Although it’s small, with an area of about 5 square kilometers only, don’t underrate Oglesby as a travel destination when planning a trip to its northern Illinois area.
The city’s long history and superb location in western LaSalle County led Oglesby to coin its motto, “Where friends and rivers meet.”
Oglesby’s development started in 1865 as a center for mining coal, silica, and limestone.
Initially, it was called Portland because its cement output was similar to Portland cement from England.
Amalgamated with several other mining villages, Oglesby was incorporated in 1913.
It got its new name from former US senator and three-time Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby.
The city’s history is also woven with its proximity to the confluence of the Illinois River and its tributary, the Vermillion River.
Out of all these elements, various travel destinations have emerged, which you can preview in the following list of things to do in Oglesby.
Explore the Outdoors at Matthiessen State Park
Accessible via Illinois Route 178, this state park was established in 1943 and occupies 1,700 acres suited for various recreational outdoor activities.
Matthiessen State Park offers you 5 miles of well-marked hiking trails for a vigorous hike or a relaxing walk on a variety of well-surfaced, scenic routes.
Taking a horse or a mountain bike to this park is an alternative, as it has designated trails for these activities as well as camping facilities for horse riders.
From December to March Cross, Matthiessen State Park opens its 6 miles of cross-country ski trails, with ski rentals available on weekends.
Archers visiting the park have an assigned area in its northwestern portion where there’s a range with four separate targets.
At the park’s Vermilion River area, an open field is available for flying radio-controlled model airplanes.
Matthiessen State Park accommodates picnics at its Vermillion River and Dells areas, where there are shelters, tables, and water fountains.
The Dells Area, which also has playground equipment, likewise features restored the 1600s-1700s French fortifications and the main trail to the park’s Cascade Falls Area.
Enjoy the Oglesby Harvest Fest
The city traditionally holds this event around mid-October, with Senica Square on West Walnut Street as the center of the activities.
This is a family-focused festival featuring pony rides, a petting zoo, magic shows, and face painting.
During this event, there is also a children’s costume parade where the kids can “trick-or-treat” at the downtown businesses participating in the Harvest Fest.
Food galore and craft and vendor activities are also part of this much-anticipated city event in Oglesby.
Dine-in or Drive-Thru the Rootbeer Stand
Step back into the 50s and 60s when drive-in restaurants ruled supreme, with picks from the menu of the Rootbeer Stand at North Columbia Avenue.
Established in the 1950s, this drive-in restaurant has retained a quaint aura that met the challenge of fast-food chains.
Here, you can enjoy burgers, fries, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and the restaurant’s trademark root beer floats in a drive-in ambiance that has become rare.
A roadside mascot clad in yellow and carrying a hamburger has much to do with the Rootbeer Stand becoming a landmark in Oglesby.
Often called Woody, the Burger Boy, many motorists stop for a photo-op with him and sample the old-time American favorites at the Rootbeer Stand.
Enjoy the Outdoors at Starved Rock State Park
This state park, accessible from East 875th Road, ranks as Illinois’ No. 1 attraction and the state’s most visited state park.
Starved Rock State Park, established in 1911, spreads over 2,630 acres along the Illinois River.
Within this expanse, you can engage in many outdoor recreational activities, like hiking, camping, hunting, boating, and fishing.
This state park offers more than 13 miles of trails opening access to spectacular overlooks, rain-fed waterfalls, and sandstone overhangs.
In the park, you can explore18 canyons featuring vertical walls of mossy St. Peter sandstone.
The park’s lush vegetation of maple, white pine, white and red oak, hickory, eastern red, and northern white cedar serves as a habitat for abundant wildlife.
Guided tours, special events, and park programs are scheduled in the Starved Rock State Park throughout the year.
Take the Kids to the Oglesby Summer Fest
This annual, three-day city festival is usually scheduled around Father’s Day weekend each June.
Kids will love going to the Oglesby Summer Fest because of its fun activities like face painting, foam party, and magic shows.
The event also features a carnival, free entertainment, a beer garden, garage sales, and a craft and vendor show.
A vibrant fireworks display caps the Oglesby Summer Fest, which has its center of activities at the grounds of the city’s Municipal Pool on the southeast corner of Texler Avenue and Pool Drive.
The Municipal Pool is notably open from around Memorial Day to Mid-August and also hosts the swimming lessons of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Dine and Drink on East Walnut Street
The Oglesby downtown stretch of East Walnut Street offers a wide selection of highly-rated places to dine and drink.
The bar Lauras East End Tap is one superb pick here to relax with friends and your favorite drink.
In this bar, you can sip on a Bloody Mary or spiked coffee while watching a playoff or a double-header movie.
A round of darts or trying your luck on one of the bar’s video slots comes as an alternative as well.
MJ's Pub and Grill, also along East Walnut Street, is another great choice for dining and some drinks.
Its menu choices include shareable sweet corn nuggets, an Italian beef sandwich, and one or two-piece cod as entrée.
Shop at Vintage Antiques & More
This quaint shop opened in 2020 on East Walnut Street, offering not only antiques and vintage items like furniture, glassware, ceramics, pictures, paintings, and nostalgic toys.
With new items added to its shelves every week, Vintage Antiques & More is also a great stop for home décor, garden gifts, and collectibles like baseball cards.
Seasonally, you will also find handwoven items like stockings, socks, gloves, mittens, and crocheted hats in this store.
Watch out too for its sales of local honey, jams, bruschetta, dressings, soaps, bath bombs, and lotions.
Stay in a Historic Log Cabin at Starved Rock Lodge
A vacation in Oglesby can be a step back in time if you stay at one of the vintage log cabins in Starved Rock Lodge.
Located on One Lodge Lane in Starved Rock State Park, this tourist facility features vintage log cabins, historic lodge rooms, as well as a modern hotel wing.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built the log cabins in Starved Rock Lodge in the 1930s.
The rustic charm of the knotty pine paneling of the log cabins perfectly matches the aura of their site under century-old oaks and towering pines.
Booking one of these cabins puts you just steps away from seasonal waterfalls, breathtaking landscapes, and hiking trails.
Also convenient, Starved Rock Lodge has several onsite dining options, including the Lodge Restaurant and the picturesque Veranda, with live music nightly.
The other options are Trailheads Concession, the Café, and Back Door Lounge, where guests can enjoy a signature cocktail or locally-brewed craft beer.
Paddle the Whitewater of Vermillion River
This river meandering on the northern and eastern flanks of Oglesby is a great destination for canoeing and kayaking in spring and early summer.
The Vermilion River is notably the only stream in northern Illinois with whitewater stretches that intrepid paddlers look for.
The Vermilion is rated a Class II River with one point a Class III Rapid, the Wildcat Rapids.
And providentially, these challenging and exciting legs are downstream of Highway 52 at the outskirts of Oglesby.
The city has tapped this attraction with the construction of a Vermillion River boat access at Ed Hand Highway.
Besides its launch for rafts and boats, this Oglesby facility includes a 16-car parking lot with two spaces for vehicles towing trailers.
Play Real or Virtual at Deer Park Golf Club
This golf facility on Deer Park Lane features an 18-hole golf course built in 1904 and a cutting-edge “Simulator Lounge” for virtual play of the sport.
Originally known as the Deer Park Country Club, it has been rebranded to Deer Park Golf Club and opened its facilities to the public.
Its course, which is located on Deer Park Lane, plays at par 71 over 6,603 yards from the longest tees.
This layout just north of the Matthiessen State Park has a 71.4-course rating and a 126 slope rating.
Deer Park Golf Club uses two Trackman Simulators in its Simulator Lounge.
These state-of-the-art simulators can be used not only for practice but also for long-drive competitions, games, or even for playing a full golf round.
There are 95 different world-famous courses loaded on these simulators that players can choose from, including the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Also, with three TVs, the Simulator Lounge is likewise equipped for table tennis and dart games.
Work Out at McPhedran Park
This park on Oakwood Ave is a favorite destination of fitness buffs because of its one-third-mile-long walking track with six workout stations.
At each station, you can choose from four activity levels, with the easiest at Level 1 and the hardest at Level 4.
McPhedran Park also boasts a fishing pond with a beautiful pier where you can cast a rod and reel to catch bass.
The park likewise features a playground with its equipment designed in a pirate-ship theme.
Other playground features include baby swings and regular swings plus bongo drums.
This park is the only one in Oglesby which allows dogs provided these pets are leashed all the time.
Watch Youth Sports at Oglesby’s Public Parks
Several public parks in Oglesby host youth sports tournaments, such as the Central States Baseball tourney held each August at the Dickinson Field.
This ballpark on Dale Avenue notably hosts the teams of the Illinois Valley Community College and Oglesby baseball teams, as well as many state and local tournaments.
The Dickinson Field takes pride in having some of the best-kept diamonds for junior/senior league and little league competitions in northern Illinois.
Its Little League field inspires young players with a life-size wood carving of Oglesby native “Sunny” Jim Bottomley, former St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman.
Sports is likewise prominent in Oglesby’s Courtyard Park on West Second Street.
Its facilities include two tennis courts, a basketball court, and a small playground.
This park hosts the city’s annual tennis camp each June, kicking off the summer recreation programs for Oglesby’s children.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Pay a Visit to Buffalo Rock State Park
This state park is located on North 27th Road in the city of Ottawa, about 10 miles northeast of Oglesby city proper.
Buffalo Rock State Park spreads over 290 acres occupying a bluff on the north banks of the Illinois River.
Once an island amid the river, Buffalo Rock features nature trails, camping areas, and picnic shelters, one of which has a fireplace.
Five earth art sculptures collectively titled "Effigy Tumuli" are in this park as a tribute to Native American burial grounds.
Buffalo Rock is also home to two American bison in a pen and grazing area across from the state park’s baseball diamond.
Kayak the Illinois River
You can book a guided kayak tour of the Illinois River and enjoy a two-hour adventure even if you have little or no kayaking experience.
This booking can be made at the Kayak Starved Rock Campground on North 27th Road in the city of Ottawa, some 9 miles northeast of Oglesby.
The campsites in this campground are primitive with no water or electricity but rustic and scenic.
Each campsite here has a picnic table, grill, and fire pit.
Enjoy Wet Fun at Grand Bear Falls Indoor Waterpark
This waterpark is located on Route 178 in the town of North Utica, just some 4 miles northeast of Oglesby.
Covering an area of 24,000 square feet, the Grand Bear Falls Indoor Waterpark is a year-round family fun center.
Its facilities include a wave pool, water slides, a lazy river, a kiddie pool, and a hot tub area.
Concession-style food items are available at the waterpark’s Wave Cave, such as nachos, pizza by the slice, and all-beef hotdogs.
A visit to Oglesby is a remarkable experience that can lean much on the enjoyment of the natural environment.
That this city has retained much of its natural setting despite its heavy reliance on mining is a feather on the cap of Oglesby worthy of a stop when visiting Illinois’ LaSalle County.