6 parks and preserves where you can do more than just picnic
Although summer doesn't officially begin until June 21, the upcoming three-day weekend seems to serve as the unofficial kickoff to the season.
In addition to Memorial Day services and parades, the weekend offers a chance for family get-togethers at parks, forest preserves and natural areas, complete with picnic lunches or burgers on the grill.
But let's say you're looking to do more than just spread a blanket or sit in a folding chair. Here are a few places where there's plenty to do and see, with activities to keep you busy long after you finish your potato salad.
1. Independence Grove, 16400 Buckley Road, Libertyville. Centered around a 115-acre lake, this Lake County Forest Preserve District property offers boat rentals, a swimming beach, dog park, cafe, visitors center, fishing, sand volleyball, and hiking and biking trails. Admission is free for Lake County residents with I.D.; nonresidents pay $5 per car Monday-Thursday and $10 per car Friday-Sunday and holidays. (847) 968-3499; www.lcfpd.org/IG/
2. Pottawatomie Park, 8 North Ave., St. Charles. The St. Charles Park District bills this 92-acre spot on the Fox River as a local "staycation" option, as it features a golf course, miniature golf course, historic pavilion, pool, playground, tennis courts, native plant demonstration garden and trails. You can catch a paddle wheel riverboat here and take a cruise along the river. Free admission; fee for some activities. (630) 513-6200; www.stcparks.org/location/pottawatomie-park/
3. Moraine Hills State Park, 1510 S. River Road, McHenry. This Illinois Department of Natural Resources property offers 10 miles of trails for hikers and bikers. About half of the park's 2,200 acres is composed of wetlands and lakes. The McHenry Dam area provides access to the Fox River, and a fishing pier accessible to visitors with disabilities is available. The concession stand at the McHenry Dam provides refreshments, bait and tackle, and boat rentals for both the Fox River and Lake Defiance. Free admission. www.dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Pages/MoraineHills.aspx
4. Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive, Aurora. The "crown jewel" of Aurora's parks, the 325-acre park is home to a zoo, golf course, aquatic center, dog park, skate park, lakeside hiking trail, sunken gardens, and a visitors center where you can see mastodon bones estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000 years old. Zoo is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; free admission. (630) 256-3860; www.aurora-il.org/893/Phillips-Park
5. Spring Valley, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg. This Schaumburg Park District property features 135 acres of fields, forests, marshes and streams. Spring Valley also features more than three miles of handicapped-accessible hiking trails, a nature center with natural history displays and information, and an 1880s living history farm. Free admission; open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (847) 985-2100; www.parkfun.com/spring-valley.
6. Volo Bog State Natural Area, 28478 W. Brandenburg Road, Ingleside. A half-mile boardwalk gives visitors a close look at the only quaking bog in Illinois. A floating mat of sphagnum moss, cattails and sedges surrounds an open pool of water in the center of the bog. There's also a hiking trail that encircles the bog, a visitor center and picnic area. Free admission. www.dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Pages/VoloBog.aspx.