Brilliant Stories

10 Experiences for your Summer Road Trip that Won’t Break the Bank

May 17, 2022

Keeping your summer road trips close to home this year? While we continue to fill our tank to get us around, missing out on summer experiences is still a must. Champaign County is bursting with budget-friendly activities so you don’t have to miss out on summer fun. Here are our top ten ideas for low or no-cost activities to enjoy this summer.


  1. Jam at Friday Night LiveFREE—Live music brings a community together, and that’s what Friday Night Live from 40 North does every summer. From June–August, Friday nights are filled with local musicians of all genres providing the soundtrack to our summer. Found on three street corners in downtown Champaign, this free weekly event creates an unbeatable atmosphere for those who gather at over 40 local restaurants and more than a dozen shops in the area. With a kid’s activity happening every week in addition to the music, it’s a family affair or a perfect date night out on the town.
  2. Sleep under the starts at the Dark Sky Park—FREE/LOW COST—The beauty of the Milky Way is a sight to behold. You can sleep under the stars and see them in their full glory at Illinois’ only International Dark Sky Park at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. Book a site in the campground and get ready for a view that is sure to make memories for years to come. The Champaign-Urbana Astronomy Society hosts regular sky watches at the park, and activities and events happen year-round to celebrate the preservation of our skies. While on site, hike the scenic trails or go for a swim in the lake for an idyllic outdoor adventure.
  3. Hit Up the MuseumsFREE—Wait, is that right? All museums in are community are free! Located on the University of Illinois campus, Krannert Art Museum, second only in size in Illinois to the Art Institute in Chicago, offers engaging exhibits and events that immerse you in art from rotating exhibits to permanent displays. Across campus, Spurlock Museum introduces you to world cultures with exhibits that tie together our shared humanity. Exhibits come alive through storytelling and events, a great spot to escape the summer heat. Get our fill of local history at the Champaign County History Museum, celebrating 50 years and recently named Best Small Museum by the Illinois Association of Museums. Or head to Lake of the Woods for a visit to the Museum of the Grand Prairie so you can learn about the history of the prairie including an exceptional exhibit highlighting Lincoln’s time in Champaign County while on the 9th Judicial Circuit.
  4. Escape to Allerton Park & Retreat CenterFREE/LOW COST—Get away for a few hours or a few days at this European-inspired estate in Monticello. Fourteen miles of hiking trails and fourteen formal gardens await you along the Sangamon River. Hiking trails will take you past sculpture that accentuate the landscape. The park hosts events throughout the year to enhance your visit, from garden tours to yoga to live music. Make it a weekend with an overnight in the Mansion, the Gate House, or the House in the Woods. Return in all seasons to see the changes in the gardens and surrounding forest.
  5. Go on a Train Ride at Monticello Railway MuseumLOW COST— It’s all aboard at the Monticello Railway Museum where historic trains can be found on the rails, ready to ride. Weekends bring train rides from the depot into downtown Monticello where you can visit the local shops and restaurants. Events happen throughout the year for special rides like the Donut Train, dinner on the train, Steam Days, and more. This spot is sure to bring out the kid in everyone.
  6. Live music at Rose Bowl TavernFREE/LOW COST—This honky tonk in downtown Urbana entertains us every day—yes, there is live music at this spot EVERY DAY. Over the summer months, they’ll move the bands outside under a tent so you can sip on your drink and enjoy music in the fresh air. Pick up some food from one of the dozens of restaurants in the area to make a night of it.
  7. Take an International Culinary CrawlLOW COST—With the second highest international population for a public university at the University of Illinois, our culinary scene represents cultures across the world. Maybe that’s why we were named Midwest Living’s Best Midwest Food Town. Spend your time in our community discovering new foods like Nshima and Oxtail at Stango Cuisine, the only Zambian restaurant in the United States, or head to Sticky Rice for, you guessed it, sticky rice amongst other Lao cuisine. Visit Maize Mexican Grill for tacos with Huitlacoche (corn mushrooms) featured in many of their dishes. A walk down Green St. through Campustown will introduce you to many Asian flavors from all over the continent. With many restaurants catering to students, you’ll get to enjoy these at budget-friendly prices.
  8. Make your Mark at the SipyardFREE/LOW COST—This seemingly small alley in downtown Urbana is full of life. This graffitied space is a mix of art from local artists, yet any patron can request a spray can and make their mark on the walls, tables, and shipping crates that fill the space. Live music and pop-up events in a shipping crate in a community graffitied beer garden? It’s as incredible as it sounds.
  9. Visit Amish CountryFREE/LOW COST—As you head south of Champaign County, you’ll begin to see horse and buggies on the streets heading into Illinois’ largest Amish population in the towns of Tuscola, Arcola, Arthur, and Sullivan. In visiting these communities, you’ll discover artisan woodworkers, quilters, and bakers in the shops, farms, restaurants, and workshops found in the countryside. Try homemade flavors at Yoder’s Kitchen, or head to Green Meadow Farm who will treat you to yogurt, milk, and cheese from their goat dairy and give you a buggy ride around the property. The art of woodworking can be found at dozens for shops around the area with a trail dedicated to highlighting 13 stops like Das Holz Haus, Schrock’s, and White Pines. While in the area, be respectful of the cultures and the traditions and enjoy the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life.
  10. Kayak in our Forest PreservesFREE/LOW COST—Break out the kayak for a day of paddling on the water. Area preserves offer scenic spots for catching waterfowl and enjoying all nature has to offer. Among the preserves with a kayak launch, you can visit Homer Lake, River Bend, and Lake of the Woods, which now offers boat rentals. Don’t have a kayak? Check out Kingfisher Kayaking in Mahomet for tours along the Sangamon River or Lunatic Kayak Rental in Ogden before heading over to Homer Lake.


Ready to plan your road trip? Download our Experience Guide to start planning and book your stay!


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