Brilliant Stories

Ways to Play in the Champaign-Urbana Area

December 7, 2023

The Champaign-Urbana area is brimming with attractions suitable for all ages, making it an ideal destination for families, solo travel, and everyone in between. From enriching educational experiences like the Engineering Open House to thrilling outdoor adventures, here's a comprehensive guide on ways to play (for all ages!) in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Get up Close to Wildlife

Whether you want to pet some goats, get kisses from reindeer, or marvel at exotic animals, we have a spot to bring out your inner child.

Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch

Visiting with the reindeer is a bucket list item when you’re in the area. In Rantoul, you’ll find a dozen reindeer who will give you a kiss in exchange for graham crackers. This magical spot is extra special leading up to the holidays as kids await a visit from Santa. In the fall, play in their 10-acre corn maze, always with an impressive and challenging design.

Aikman Wildlife Adventure

Camels, zebras, wildebeest, emus, snakes, birds, and tortoises are among the 90 species at Aikman Wildlife Adventure in Arcola. Curate your experience with up-close encounters, wagons, drive-thrus, and walking trails to see these exotic creatures. Stop in their Museum of Prehistoric Life for impressive models of dinosaurs and other extinct animals.

Prairie Farm

This seasonal petting zoo from the Champaign Park District is perfect for your young kids to meet farm animals such as cows, sheep, and pigs as they wander the farm backdrop. A variety of programs throughout the summer keeps kids engaged, Visit them during the holiday season for the holiday lights walk. 

Go Up in a Balloon

The Champaign County Balloon Festival, one of the newest events in town happening every September, lights up the sky with dozens of hot air balloons at Dodds Park in Champaign. Go on a tethered balloon ride, or watch the balloons fill our big skies.


Get Festive at the Parade of Lights

Holiday cheer is in the air in downtown Champaign each Thanksgiving weekend during the annual Parade of Lights. Explore holiday-themed events throughout the district before the parade, like sipping on hot cocoa at area cafes or hunting for elves at local boutiques as you start your holiday. Stake out a spot along the parade route to see the sparkling floats, holiday music from local bands, and finally, spotting Santa as he makes his way to light the tree at One Main Plaza.


All Things Radio-Controlled

With drone racing, an RC car dirt track, and an airfield, Eli Field in Monticello is your spot to play with all things RC. Events throughout the year, like Horizon Hobby’s RC Fest, give you opportunities to watch the pros or participate yourself.

Solve an Escape Room

The award-winning CU Adventures in Time and Space will astound you with their storytelling and scenery. With filmmaking as a background and artists on staff, this spot in Urbana has a variety of puzzles to solve, both in person and virtually. Their newest room, The Rise of Icarus, is their most technically-advanced challenge which will have you talking about it for days afterwards. In Champaign, brainstorm Escapes continues the challenge with a rotation of rooms that will make your group work together to make your way out.


Play with Tech

Get your hands on the latest tools and tech so you can create something special just for you. At the CU Community Fab Lab, visit during open hours and scheduled times to use their tools to do everything from building circuits to creating embroidery to 3-D printing your Minecraft world. The Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning TechHub, located in the Armory on the University of Illinois campus, invites you in to try emerging technology like virtual and augmented reality, 3D scanning and printing, 360º cameras and much more.


Engineering Open House

For the past 100 years, the engineering students at the University of Illinois have put on an impressive display of the latest engineering and technology feats to come out of the classroom. The Engineering Open House, happening every March (this year, it's April 5-6), is two full days of hands-on, engaging exhibits and demonstrations to inspire the kid in all of us while also showing how the field is working to solve present and future challenges. Don’t miss the popular Tesla Coil concert, an impressive display to witness.


Therapy for Adults

Take those pent-up feelings and work them out with a variety of activities. At the Axe Bar in downtown Champaign, work on your aim while you try to hit the bullseye. It’s harder than it looks! At SaltFork Paintball in St. Joseph, take it out on your fellow players during one of their open plays or at your own private party. Get your adrenaline rush with CU Skydiving with a tandem jump over our flat landscape.


Go for a Climb

One of the most colorful spaces in town, Urbana Boulders will give you as much or as little of a challenge as you can handle when you take to their climbing walls. Try their challenge of doing courses that match the color of your shirt or take the easiest path to get to the top. With their regular revolving courses, artistic interior, and collaborations with spots like Cloud Mountain Kombucha, you’ll have a fun day of play in this active space. 


Splash Your Day Away

Once the weather warms, it’s pool time! From big aquatic centers to community pools to beaches, we have ways to keep you cool. In Champaign, Sholem Aquatic Center makes the day fun with tube slides, water slides, and a lazy river. Their diving board lets adults and kids alike show off their cannonballs. Urbana’s Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center challenges you to make it to the top of the climbing wall, push against gravity in the vortex, go fast down the water slides, and gives toddlers a chance to play in their streambed. More slides await at Rantoul’s Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center where you can also challenge yourself to some sand volleyball. Community pools in Rantoul, Monticello, Tuscola, and Arthur are perfect for catching some sun and cooling off. Want to swim in the winter? No Problem! Urbana’s Indoor Aquatic Center allows you to swim laps or give kids a chance to swim in their zero-depth pool or zip down their indoor slide.


Want a quick cool down? Check out splash pads around the area at Douglass Park, Hessel Park in Champaign, Mahomet’s Barber Park, and the Rantoul Family Sports Complex.

And yes! We do have beaches among the cornfields. At Middle Fork River Forest Preserve, their newly renovated Willow Pond, adjacent to the campsites, is perfect for a little time in some sand. In Sullian, check out their wide beach along Lake Shelbyville, complete with grills and picnic tables to make a day of it.


Hit the Links

We’re a golf town, thanks to the always impressive Fighting Illini Men’s and Women’s golf teams. Pack the clubs and spend some time at our public golf courses, ready to welcome you for a day on the greens.


Atkins Golf Club

Home to the Big Ten Champion Fighting Illini Men’s and Women’s Golf teams, the Atkins Golf Club has a recently renovated course over 190 acres.

Brookhill Golf Course

Located in Rantoul, Brookhill features 18 holes with fantastic views, challenging even the most experienced golfers. 

Legends Golf Course

This course is a 9-hole Executive Course, alongside a driving range with bent grass, blue grass, and covered hitting bays.

Ironhorse Golf Course

Regardless of your handicap, Ironhorse offers a challenge for all with four sets of tees on this championship course.

University of Illinois Golf Course

Two 18-hole courses, the Orange & Blue, can be found on this championship course outside Willard Airport.

Willow Pond Golf Course

With a picturesque setting, this 18-hole course in Rantoul will test your accuracy with water hazards and sand traps.

Lake of the Woods Golf Course

Located in the scenic forest preserve, this course offers an 18-hole regulation course and a 9-hole, par 3 course with four sets of tees. Try Foot Golf, a hybrid between soccer and golf, on its 9-hole course.

Timberlake Golf Course

Just off Lake Shelbyville, you can tee off on their 9- or 18- hole courses.


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