20 Best Things to Do in Kankakee, IL

Kankakee, IL
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Kankakee County, Illinois, is home to historical sites, beautiful parks, and fun activities for the whole family.

Located 50 miles south of Chicago, Kankakee is the primary county in the Kankakee-Bourbonnais-Bradley Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The city was established in 1853 when the Illinois Central Road was built through the county.

Kankakee gets its name from the Potawatomi people's word for river.

It's also famous for its riverfront.

Relax or join water sports like the annual Kankakee River Valley Fishing Derby.

Quarrying was the first industry in Kankakee, where the limestone deposits spurred economic development.

The city is now home to over 27,000 people and is a fantastic place to visit for a weekend getaway.

Here are the best things to do in Kankakee, IL:

Take in the Breathtaking Landscape of Kankakee River State Park

The calm waters of Kankakee River State Park
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Boasting an unspoiled all-natural setting, the Kankakee River State Park will let you enjoy the outdoors.

The Kankakee River State Park features different trails, picnic areas, and camping sites.

The state park is also home to various wildlife, such as deer, bald eagles, and wild turkeys.

Picnic shed along Kankakee River State Park
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Kankakee River State Park was developed in 1938 and is popular with sports enthusiasts, especially during hunting season.

It's also an excellent place for bird watching, as over 200 species of birds are in the park.

Campers will also have a field day, with about 200 campsites available in the park.

A bridge over the waters of Kankakee River State Park
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Admire the Lovely Kankakee Valley Park District

The Kankakee Valley Park District is a 2,000-acre park that offers a variety of activities for visitors.

Established in 1925, the park is on the banks of the Kankakee River, with a boat launch and fishing spots.

Campers will have a grand time in the park as its campground can accommodate 12 tents and 12 RVs, with the RV sites featuring a 30-amp electrical service.

The Kankakee Valley Park District is surrounded by other tourist attractions such as the River Road Sports Complex, Pirate Playground, and Ice Valley Centre.

You can also bring your furry friends, but they must always be on a leash.

Amenities include a playground, fire pits, picnic tables, port-o-lets, a standard dump station, and a water hook-up.

Learn about History at the B Harley Bradley House

Exterior of the B Harley Bradley House
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Located in Highland Park, the B Harley Bradley House is a beautiful example of the Prairie School of Architecture.

In 1901, the world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the house, famously known as the Glenlloyd, for his client, Harley Bradley.

The B Bradley House's structure is a cruciform, a square plan with four arms in the center.

Side facade of the B Harley Bradley House
Jim Packett / Shutterstock.com

The house has an open floor plan so that each room flows into the next, and all rooms would have views of the surrounding nature.

The house is a National Historic Landmark, one of the country's most significant Prairie School houses.

Visitors can tour the house to learn about its history and see its fully-renovated interior, making it look like Frank Lloyd Wright's original design.

It's now a museum that offers tours to the public and houses many original artifacts from when the family lived there.

Uncover the Splendor of the Kankakee County Museum

The Kankakee County Museum aims to collect, preserve, and share the rich history of Kankakee County since 1906.

The museum showcases exhibits of the county's past, housing more than 85,000 artifacts and about 20,000 photos.

The museum's Archival Research Library contains an extensive collection of books, newspapers, and other historical materials.

Besides its exhibits, the Kankakee County Museum also offers educational programs for all ages, such as school field trips, homeschool days, and summer camps.

You can also find the 1855 Dr. A. L. Small House on the museum grounds, a Victorian-style home restored to its original condition.

Other buildings in the Museum Complex are the Taylor One-Room Schoolhouse, built in 1904.

It's the oldest standing schoolhouse in Kankakee County and the Column Garden.

Experience the Interactive Exhibits of the Exploration Station

Bring your kids on an interactive journey in the Exploration Station inside the Perry Farm Park.

The museum is ideal for children aged 2-10 and their families, with the exhibits regularly changing to ensure there's always something new.

Some of the exhibits at the Exploration Station include the Exploralot Castle, where you and your kids can dress up in costumes and put on a play.

You can also explore the Imagination Station, where you can use blocks to build towers and houses, and the Waterworks exhibit, where you can experiment with boats, dams, and rivers.

The Exploration Station also has a Steam LAB where you can learn about the science of steam through hands-on experiments.

In addition to its exhibits, the museum also offers educational programs, birthday party packages, and special events throughout the year.

Spend a Day at the Perry Farm Park

Sinuous narrow gorge at Perry Farm Park
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The idyllic Perry Farm Park will give you that fuzzy feeling of the countryside.

The former farmland is now a beautiful park with a lake, walking trails, and plenty of open space for frisbee or picnicking.

The Perry Farm Park is also an excellent place for fishing, stocked with bass, catfish, and sunfish.

The park's paved, smooth trails are perfect for a stroll, roller skating, or a vigorous run.

There are also unpaved trails for exploring the more natural side of the park.

The Kankakee's scenic views surround the quaint park's trail.

You'll also pass through the Indian Caves and the Kankakee River.

Take pleasure in the Park's Barnyard Playground, an excellent place for the kids to explore and spend energy.

The Perry Farm Park is open year-round, from dawn to dusk, so you can enjoy its beauty no matter what season it is.

Discover the History of the French Heritage Museum

Find out how the French first settlers arrived in Kankakee at the French Heritage Museum.

It's at the Stone Barn, the third oldest building in Kankakee.

The museum is housed in a historic 1860s limestone building, which Lemuel Milk used as a carriage house.

The museum features exhibits that tell the story of the French settlers who arrived in Kankakee in the early 1800s.

Check out how they made a life in Kankakee, particularly in Bourbonnais Township.

Established in 2012, the museum features photographs, posters, and antiques that help preserve the history and culture of the early French settlers.

The French Heritage Museum is excellent for learning about the city's rich history and culture.

Roam the Magnificent Riverview Historic District

Charles Cobb house at Riverview Historic District
Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Travel back in time as you roam the beautiful Riverview Historic District near downtown Kankakee.

The district is home to several well-preserved Victorian buildings built in the late 19th century.

Back then, the city boomed because of the railroads.

Take your time as you admire Cobb Park near the Kankakee River.

It's a beautiful green space with a bandstand, gazebo, and fountain.

Exterior of a house at Riverview Historic District
Teemu08, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cobb Park gets its name from Emory Cobb, who created several public parks in Kankakee.

The Riverview Historic District is also home to many businesses, such as antique shops, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants.

If you're feeling hungry, several eateries in the district also serve delicious food.

The Riverview Historic District is the perfect place to take a stroll and admire the buildings' architecture, especially homes over 100 years old.

Dr. John and Violet Brown house at Riverview Historic District
Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn to Swim at the Splash Valley Aquatic Center

The Splash Valley Aquatic Center has always been the best place for cooling off during the summer.

The center features pools, slides, and other water attractions that keep you entertained.

There's also a lazy river where you can float around and relax.

If you want to get active, you can swim in the lap pool.

The Splash Valley Aquatic Center also offers classes, such as swimming lessons, Aqua Zumba, and water aerobics.

There's also a snack bar where you can get refreshments like ice cream and burgers.

Find the Ice Valley Centre skating rink in the Splash Valley Aquatic Complex.

The complex has slides, water troughs, a play feature, a concession stand, and two sand volleyball courts.

Walk Down Memory Lane at the Kankakee Illinois Railroad Museum

Exterior of the Kankakee Illinois Railroad Museum
Michael, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kankakee Illinois Railroad Museum is at the Illinois Central Depot, a historic train station built in 1854.

The museum features exhibits that tell the story of the city's railroad history and the people who worked on the railways.

The museum also has several artifacts on display, such as locomotives, a cupola caboose, and tools used by the railroad workers.

Founded in 1999 by the local railroad club, the Kankakee Railroad Museum's main attraction is the Pullman Coach Car.

Built in 1947, the coach car will let you see how passengers dine in the bygone era.

It is also magical to enter the depot with a trove of local railroad memorabilia.

Have a Blast at the Kankakee County Speedway

Kankakee County Speedway is a 3/8-mile oval dirt track with different racing events, such as sprint, modified, and stock cars.

The speedway is in the town of Aroma Park, one of Kankakee's most popular tourist attractions.

The speedway was built in 1950 and has hosted races ever since.

The speedway has a concession stand that sells various food, such as hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries.

Kankakee County Speedway is ideal for spending a night with family and friends.

It is also perfect for racing enthusiasts, as it offers several events throughout the year.

Visit the Kankakee County Courthouse

Exterior of the Kankakee County Courthouse
Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kankakee County Courthouse is a historic building built in 1912, the home of the Kankakee government.

The courthouse is a beautiful Beaux-Arts-style building and features several architectural details, such as a copper dome, marble staircases, and stained glass windows.

Dome and clock tower of Kankakee County Courthouse
Nicola Patterson / Shutterstock.com

The courthouse is already the third building to serve as the county courthouse; the first building was built in 1853 and the second one in 1873.

The Kankakee County Courthouse is in the center of the Kankakee Commercial District and is called the Courthouse Square.

When you enter the courthouse, marvel at the marble walls, stair railings, and stained glass skylight.

Enter the New World in the Indian Caves

For the adventurers, the Indian Caves are a great place to explore.

The Indian Caves are a series of sandstone caves that the Native Americans used for shelter and as a burial ground.

The caves are a series of sandstone cliffs that the wind and rain have carved out over the years.

With its location along the Kankakee River, the cave features a refreshing watering hole where you can take a dip on a hot summer day.

The 30-acre hidden gem is ideal for experienced hikers since most rocks are slippery.

The caves offer activities such as hiking, picnicking, and swimming.

Look at the Spectacular Sights of Downtown Kankakee

Buildings along Downtown Kankakee
Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

If you want to experience the perfect blend of vintage sights and modern architecture, then downtown Kankakee is the place for you.

Downtown Kankakee is home to many businesses, restaurants, taverns, churches, and historical landmarks.

Some of the most famous sights in downtown Kankakee include the Kankakee County Courthouse, the Kankakee Festival Theatre, and the Kankakee Public Library.

Old paramount theatre at Downtown Kankakee
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

Downtown Kankakee is also home to several events, such as the Kankakee Farmers Market, the Taste Fest of Kankakee, and the Kankakee Rhubarb Festival.

Likewise, you can join the Friendship Festival, with the Harold & Jean Miner Festival Square as the centerpiece.

Moreover, downtown Kankakee is also a terrific place to shop, as it is home to different stores, such as boutiques and antique and gift shops.

Kankakee County Courthouse as seen from Downtown Kankakee
Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dive to Your Heart's Content at Haigh Quarry

Who would have thought that an old limestone quarry outside Kankakee would become a popular diving spot?

The quarry is now an artificial lake about 60 feet deep and is home to bass, catfish, and perch.

Spring water feeds Haigh Quarry, an excellent place to dip on a hot summer day.

The quarry is also famous for scuba diving, offering different diving areas.

The underwater experience is unforgettable with the stunning limestone formations and sunken objects, such as a 33-ft cabin cruiser.

Haigh Quarry is also the perfect place for picnicking, as picnic tables are available.

The quarry is open year-round, and admission is free for everyone.

Try the Wine Selections at Grapes & Hops

Savor the curated selection of wines, beers, and spirits by Grapes & Hops.

Drop by South Schuyler Avenue and you’ll discover why this is more than your typical bar.

The shop is open from Tuesday to Saturday after lunch until the evening.

Siblings Terrance Hooper and Amy Rauch specialize in serving only local and regional wines produced by breweries and distilleries in Illinois.

Try beer varieties from Pollyanna Brewing Company or have some organic and Kosher-certified spirits by Journeyman Distillery.

They also carry Koval Distillery’s organic whiskey and specialty spirits, along with DeKalb County’s Whiskey Acres Distilling Co.

You can choose from an array of wine selections from St. Julian, August Hill Winery, and Pheasant Hollow Winery; likewise, you’ll enjoy wine offerings from Prairie State Winery and Lynfred Winery.

You can also try an array of slushies and shakes; also, Grapes & Hops sells Artisan Cheese, Artisan Fudge, Craft Whiskey and Spirits, and some cool merchandise you can purchase.

Strike the Pins at Brookmont Bowling Center

For hours of bowling fun with the family, head out to Brookmont Bowling Center.

This amusement spot is on West Brookmont Boulevard and features 36 bowling lanes built with a scoring system that lets you choose different games, though you can still go for the traditional bowling game if you like.

If you drop by on a weekend, they have Backlight Bowling that offers you a different kind of fun.

Aside from bowling, you can also play pool, try over 85 live video games, or practice your swing at the arcade’s Golf Simulator.

Grab some premium popcorn flavors for snacks while bowling or hanging out at the arcade; better yet, you can get tasty food at the Snack Shop.

They have all-time favorite appetizers like French fries, pretzels, Chips & Salsa, Wing Platters, and others.

Want some pizza? They have assorted flavors like Cheese, Pepperoni, Sausage, and The Works Pizza; likewise, you’ll enjoy delicious sandwich items and beverages on the menu.

If you have bowling needs, Ron's Pro Shop offers services like custom ball fitting, oil extraction, or resurfacing.

Have a fun time at Brookmont Bowling Center.

Shop for Fresh Goods at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market

If you want the best local produce in the area, you’ll have plenty to shop at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market.

This yearly market is held from May to October at the crossing of South Schuyler Avenue and Merchant Street.

You can catch the local vendors every Saturday from morning until noontime, and you don’t have to worry about shopping bags because they have shopping carts available.

Take your pick of farm-fresh produce, handcrafted goods, and lines of freshly-made food products and items.

You’ll also enjoy family-friendly attractions, activities, and live music entertainment for everyone.

No wonder the Kankakee Farmers’ Market is one of the most popular weekend downtown events drawing crowds from neighboring states every year.

Enjoy the Merchant Street Musicfest Attractions

There’s endless music and a whole lot of fun at the Merchant Street Musicfest.

This two-day music event is held annually at the Harold & Jean Miner Square on South East Avenue.

Catch the festival every July 28 to 29 and watch local, regional, and national artists showcase their talent and share their music on three stage venues.

Through the various musical performances, you’ll have a glimpse of Kankakee’s blend of cultures.

You can get ticket admissions at the gate or get presale tickets online; little ones five and below are free to enjoy the entire festival while older kids 10 and under are free on the second day during the afternoon.

Aside from the music, check out the art vendors at the Artist Alley, and rows of great local food and drinks.

Join the celebration of music at the Merchant Street Musicfest.

Have a Great Learning Experience at Willowhaven Park and Nature Center

Your kids will have fun exploring and learning at Willowhaven Park and Nature Center.

This play-centered museum is open to the public and gives opportunities for kids to go on a self-discovery and hands-on exploration with nature.

Located at North 4000 East Road, you can catch their open season from March to November, with opening days from Tuesday to Friday.

Your family can join various outdoor and STEM-related programs like nature hikes, map and compass programs, bug hunts, and much more.

Drop by the exhibits and view the mineral displays, replica tracks, and pelt touch tables, then check out the beaver lodge, and interesting black bear and albino raccoon taxidermy displays.

The 120-ace space surrounding the park also features a 1.7-mile hiking trail that leads you around wetlands, ponds, and prairies.

You can also enjoy a game of disc golf at the 9-hole flat course provided with concrete tee pads and permanent baskets.

Let little ones have fun at the playground, visit the lovely wildflower gardens, or use the fitness station.

Likewise, you can pack lunch and eat at the spacious outdoor picnic shelter and enjoy catch-and-release fishing at any of the fishing overlooks.

Learn, enjoy nature, and have fun at the Willowhaven Park and Nature Center.

Final Thoughts

You won't be disappointed if you're looking for things to do in Kankakee.

Kankakee offers terrific outdoors for everyone looking for a break.

Plenty of fun and exciting activities keep you busy during your stay.

There's something for everyone in this charming Illinois county, from museums to parks.

Book your Kankakee trip today!

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