7 family outdoor activities to enjoy this summer in IL

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ILLINOIS – Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and if you’re in the mood to get out of your way, there are plenty of adventures to be had across Lincoln Country. Hiking, camping, boating, sports, history, there is something for everyone. Here are some of Patch’s favorite family outdoor activities – be sure to leave us a review and let us know what yours are.

Train on Route 66

Formerly known as The Mother Road, the historic United States Route 66 spanned more than 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. Today it has been largely bypassed by the interstate freeway system, but several sections have been preserved as a National Scenic Highway, so you can still have fun at tons of kitsch stops between Chicago and East St. Louis.

Watch a baseball game

After a long hiatus, Wrigley and the guaranteed rate fields are once again open to fans, with some COVID-19 precautions still in place. Both stadiums will increase capacity to 60% starting May 28, and the Cubs are even offering free hot dogs and special seating for fully vaccinated fans.

While you’re in Chicago, why not visit Navy Pier? After being closed for eight months during the pandemic, the 50-acre pier with shops, theaters and rides jutting out into Lake Michigan plans to fully reopen for Memorial Day weekend.

Summer events also begin next week, with a neighborhood craft market on the South Quay, as well as dance performances, DJ concerts, and live music starting Saturday.

The pier will be open all summer, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Hike in Starved Rock State Park

Or maybe you want to get away from the crowds. Located southeast of Utica along the Illinois River in LaSalle County, the 2,630-acre Starved Rock State Park boasts miles of trails, as well as canyons formed by glaciers, waterfalls, fishing, camping and boating.

The park was named after Native American legend, according to the park’s website:

In the 1760s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa Tribe attended a meeting of the Tribal Council. At this Illinois and Pottawatomie council, a brave Illinois-Peoria stabbed Chief Pontiac. Revenge arose among the partisans of Pontiac. A great battle has begun. The Illinois, fearing death, took refuge on the great rock. After several days, the remaining Illinois starved to death, giving this historic park its name – Starved Rock.

In 2018, Starved Rock State Park was also voted the most beautiful place in Illinois by Condé Nast Traveler.

Take a river cruise

While you’re at Starved Rock State Park, why not book a cruise along the Illinois River? Lunches, storytelling tours, and canyon boat rides are available at Starved Rock Lodge.

Longer 2-, 3- and 5-day cruises are also available approximately an hour south, from Peoria to Starved Rock, Peoria to St. Louis, or Peoria to Hannibal, Missouri. There are also themed cruises from Peoria, including barbecues and blues, mystery murders, and beer, wine and whiskey tastings.

Of course, if you don’t want to drive that far, there are always ways to get on the water, even in big cities. Take an architectural tour along the Chicago River, rent a yacht for a private party, or explore Chicago’s concrete canyons by kayak.

Hit the beach

Chicago’s beaches are also open again, just in time for summer. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Park District said Wednesday that 22 of the city’s Lake Michigan beaches will reopen to the public Friday after being closed for more than a year.

Visit Cahokia

If you want to drive a bit, however, one of the state’s most interesting sights is just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri.

At the end of a rural road dotted with converted storefronts, laundromats, budget inns and dilapidated mini markets, stands the ancient town of Cahokia. The largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas north of Mexico, Cahokia was once an economic and cultural center, facilitating trade from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast and possibly beyond.

The Native American metropolis would have rivaled London, Paris or any city in Europe when it was built around the 13th century. Today, the site includes a reconstructed ring of wood called Woodhenge, which marks the solstices and equinoxes, and it is home to one of the largest earth pyramids in the world, Monk’s Mound.

RELATED: How to take better photos this summer in Illinois

Of course, Illinois is a great state, and we’re sure we’ve forgotten something. Let us know about your favorite outdoor activities in the comments.

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