features golf, tennis and a renovated water park, while the Pekin Country Club boasts an 18-hole championship golf course and practice facility.

Located on the banks of the Illinois River, the IVY Club offers sailing, power boating, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and other water sports—plus a restaurant, marina and pool. It hosts weekly sailboat races in the summer and offers sailing and boat safety classes for youth and adults.

Greater Peoria is also home to a wide range of fitness and wellness facilities, from EastSide Centre to the Clubs at River City to Landmark Recreation Center. A variety of specialty workouts can be found around the region, including yoga studios, CrossFit gyms and facilities for martial arts. 

From indoor climbing to axe throwing, Greater Peoria is full of unique things to do with friends and family. Gone Axe Throwing is dedicated to the growing sport, while Rocket Axe has set up outdoor target lanes at area bars. First Ascent Climbing & Fitness features world-class rock climbing terrain and state-of-the-art fitness equipment, while two Elevate Trampoline Park locations offer wall-to-wall trampolines, foam pits, parkour and more.

AROUND THE REGION
Across the river in East Peoria, the Fon du Lac Park District offers over 1,600 acres of parks, natural areas and trails, including two golf courses, a marina and campground, a quaint farm park, and recreational programs and activities for all ages. RiverFront Park affords striking views of the Peoria skyline, while the EastPort complex is home to a marina, luxury housing, and options for lodging, shopping and dining. The Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino is downstate Illinois’ finest gaming and entertainment destination, offering a wide selection of new slot and table games, as well as old favorites.

Nearby, the Morton Park District maintains a network of parks and trails, a fine arts pavilion and an indoor soccer facility, while the Washington Park District oversees a dozen parks and is a partner in Five Points Washington—a large multi-purpose facility with a fitness center, performing arts center and many other amenities.

The Pekin Park District is home to Dirksen and McNaughton parks, offering hiking and horseback riding, an archery range and more, as well as Mineral Springs Park, featuring athletic fields, an ice rink, water park, dog park, and a lagoon with fishing and paddleboats. Outstanding park districts in Havana, Canton, Lincoln, Chillicothe and beyond provide opportunities for play and recreation all over central Illinois. PP

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