Summer Fun in the Fox Valley
Close to home and boasting plenty of things to do for all ages, the Fox Valley offers a great "staycation" option for a weekend getaway.
Taking a summer vacation doesn’t necessarily mean having to travel far from home, especially when there are so many great place to go and fun things to do in our own backyard.
The Fox Valley, in particular, offers a wide range of attractions — most of which are family-oriented, while others are more suited to couples or singles — for seeking a brief “staycation” respite or escape from the responsibilities of daily life.
Following is a brief guide to some of the best entertainment options the Fox Valley has to offer.
Bike the Fox River Trail
Cycling along the Fox River between Aurora and Algonquin is one of the prettier ways to spend a summer afternoon in the Fox Valley. The Fox River Trail is paved in its entirety, making cycling smooth, easy and safe for all ages. Scenic highlights include wonderfully flowing dams at many points along way. Pack a lunch and stop at one of several parks along the river, among the most popular of which is Fabyan Forest Preserve south of Geneva, which features a windmill, picnic shelters and an island in the middle of the river.
For those who like to bike to food, the many eateries along the trail include Harner’s in North Aurora, where you’ll find excellent breakfast fare and deliciously sinful donuts. Daddio’s is a good old-fashioned diner in downtown Batavia offering absolutely fantastic omelettes and pancakes. And in addition to bike rentals and service if needed, Mill Race Cyclery in Geneva has a side cafe serving freshly made sandwiches.
If you’re planning to tote a family and don’t have bikes or trailers, these can be rented at a number of bike shops, as well as tandems, which allow the kids to pedal along behind you. For smaller riders, the loop from Batavia up to Fabyan Park and back is an easy three miles. Keep an eye out for wildlife along the way including wood ducks lurking in the backwaters, herons and egrets in the shallows, and bald eagles soaring above the river.
Canoeing, Kayaking and Boating Options
Familiar landmarks along the shores of the Fox River take on interesting new beauty from the vantage point of a kayak or canoe.
Fortunately, canoeing and kayaking are simple and safe to do on the Fox. While it is important to pay attention to warning signage around dams and to be alert for the occasional swift moving current, there are plenty of calm, peaceful river zones between dams.
The folks at Ayers Landing in Wedron (near Yorkville) offer canoe and kayak rentals to paddle the 12 mile stretch from Yorkville down to Sheridan — one of the prettiest stretches of the Fox River. The downstream trip makes the going easier, and the scenery and tall bluffs are enough to impress paddlers young and old. On some stretches of that part of river, it’s hard to believe you’re even in Illinois.
Take special note that the City of Yorkville spent several years planning and constructing a canoe and kayak chute that funnels Fox River water into a fun bit of whitewater for those more experienced with boat and paddle. With a little training, this can be a natural thrill ride for teens who want a little outdoor action without mom or dad’s supervision.
Canoe and kayak rentals are available at Ayers Landing, 3494 E. 2089th Road in Wedron, 815 434-2233 and at Freeman’s Sports, 29 E. Hydraulic St. in Yorkville, 630 553-0515.
For an even more family-friendly way to get out on the river, rent a pedal boat at St. Charles Park District’s Pottawatomie Park, 8 North Ave. in St. Charles, for $17 an hour.
Or for those who would rather truly kick back and relax, travel aboard one of two old-fashioned, paddlewheel riverboats that offer daily, 50-minute public sightseeing cruises. Cost is $7.50 or $6 for children 15 and younger.
Raging Waves Water Park
When hot weather arrives, the place to go to cool off is the popular Raging Waves Water Park in Yorkville. New this year at the park is a snaking water slide ride called Wonambi. Riders perch on inner tubes to swing and sway through the many turns and drops that people of all ages can enjoy.
Admission price is $20 for the day for kids under four feet tall and $30 for those over four feet.
Other popular waterpark options are Splash Country in Aurora and Otter Cove Aquatic Park in St. Charles. Splash Country Waterpark features a six-lane, zero-depth pool with water play features for kids of all ages. Moms and dads can even go along for the ride on an 1100-ft “lazy river” that dumps buckets of water and coasts you through sprayers and bubbling rapids along the way.
The park also offers the requisite enclosed tube and flume attractions, plus an enclosed kid-friendly — under four foot tall — area featuring spray guns, waterfalls and other ways for kids to cool off and get goofy in the water.
Similarly, Otter Cove offers lap and diving pools, a splash park, body and tube slides, and a 600-ft-long lazy river.
On rainy days, Adventure Island in Elgin is an ideal alternative. This fully indoor water park has flumes, tubes and play features just like the outdoor water parks. In this case they’re all impressively located inside the city’s expansive recreation center next to Hemmens Auditorium.
Out-of-town residents only pay a dollar more than residents for daily admission, and Elgin is a fun place to go for dining and a walk along the riverfront when the water play is over for the day.
Blackberry Farm Living History Museum
A mix of pioneer history, fun activities and natural beauty converge at Blackberry Farm Living History Museum. Go back in time by riding a classic train that tours the grounds; climb onto hay wagons, tractors and carousels; or take a pony ride. All are included in the admission price, which is $8 for non-Aurora residents and $7 for children and seniors.
For kids or grandkids that tend to be rambunctious, herd them over to the Adventure playground where climbing decks, slides, ropes and catwalks will give you a chance to chill with a cool drink and watch them play. Then wander around to view historical demonstrations in actual and recreated blacksmith and pottery shops from the 1800s, where real artisans work.
There are also a number of hands-on exhibits and a variety of domesticated animals, including legacy farmyard critters.
Garfield Farm and Inn Museum
Take a trip to the country and the agricultural past of Illinois at Garfield Farm in LaFox, located west of Geneva. Take a guided nature walk around the property where a stream bubbles through the edge of a restored prairie. The property also offers a wonderful spot for a quiet picnic in the country.
The museum is open from June through September with drop-in tours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and Wednesdays. All other times are by appointment only, which can be made by calling 630 584-8485. Basic tour donation is $3 per adult and $2 per child.
Kane County Cougars
For more than 20 years, the Kane County Cougars have been a popular attraction in the western suburbs. Through a series of major league team affiliations and a string of ballplayers that have made marks in the big leagues, the Cougars have served as the Illinois version of Field of Dreams for generations of fans who love baseball or simply enjoy the vibe of the ballpark.
With the Cougars — as with most minor league teams — the level of fan engagement does not stop with baseball. A variety of theme-nights and family-friendly special events are scheduled throughout the season. On July 15, for example, it will be Frozen Night, featuring appearances by characters from the movie Frozen for photo ops. There will also be a Frozen pre-game costume parade and a Frozen-themed fireworks show.
Union Railway Museum
A visit to the Illinois Railway Museum offers a great day trip to the country as well as a trip back in time. Located in the tiny town of Union, population 580, west of Crystal Lake, the museum features the nation’s largest collection of trains lovingly preserved and restored for public viewing. The scale, size and design of the trains — from streamlined Zephyrs to chugging steam engines — make it easy to appreciate the ingenuity that sparked the growth of the railroad industry.
Hop aboard one of the various train rides or simply wander amidst one of the world’s great collections of freight, steam, electric and diesel trains from every era in American history.
Kane County Flea Market and Antiquing
For perspective on the Kane County Flea Market, there may be no better eyewitness to the changes over the years than Art Williams, a St. Charles resident and exhibitor since 1975. “Well, it’s not as big as it used to be when there were 1000 vendors out there. But there are still lots of great antiques and it’s only $5 to get in.”
The Flea Market is open the first weekend of the month in the summer and fall months.
And while you’re in St. Charles, venture downtown to check out the abundance of antique shops including Antique Market 1-III, Arbor Avenue Antiques, Storehouse on Cedar and the Shrivenham Antique Furniture company.
Or head a bit further south to Geneva, where you’ll find Antiques on State and the Geneva Antique Market, or to Batavia, home to Bee-Attitudes Antiques, Wilson Street Antiques, 715 Vintage and Pitts Antiques.
Casino Magic in Elgin and Aurora
For those who prefer their entertainment fast and glitzy and illuminated by artificial light, there are two popular casinos along the Fox River.
Located in downtown Aurora, Hollywood Casino offers a wide range of slot machines and table games including poker, craps and roulette. For those not interested in gambling, the casino also offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights and several dining options including Fairbanks Steak House and the Epic Buffet.
Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin boasts a similar array of gaming, dining and music options but also features a special concert series, which will includes appearances by Rick Springfield, Loverboy and the Romantics on Sunday, July 3 and 70s rock icon Lynyrd Skynyrd on Saturday, July 30.
Music Along the Fox River
One of the newly established music gems in the Fox Valley is the outdoor RiverEdge Park in Aurora. Though parking on a concert night can be a bit crazy, there are public and private lots strung along Route 25 north of the park. Ticket prices are reasonable and the beer supplied by Two Brothers is excellent in a range of options.
Upcoming performers include Air Supply and Blood Sweat & Tears on July 16; Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo with Melissa Etheridge on July 22; The Beach Boys and Temptations Aug. 5;
and Alan Jackson Aug. 6. For a full summer concert schedule, check out www.riveredgeaurora.com.
For those who prefer their music indoors, the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles hosts a regular stream of 70s to 90s-era performers, offering an up-close view of famous classic rock personalities like Ted Nugent, who will perform on July 28 and Aug. 3.
The Arcada also hosts an array of comedians and other performers. For a full listing of shows, visit www.arcadalive.com.
Some Special Places to Stay
The Hotel Baker is such a fixture in downtown St. Charles it can be easy to drive by without realizing how many people come from out of town to stay at the historic and elegantly restored hotel. Among the 53 beautiful guest rooms are several with spas, where you can bask in a hot tub with views of the river below. Popular for weddings as well as romantic stays, the hotel is likely one of the most photographed buildings in the Fox Valley.
Couples can relax and dine in at the Rox City Grill, venture out for dining at one of the many restaurants in downtown St. Charles, or take a stroll on the Riverwalk.
Another elegant lodging option is the luxurious Herrington Inn & Spa in Geneva, located in a beautiful old limestone structure that once housed a creamery. The inn’s on-site spa and well-appointed rooms with views of the glimmering Fox River are a great place to get away from the world. Fine dining is available on-site at Atwater’s restaurant and there are numerous other first-class culinary options within walking distance of the inn.
Those looking for accommodations especially suited to families will want to consider Pheasant Run Resort, which offers a special Kids Club on weekends. Offering a variety of room and package options, the resort also features an indoor/outdoor pool, an 18-hole golf course, and on-site dining and entertainment options. Among the latter is Zanies, a comedy club that attracts top comics from across the country, who perform on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Those who the prefer the distinctive lodging offered by B&Bs will want to check out The Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Dundee. A former estate built in 1907, the mansion boasts beautiful woodwork and leaded, stained glass windows. Each of its four classically appointed rooms are set up as private suites.
The Mansion B&B is located just a block from shopping and a variety of dining options. Enjoy a couple’s night at a unique micro brewery nearby, or indulge your dining tastes at restaurants featuring Italian, American or Mexican cuisine, all within easy walking distance.Edit Module