Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in McHenry County, IL

  • Published 2023/04/22

Nestled in the northeastern region of Illinois, McHenry County has over 1,000 square miles of rolling hills, lush forests, and sparkling lakes.

Its serene and picturesque countryside attracts visitors all year round.

McHenry is famous for its abundant outdoor recreational activities, offering visitors ample opportunities to hike, bike, fish, and camp as the county is home to over 40 forest preserves.

Beyond its natural beauty, McHenry is also rich in history and culture, as it possesses several historical landmarks and attractions that offer visitors a glimpse into the county’s past.

McHenry County is a destination that offers something for everyone.

Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a culture buff, or a foodie, you’ll find plenty of reasons to fall in love with this charming corner of Illinois.

Here are the best things to do in McHenry County, Illinois.

Relax at Moraine Hills State Park

Boardwalk at Moraine Hills State Park

Brian Woolman /

Moraine Hills State Park at 1510 S River Rd in McHenry is a stunning natural oasis perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

The park covers over 2,200 acres and features a variety of landscapes, including prairie, savanna, and wetlands.

You can enjoy various activities here, from hiking and biking to fishing and boating.

The park has a series of lakes formed by glaciers over 10,000 years ago.

Waters at Moraine Hills State Park

Brian Woolman /

These lakes offer a picturesque setting for boating, fishing, and swimming.

You can also enjoy the ten miles of hiking trails, including a scenic loop around Lake Defiance that offers stunning views of the surrounding hills and wetlands.

In addition to its natural beauty, Moraine Hills State Park also offers a range of amenities, including picnic areas, playgrounds that children will love, and boat launches.

If you’re seeking a peaceful retreat in the heart of McHenry County, reconnect with nature at Moraine Hills State Park.

A dock at Moraine Hills State Park

Mark Baldwin /

Learn History at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum

Start your visit at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum in Union, Illinois, to learn more about the rich history of McHenry County.

Founded in 1963, the museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the county’s cultural heritage, showcasing artifacts, photographs, and documents that date back to the early 19th century.

The museum’s exhibits are thoughtfully curated and cover various topics, from the county’s agricultural roots to its vibrant arts scene, where you can explore the museum’s permanent collection.

It includes a replica of an 1830s log cabin, a 1917 Studebaker automobile, and a display on the Underground Railroad.

You can also visit its extensive genealogy library, which includes over 5,000 family histories, local histories, and genealogies.

Visit the McHenry County Historical Society Museum at the historic 1895 Union Train Depot for a rich, immersive educational, and entertaining experience.

Enjoy a Cool Movie Experience at McHenry Outdoor Theater

The McHenry Outdoor Theater is a classic drive-in movie theater at 1510 Chapel Hill Road in McHenry.

The theater opened in 1949, becoming a beloved destination for moviegoers for over 70 years.

Its large screen and scenic surroundings make it a unique and enjoyable movie-going experience.

The McHenry Outdoor Theater offers a range of popular films for all ages varying from the latest Hollywood releases to classic movies and cult favorites.

The theater has two screens, with a capacity of 600 cars, providing ample space for visitors to enjoy the films in a comfortable setting.

In addition to its films, the McHenry Outdoor Theater offers a variety of snacks and refreshments for visitors to enjoy during the movie.

There’s a playground for the children to enjoy before the film starts.

Spend an evening at McHenry Outdoor Theater for a unique and fun movie experience here in McHenry County.

Hike the Trails at Pleasant Valley Conservation Area

Trail at Pleasant Valley Conservation Area

Ken Schulze /

Located at 13119 Pleasant Valley Road in Woodstock, the Pleasant Valley Conservation Area is another stunning natural retreat that offers visitors a chance to reconnect with nature.

The conservation area covers over 2,000 acres and features a variety of landscapes, including prairies, woodlands, and wetlands, allowing for a range of activities, from hiking and birdwatching to fishing and hunting.

Pleasant Valley Conservation Area has over 20 miles of hiking trails, including a scenic loop around the lake that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

The area is also fantastic for fishing as the conservation area features several lakes stocked with various fish, including bass, and bluegill.

With its stunning trails, abundant wildlife, and beautiful lakes, the Pleasant Valley Conservation Area is a fantastic place to visit for a day trip in McHenry County.

Catch Fish at the Lake in Petersen Park

Located at 4300 Peterson Park Road in McHenry, Petersen Park is a beautiful outdoor park that offers a variety of recreational activities.

The park covers over 92 acres and features a playground, hiking trails, a fishing lake, picnic shelters, over 6 miles of trails, and more.

A popular activity at Petersen Park is fishing.

The park’s lake is stocked with various fish, including bass, bluegill, and catfish, making it an excellent destination for anglers of all ages and skill levels.

In addition to fishing, Petersen Park also offers a variety of other recreational activities like the park’s playground for the kids, picnic areas for family gatherings, or even participate in seasonal events like the park’s annual Easter egg hunt.

Petersen Park is great for anyone looking to enjoy the great outdoors while still having urban conveniences.

Play Golf at the Boone Creek Golf Club

Boone Creek Golf Club is a premier destination for golf enthusiasts at 6912 Mason Hill in Bull Valley.

This beautiful 18-hole course offers a challenging yet enjoyable experience for players of all skill levels, featuring rolling hills, scenic water features, and meticulously maintained fairways and greens.

The course was designed to offer a mix of challenges and rewards, with each hole presenting a unique opportunity for players to test their skills.

In addition to its excellent course, Boone Creek Golf Club offers a range of amenities for players and visitors.

Visit a fully stocked pro shop and a bar and grill where guests can grab a bite to eat or relax with a drink after their round.

So, if you’re a passionate golfer looking for a place to go for a swing, the Boone Creek Golf Club is the spot for you.

Catch a Fantastic Performance at the Woodstock Opera House

Exterior of the Woodstock Opera House

Alan Freed /

The Woodstock Opera House is a beautiful historic landmark at 121 Van Buren Street in Woodstock.

Built in 1889, the opera house has been an important cultural center for the community for over a century.

The stunning Victorian-era architecture, including the ornate façade and towering clock tower, makes it a popular attraction for tourists and locals.

The Woodstock Opera House is well-known for hosting various events such as plays, musicals, concerts, and dance performances throughout the year.

Aerial view of the Woodstock Opera House

Ginjirotchi, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to its performances and events, the Woodstock Opera House offers guided tours, special lectures, and art exhibitions.

You can learn about the history and architecture of the building while exploring its elegant interior.

The Woodstock Opera House is a spectacular attraction for anyone looking for a place rich in history, architecture, and arts in McHenry County.

Take the Kids to the Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park

Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park is a thrilling indoor park for visitors of all ages, offering a range of activities, including trampolines, ropes courses, climbing walls, and more.

The trampoline area features a range of activities, from traditional open jump areas to dodgeball courts and foam pits.

The adventure park also offers a range of challenges, including a ropes course and a ninja warrior course, where you can test your strength and agility.

For younger visitors, Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park also feature a dedicated area for children under seven.

The area includes a soft play area and a mini ropes course.

If you want a fun and thrilling experience in McHenry County, visit the Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park at 220 Exchange Drive in Crystal Lake.

Create Art at the American Terra Cotta Museum

Located at 3703 State Road in Crystal Lake, the American Terra Cotta Museum is a hidden gem showcasing the history and beauty of terra cotta, a glazed ceramic used in architecture and design.

The museum houses impressive terra cotta artifacts and architectural elements, including decorative tiles, sculptures, and building facades.

In addition to its exhibits, you can also attend pottery classes or sculpting workshops to create your terra cotta pieces.

The museum is housed in a historic building that was once a terra cotta factory which you tour to learn about its rich history and architectural significance.

The American Terra Cotta Museum’s unique design and stunning terra cotta details make it a must-see for architecture enthusiasts.

Swim at the Chain O’Lakes State Park

Boats at Chain O’Lakes State Park

Martha Marks /

Chain O’Lakes State Park, located at 8916 Wilmot Rd in Spring Grove, is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts in McHenry County.

The park covers over 2,800 acres and includes six interconnected lakes, making it a prime spot for boating, fishing, and water sports.

The Chain O’Lakes State Park offers a range of recreational activities for visitors, including boating and fishing.

Visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, picnicking, and swimming at the park’s designated beach area.

Hiking or biking at the trails that span over 20 miles provide scenic views of the lakes and surrounding woodlands.

The Chain O’Lakes State Park also has a rich history, dating back to the Potawatomi Indians who first inhabited the area.

Today, you can learn more about the park’s history through interpretive signs and guided tours.

You can also visit the park’s visitor center, which features educational exhibits on the local flora and fauna, as well as the park’s history and surrounding area.

The Chain O’Lakes State Park is a fantastic destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers; be sure to stop by on your trip here at McHenry.

Join the Festivities at the McHenry County Fairgrounds

The McHenry County Fairgrounds is a sprawling complex that serves as the annual McHenry County Fair site.

The fairgrounds, located at 11900 Country Club Road in Woodstock, host various events throughout the year, including festivals, concerts, and flea markets.

The fairgrounds offer ample space for outdoor activities, and visitors can explore the many buildings and exhibits scattered throughout the property.

The McHenry County Fairgrounds boasts a rich history, having opened in 1949, undergoing numerous renovations but still retaining its old-world charm.

To taste local culture, visit McHenry during these fabulous events at the McHenry County Fairgrounds.

Explore the Marengo Ridge Conservation Area

The Marengo Ridge Conservation Area is a beautiful natural oasis located at 2411 in Marengo.

The area is home to diverse flora and fauna, including wildflowers, prairie grasses, and various wildlife species.

The Marengo Ridge Conservation Area offers several trails for visitors to explore, with difficulties ranging from easy to moderate, and provides beautiful views of the area’s rolling hills and wooded landscapes.

The conservation area also features a small lake you can fish for bass, bluegill, and catfish.

The conservation area is also home to several historic structures, including the Sanborn Schoolhouse.

It was built in 1874 and served as a school until 1948.

To immerse yourself in Illinois’s natural beauty and history, visit the Marengo Ridge Conservation Area.

Ride a Vintage Train at the Illinois Railway Museum

Front view of a train at Illinois Railway Museum

Carlos Yudica /

The Illinois Railway Museum, located at 7000 Olson Rd in Union, is a unique destination for train enthusiasts and history buffs.

With over 450 pieces of historic railway equipment and vehicles, it’s the largest railway museum in the country/

Explore a variety of vintage locomotives, passenger cars, and cabooses from different eras of railway history.

Experience interactive exhibits, one of which is riding on a vintage train, including a trolley, streetcar, or steam engine, and experience what it was like to travel by rail in the past.

Locomotives at Illinois Railway Museum

Carlos Yudica /

The museum also offers guided tours and hands-on activities, giving visitors a deeper understanding of the history and mechanics of rail transportation.

In addition to its exhibits, the Illinois Railway Museum hosts various events throughout the year, varying from train rides with Santa Claus to vintage car shows and train-themed festivals.

Visit the Illinois Railway Museum for a fun and unique experience for all ages interested in rail transportation and history.

Railcar at Illinois Railway Museum

Carlos Yudica /

Go Skating at the Xtreme Wheels – Roller Skating & Family Fun Center

If you’re looking for a fun and exciting way to spend your day, head to Xtreme Wheels – Roller Skating & Family Fun Center at 691 S Virginia Road in Crystal Lake.

There are a variety of activities to choose from, including roller skating, laser tag, mini golf, arcade games, and more.

One of the main attractions of Xtreme Wheels is the roller skating rink.

The rink is spacious and well-maintained, making it an excellent place for beginners and experienced skaters.

Aside from the skating rink, Xtreme Wheels also has the laser tag arena, which has a well-designed arena and offers plenty of space to run around and hide from opponents.

Play mini golf, which has a variety of obstacles and challenges to overcome.

Then go to the arcade that contains a variety of classic and modern games for you to enjoy.

For a day of fun and excitement with friends and family, visit the Xtreme Wheels – Roller Skating & Family Fun Center in McHenry County.

Spend a Relaxing Day on Crystal Lake Main Beach

Aerial view of Crystal Lake Main Beach

Rob Painter /

Crystal Lake Main Beach is a popular destination at 300 Lake Shore Drive in Crystal Lake.

The beach is situated on the shores of Crystal Lake, offering a beautiful and peaceful environment to relax and unwind.

The crystal-clear water is perfect for swimming, and visitors can rent paddle boats, kayaks, and other watercraft for a fun and exciting experience on the lake.

In addition to its water activities, Crystal Lake Main Beach also offers a range of amenities and facilities, including picnic areas, volleyball courts, a playground, and a concession stand.

The beach also hosts live music concerts, beach parties, and fireworks displays during special events.

Drive by Crystal Lake Main Beach for a fun swim and a relaxing day by the lake.

Final Thoughts

McHenry County is a hidden gem in the Midwest, offering visitors many activities and attractions.

It has many areas filled with beautiful natural scenery, rich history, and vibrant cultural scene.

Whether you’re looking for a peaceful nature retreat, an adrenaline-pumping adventure, or a fun family outing, McHenry County has something for everyone.

Discover the best things to do in McHenry County, Illinois!

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