15 Best Things to Do in Joliet, IL

Joliet, IL
Nejdet Duzen / shutterstock.com

Joliet, Illinois, is one diverse community full of surprises and hidden wonders.

It’s part of the bustling Chicago Metropolitan Area, incorporating the urban glitz and glamour into its more populated suburbs.

So you’ll find a thriving performance and visual art scene in the city, with historic theaters and colorful galleries in key spots.

There is also plenty of dining, indoor recreation, and shopping options.

But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any nature-related attractions in the city.

In fact, there are plenty of green spaces, parks, and bodies of water where adventurers and nature lovers are welcome.

So if you’re looking for a place that has something for every preference, this is it!

Here are the 15 best things to do in Joliet, IL:

Catch a Show at Rialto Square Theatre

Front View of Rialto Square Theatre
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The most prominent performance art venue in the city is the regal Rialto Square Theatre, located downtown.

It opened its doors in 1926 and has since undergone many renovations to address the ever-changing needs of every era.

Upon arrival, you’d notice the magnificent Neo-Baroque facade, which earned the theater a place under the "150 great places in Illinois" by the American Institute of Architects.

It’s also been called the “Jewel of Joliet” and is considered one of the most beautiful theaters in the world.

Sign in Rialto Square Theatre
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

And it’s no wonder, as the intricate design of the interior exudes utter elegance and sophistication.

You can catch intriguing theater plays, live music performances, comedy skits, and dance recitals.

Many famous personalities have graced the theater’s stage, so if you’re lucky, you might see a famous actor during your visit.

Check out their calendar and book your ticket!

Front view of Rialto Square Theatre
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

Visit the Grim Joliet Correctional Center

Traveling to other places is one of the ultimate expressions of freedom, so visiting a prison seems like an ironic twist of fate for those who come to Joliet.

But the Joliet Correctional Center—colloquially known as Old Joliet Prison— is not an ordinary penitentiary, as it is often regarded as a famous landmark of the city.

It’s a historic prison that opened in 1858 before finally closing in 2002 due to budgetary cuts.

Because of its intimidating facade and lack of occupants, the complex became a favorite shooting location for many famous films and TV series.

These include the critically acclaimed show “Prison Break” and the 1980s musical “The Blues Brothers.”

The fame that these shows brought to the prison prompted the local government to open it to tours in 2018.

Today, you can join groups and explore the facility’s interiors—a unique and fascinating experience.

You can choose from a wide variety of tours offered, from haunted trips to photography sessions.

Learn the City’s Past at Joliet Area Historical Museum

If you want to learn more about the city’s history and how it became the bustling community it is today, stop by at Joliet Area Historical Museum.

The building itself is an urban space that once housed a church, so you’d see stained-glass windows and other indicators of a religious past.

But the museum itself is completely secular, with collections and exhibits that showcase the history of the city and Will County.

You’ll find artifacts, photographs, and documents that detail the culture of past societies and how various industries rose and fell in Joliet.

Some of these are interactive, allowing for a hands-on experience that kids and the kids at heart will enjoy.

So whether you’re at the Route 66 Experience or War Heroes Gallery, you’ll have a great time exploring all the displays.

Test Your Luck at Hollywood Casino Joliet

The raucous Hollywood Casino Joliet is a glittering landmark, one of the only two casinos in town.

So if you want to test your luck or experience the thrill of gambling, add this destination to your itinerary.

It’s hard to miss, especially at night when its neon lights create a festive show visible from blocks away.

Inside, you’ll find more than a thousand slot machines and video poker games.

And you can also visit the gaming tables where you can play blackjack and poker, amongst other casino staples.

If you’re looking for a place to stay while in Joliet, the casino has a spacious hotel.

It’s a great base for your adventures in the city, as you’d have access to the dining and entertainment facilities of the establishment.

Tour the Interiors of Jacob Henry Mansion Estate

Front View of  Jacob Henry Mansion Estate
Smallbones, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hailed as one of the most beautiful Victorian mansions in the region, the Jacob Henry Mansion Estate is a prominent landmark in the city.

It has been around since 1837, becoming a significant structure over the years until it was eventually listed under the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the estate is used as a venue for wedding ceremonies, private events, and public celebrations.

Front View of  Jacob Henry Mansion Estate
Smallbones, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Upon arrival, you’d be awestruck by the regal architecture of the home and its landscaped grounds.

The inside is also a sight to behold, with polished black oak and walnut on most rooms and furnishing.

You’re welcome to tour the halls and rooms to see the sophisticated items and furniture.

If you’re lucky, you can join the dinner theater event with home-cooked meals and entertaining musical production.

Trek the Trails of Rock Run Preserve

The gorgeous Rock Run Preserve is an expansive green space located in the geographic center of Joliet, so accessing it wouldn’t be a problem.

This 320-acre attraction contains an array of habitats that make it a prime location for exploration and wildlife encounters.

You’ll find wetland areas, riparian habitats, prairies, and large swaths of forests.

Many trails in the park lead to these unique sections, and most of them start at the Black Road Access.

This is one of the few sections of the preserve that’s been developed.

So you’ll find picnic shelters, parking, and a few other modern amenities.

As you explore the preserve’s interiors, watch out for owls, waterfowl, river otters, and other small mammals scurrying about.

Commune with Nature at Pilcher Park

View from Pilcher Park
Janelle Lugge / Shutterstock.com

Pilcher Park is a deceptively large green space with a thick forest and Hickory Creek as its main geographic features.

While most people associate the attraction to a small, developed section with modern amenities, the park itself covers 640-acres of land.

The large swath of woodland is often used as a jogging and biking route, and winter allows for cross-country skiing.

View from Pilcher Park
Janelle Lugge / Shutterstock.com

There are two other attractions within the location that you shouldn’t miss: Pilcher Park Nature Center and Bird Haven Greenhouse and Conservatory.

The former serves as a base for visitors where they can learn about the park and see the maps of the trails.

On the other hand, Bird Haven Greenhouse and Conservatory serves as a home for native Illinois flora.

Some of their flowers have won awards, so visiting the greenhouse is well worth the trip.

Cruise the Waters of DuPage River

A swan in DuPage River
Mike Truchon / Shutterstock.com

Two main waterways pass through Joliet, and one of these is the meandering DuPage River.

It starts on the northwestern reaches of the Chicago Metropolitan Area, flowing south before becoming a tributary to Des Plaines River, the other waterway in Joliet.

Within its 28-mile route, there are many attractions to see and activities to do.

You’re welcome to go kayaking or canoeing to reach places like Hammel Woods, a wetland preserve with flourishing wildlife.

While this forest is in Shorewood, it’s near the borders of Joliet, so traveling wouldn’t be a hassle.

There are also secluded sections that are sought-after for the fall scenery.

Once the foliage changes and the surface runs clear, you’d be treated to magical landscapes perfect for photos.

If you’re up for fishing, join a charter or rent a small boat and head to the deeper waters of the river.

Hear the Engines Roar at Chicagoland Speedway

People and cars at Chicagoland Speedway
Grindstone Media Group / Shutterstock.com

The thrill of watching race cars zooming in a blur never gets old, so if you want to witness this in person, stop by at Chicagoland Speedway.

This major racetrack is one of the biggest in the region, with a 1.5-mile route and 47,000 seating capacity.

Being a major attraction in Illinois, the speedway hosts high-profile events like NASCAR championship cups.

Racing cars at Chicagoland Speedway
Grindstone Media Group / Shutterstock.com

So if you want to see top professionals compete with roaring cars, check out their calendar today.

Nextdoor is Route 66 Raceway, a smaller track that hosts a wider variety of vehicles, from motorcycles to pro-stock cars.

It’s also the place where you can get behind the wheels of a NASCAR vehicle and experience racing yourself.

Racing cars at Chicagoland Speedway
Grindstone Media Group / Shutterstock.com

Spend the Afternoon at Haunted Trails Family Entertainment Center

Get a hair-raising but fun experience with your loved ones at Haunted Trails Family Entertainment Center.

This facility is often visited by friends or families looking for memorable bonding moments that involve minimal outdoor exposure.

You’ll find many attractions in store at the entertainment center, so there will be something for all ages and preferences.

The most prominent among these is the Go-Kart course, featuring twists, turns, and curves.

If you want to test your teamwork and accuracy skills, the center has a laser tag arena with cool sets and the latest equipment.

Don’t forget to visit the mini-golf course if you want to ace a hole-in-one!

Then there are the Monsters’ Tomb Game Rooms, filled with games of all kinds that will have you playing for hours!

Play Sports at Nowell Park

Since it’s located near the downtown area and next to major highways, Nowell Park stands as Joliet's most accessible green space.

So if you’re looking for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, head over to this small destination.

The 20-acre park has plenty of attractions and modern amenities for a fun stay.

If you’re more into sports, check out the basketball, volleyball, and pickleball courts as well as the baseball field.

There are also fitness trails for walking, jogging, or running.

For those with kids, you can let them play on the safe and well-maintained playground.

You’re also welcome to visit the Nowell Park Recreation Center, a hotspot for various indoor activities like arts, dance lessons, and seasonal events.

See the Dams and Bridges of Des Plaines River

Scenic view of Des Plaines River
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

The mighty Des Plaines River is much bigger than the aforementioned DuPage River, so more recreational opportunities are available.

Spanning 133 miles in length, the river begins in Southern Wisconsin before it becomes a part of the Illinois Waterway.

Today, the segment on Juliet has been heavily developed, with many damming projects near the city center.

There are other structures on the river aside from these dams, including several beautiful bridges perfect for landscape photos.

View of  Des Plaines River
Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But this doesn’t mean that the rest of the river is just surrounded by urban development.

Upriver, you’ll find undisturbed sections teeming with vegetation and wildlife.

These are the main destinations for many kayakers and boating enthusiasts.

While in the deeper waters, cast a line and try catching species like bluegill, rock bass, and northern pike.

View of  Des Plaines River
Babytexcoco at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore the Wonders of Hadley Valley

On the easternmost edge of Joliet lies the scenic Hadley Valley, belonging to the larger Spring Creek preservation system.

This section is just a small part, but it already occupies 807 acres of forests and wetland habitats.

There are also small pockets of savanna and the Sring Creek as main geographic features of the area.

Because of these diverse settings, Hadley Valley has become the home to more than 15,000 terrestrial and aquatic animal species.

It’s also home to native Illinois plants, such as tall swamp marigold, great angelica, and wahoo.

All these you can see by exploring the crisscrossing trails of the park, most of which start at Gougar Road Access.

These paths are open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, so choose your preferred mode of transport and start your trek!

Cool Down at Splash Station

During the hot summer days, Splash Station becomes THE hangout place for groups of friends and families in Joliet.

This seasonal water park has a railroad theme incorporated into various attractions.

You’ll find a large slide with six lanes, perfect for races with friends.

There’s also a zero-depth pool where the kids can play safely, equipped with small diving platforms on the deeper end.

If you want to sit back and relax, head to the lazy river and ride an inflatable along its length.

Ace a Hole-In-One at Inwood Golf Course

Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, you’ll have a great experience playing at the Inwood Golf Course.

Opened in 1931, this facility is said to be created for accurate and patient players.

Its layout seamlessly blends with the flat terrain of Joliet, resulting in majestic sceneries that elevate your experience.

The 18-hole course also has dense patches of woodland, verdant fairways, and hazards requiring extra skill to avoid.

Thanks to the challenging layout, you’re going to need excellent course management and precise iron play to score.

Final Thoughts

Joliet has something in store for every adventurer, nature lover, thrill-seeker, and history buff.

Whether you’re looking for grand mansions, modern casinos, mighty rivers, or nature preserves, you’ll find it here.

So make this place your top spot for an upcoming weekend holiday!