Champaign, IL (WCIA) Midwest Travel Expert Marcia Frost plans “A Complete Vacation Near Peoria”.
What if I told you there was a place not far away where you could socially distance on 1,800 acres of adventures? It happens to be just on the westside of Peoria.
Wildlife Prairie Park has been named Peoria’s best kept secret and it’s easy to believe. This huge park opened in 1978 and doesn’t get the visitors (or recognition) it deserves. It’s especially relevant while we are all trying to have fun while staying safe.
Start at Wildlife Prairie Park is with the train, which will take you on an overview view of the highlights. It stops at the Pioneer area, where you’ll find a one room schoolhouse that was still in use until 1959, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners, and a butterfly habitat.
That is just the beginning of what you can do.
- Five lakes, many of which can be used for fishing and kayaking
- A Disk Golf Course
- Hiking trails that go from the simple to the 20-mile trek
- Mountain biking with enough hills to make you forget you are in Illinois
- The Gollywhopper 30-foot sliding board
- A Collection of 70 sculptures and pieces of art throughout the park
- Adventure Trek, a bus with open air windows for a behind the scenes tour
- Wildlife education and exploration
- Midwest indigenous animals in their native enclosures, including Longhorn bulls, black bear, owls, eagles, bison, elk, reptiles, and their own groundhog, Gerdie, who has a better record than Punxsutawney Phil.
Another place you want to stop is Hazel’s Overlook. The spot is filled with spectacular views and Native American folklore, dedicated to Hazel Rutherford, who with husband Bill was a major benefactor of the park.
Wildlife Prairie Park has multiple unique accommodations.
The Legacy Cabins, where I stayed, are brand new and face the bison pasture so you can watch the morning sunrise or barbecue in the evening from your patio. They are fully furnished and have large modern kitchens with full appliances, dishes, glasses, and utensils. There is a fireplace in living room as well as a large screen television with plenty of cable options for a break from the outdoors.
The Cottages on the Lake are converted grain bins available in singles and doubles (two connected). They don’t look very exciting from the outside, but have been remodeled inside with a kitchenette.
Cottages face the lake, where you can fish and kayak all you want. They also have grills and fire pits.
The Prairie Stable suites have the same patios as Cottages. They include two small bedrooms and a refrigerator.
There are picnic tables, places to clean fish, and a recreation center that’s also available to tent campers and Caboose guests.
The Cabooses are from actual trains and the kids love them. They are simple inside, but they make use of space with bunk beds and children’s imaginations.
Wildlife Prairie Park also has the Cabin on the Hill, with beautiful views and a playhouse for kids.
Prices start as low as $110 a night for accommodations and tent camping, which includes private spots, is only $30 a night.
You can also come and just spend the day. A family membership will get you in as much as you want during the year for $85. Special events, such as Halloween Scary Park, take place throughout the year.
The Wildlife Café is currently closed until it can meet Covid guidelines. They do have a good option, Mike’s Knot Just Ribs Food Truck. It’s parked there almost everyday (check Mike’s Facebook Page).
We took a selection back to our cabin for dinner. The ribs were excellent, as was pulled pork nachos, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and beans.
The park is set up for special needs with some trails and walkways wheelchair accessible. A Sculpture Garden, dedicated especially for blind children with to scale and feel animal sculptures. A Touch Cabin is for children with heart issues and was set up through St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
A spectacular banquet hall, with a rising window that leads to a deck filled with sunsets, is available for weddings and other occasions. Details are on the Wildlife Prairie Park website.
Gil’s Supper Club is close to the park. They have outside seating, and the inside tables are spread out and employees wearing masks. The menu is huge, as are the portions. We tried the friend chicken and fried shrimp. Take out is available.
Kickapoo Creek Winery is just a few miles away too. Tastings are being done safer with disposable cups. The tables spread out.
We both loved the Rose Blush, which was only slightly sweet, with strawberry and white cherry notes. The Sun Kiss is a good summer white and my friend Joan, who is more of a red drinker than me, liked the St. Croix with its cherry fruit and not a lot of sweetness.
For fruit wine, they do a great job with the Peche Blanc, full of peach, but not overly sweet, and Chocolate Raspberry, which actually tastes like real chocolate with a touch of off the vine raspberry.
We had a hard time choosing our lunch because everything sounded so good-and it was. We started with a delicious spinach artichoke dip. Joan had the Turkey Ruben and I chose the Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich Teriyaki marinated and grilled chicken w/ pineapple and sesame ginger mayo served on a Hawaiian roll.
We toured the property in a Polaris Ranger. It is one of the biggest wineries I’ve seen in the Midwest, with two lakes and a bridge that make for beautiful weddings and picnics (you can purchase a meal basket, with wine, to take out there).
After the ride, we shared the best Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake I’ve ever had and a very good Pecan Bourbon Pie.
On the way home, we had to make a stop at Trefzger’s Bakery, which has been around since 1861. This place is huge, and the selection includes every sweet treat you can think of, as well as some you hadn’t. (How about a Chocolate Covered Strawberry Coffee Cake? Or a Butterscotch Iced Pershing with Pecans?)
We left with treats to bring family of their famous Thumbprint cookies, quiche, a raspberry cheese Danish, brownies, and the best cinnamon bread I’ve ever had!
Do you have any specific questions about where to go or how to plan?
Follow Midwest Travel with Marcia Frost for more travel ideas.
Also, be sure to check out my travel stories at my Wine And Spirits Travel blog.