Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Think Outside (No Box Required)


There are so many opportunities to

explore, learn, and have fun in the outdoors.

The only thing missing is you.


By Scott Fishel

As children, our parents were always telling us to “go outside and play.” That doesn’t change much for adults. The difference is that it’s your family physician and mental health experts who are now singing the praises of the great outdoors.

Fortunately for all who live in Central Illinois, there is no lack of opportunities to exercise, learn and enjoy the beauty and diversity of nature. It may be on foot or on a bicycle, in a canoe or in your own backyard. Our region has something for every outdoor interest and ability. And in many cases, these outdoor adventures are affordable (or free) and family friendly.


Benefits of Outdoor Recreation

Why leave the warmth and comfort of home for the unpredictable challenges of nature? Studies suggest connections between regular participation in outdoor activities and health. According to WebMD (, outdoor recreation can:

  • Reduce stress and improve your mood
  • Burn more calories than indoor exercise
  • Promote better sleep
  • Improve self esteem
  • Boost immunity
  • Improve concentration and creativity


Sunshine boosts the body’s production of Vitamin D, which is believed to protect against everything from osteoporosis and cancer to depression, heart attacks, and strokes. Of course, too much of a good thing can be harmful, so it’s important to use sunscreen to protect against too much UV light.

Outdoor recreation is social. Whether you are getting out by yourself, with family members, or in a group of friends, you are strengthening relationships and building a sense of community. Adult participation in outdoor activities also sets an example for children. Kids (and many adults) may complain about leaving video games and TikTok behind, but regular exposure to the outdoors as a youth lays the foundation for a lifetime of healthy behavior.


Where to Go, What to Do

Finding the motivation to get up and out can be half the battle. But once you start experiencing the physical and mental benefits of exercise, it easily becomes a healthy part of every day.

An exhaustive list of outdoor recreational opportunities in Central Illinois would run on and on and still never be complete. So, instead of trying to include everything, here are some ideas, highpoints, and resources for inspiration. As the Chinese philosopher Laozi observed, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.”


Take a Hike

One of the simplest ways to enjoy the outdoors is to take a hike. In an urban setting, you might just call it a walk, but it’s the same attitude and sense of adventure. Hiking is simply walking with a purpose. Where you hike is less important than just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

Hiking is perfect for someone who doesn’t want to invest a lot in specialized gear or acquire new skills. Even people with differing physical abilities can find trails that are accessible and rewarding.

Depending on where you plan to hike, you may need nothing more than a pair of sturdy shoes and a bottle of water. Start simple, and as your rambles increase in length and difficulty, acquire more specialized gear like hiking boots, a backpack, and a hydration system.

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, there are more than 270 trails in Illinois state parks and recreation areas, totaling more than 700 miles. Many of those miles are right here in Central Illinois.

Some examples of excellent hiking destinations include the rolling hills and prairie vistas of Jubilee College State Park west of Kickapoo, the uniquely challenging sandy trails of Sand Ridge State Park near Manito, and the wooded bluffs, bottomland, and old farm fields at Spring Creek Preserve in East Peoria. The Peoria Park District maintains more than 50 miles of trails in and out of the city. Some are easy and paved, while others feature steep hills, streams, and other challenges. The 100-Mile Hiker program encourages hikers to enjoy local trails regularly.

Park districts in Morton, Metamora, Pekin, Chillicothe, and other towns maintain trails with unique opportunities for exercise, learning, and enjoyment of nature. Hiking the same trails in different seasons offers new perspectives on the flora, fauna, and wildlife. Some trails are even open for cross-country skiing during the winter months.


Put the Pedals Down

Put wheels under a hiker and you have a faster-paced way to explore rural and urban environments. Many (but not all) hiking trails double as cycling paths, and vice versa.

The 26-mile Rock Island Trail State Park features paved surfaces and multiple access points between Alta and Toulon. As the state-maintained bikeway enters Peoria it becomes the Rock Island Greenway (maintained by the Peoria Park District), which wends its way 13 miles through Dunlap, north Peoria, Peoria Heights, and along the downtown riverfront. A short jaunt across the new pedestrian/bike path on the Bob Michel Bridge connects to the River Trail of Illinois from East Peoria to Morton.

For cyclists not content with paved, level surfaces there are miles of mountain bike trails across the region. They include the Wizard of Oz-themed trails of Kinsey Park on Southport Road in Peoria, Black Partridge Park in Metamora, Wildlife Prairie Park near Hanna City, Farmdale Reservoir in East Peoria, Dirksen Park in Pekin, and Independence Park in Marquette Heights.

Cycling is a family-friendly activity offering a physical workout and critical time away from screens for parents and kids.

Watery Workouts

Canoe and kayak enthusiasts know the physical challenges and solitude of a paddling excursion. Central Illinois is rich with watery outdoor fun on the Illinois and Mackinaw Rivers and other bodies of water.

There are two approaches to kayaking and canoeing: purchase your own watercraft and transport it to an access point on a waterway, or pay a fee to rent the gear you need. A rental is often the best way to get started. As your skills improve, consider purchasing your own gear. After that, access to waterways is typically free at public marinas and boat ramps.

Regardless of swimming ability, always wear a personal flotation device (PFD, a.k.a., lifejacket), especially children. For safety, always go in groups of two or more.


Go Fish(ing)

The thrill of reeling in even the tiniest fish is a childhood memory that lasts a lifetime. Fishing is almost limitless along the Illinois River and other bodies of water, public and private. All it takes to get kids started is a simple pole, some fishing line, a hook, and bait.

Beginners and experienced anglers enjoy fishing at places like the Glen Oak Park Lagoon, the shady shores of Lake Eureka, and the former strip mine ponds at Wildlife Prairie Park. Borrow pits along roadways have been transformed into public fishing destinations, like Morton Park District’s Lakewood Park just off the I-74/North Morton Avenue interchange, and Bowen Lake Park at Main Street and the IL Route 24 bypass in Washington.

The Chillicothe Park District can host anglers at Walnut Dog Park or any of the three ponds at Stone Water Park in Dunlap, which are all maintained by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. In Pekin, the lagoon at Mineral Springs Park is a great setting for family fishing and other outdoor fun. Mackinaw residents and others have been fishing the Mackinaw River for hundreds of years.

It’s important to understand Illinois fishing regulations and to have a fishing license where required. You should also make sure you have permission to be on private property. And for safety, always fish in groups of two or more.


Orient Yourself for Fun

It’s one thing to enter an address into your GPS app and follow its audible commands. It’s quite another to use a compass (no batteries required) to find your way in the woods. Both methods have their place, but orienteering—using a compass and detailed map to navigate a course—offers physical challenges while honing map-reading and navigational skills. The Illinois River Valley Orienteering Club ( can help you get started and is a resource for information on events for the whole family. Basic orienteering involves walking (let’s call it hiking) a preset course to discover checkpoints along the way. Instead of leisurely walks, events may involve running, following trails, and mountain biking.

Geocaching is the digital descendant of orienteering and compass skills. Download a free app to your phone and use it to find “caches” in far-flung and unusual places on trails, in parks and other outdoor public places. It costs nothing to participate except time and a love of discover.


A New Twist on Golf

Disc golf is a twist on traditional golf that gets participants outdoors without a big investment in gear and access fees. Courses for all skill levels are available throughout the region, including Bradley Park in Peoria, Illinois Central College, Northwood Park in Morton, Creve Coeur, Pekin, Washington, Marquette Heights, and Chillicothe, to name just a few. The Ledgestone Open is a world-class Disc Golf Pro Tour event that takes place at courses throughout the region in August. Find information and reviews of local courses at


And the Point Is…

The point is, there is an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities throughout Central Illinois. The resources listed here should get you started on your next outdoor adventure.



Outdoor Resources


Local OPAL (Outdoor Playing and Learning)


Peoria Outdoor Adventure


Illinois Department of Natural Resources


Pedestrians in Peoria


Park Districts





East Peoria:



Wildlife Prairie Park


Bike Peoria


Illinois Valley Wheelm’n


PAMBA (Peoria Area Mountain Bike Association)


Illinois Valley Orienteering Club


Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area


Carl Spindler Marina


Disc Golf Courses


The Sun Foundation