Wildlife Prairie State Park
Just outside Peoria is a little-known Illinois treasure: Wildlife Prairie State Park.
My family and I discovered this gem two years ago when we were invited to stay overnight in one of the converted cabooses the park offers as overnight hotel rooms. The caboose comes complete with twin beds for four, a small kitchenette, full bath and television—no cable, though, so the grainy picture appeared in black and white. Outside was a barbecue grill and picnic area.
But the real draw was Eddie. That was the name my daughter, Tess, then 9, gave to the deer she befriended right outside the door to our caboose. Eddie and his friends—wolves, bison, black bear, elk, otter and a host of birds—live at the 2,000-acre park.
Stroll along the miles of hiking trails, bring a fishing pole and settle in for a lazy afternoon at one of the four public access lakes (anyone over 16 needs a fishing license, sold at the park) or set up a picnic lunch at one of the shelters that dot the park. And don’t miss a trip through the Snakes ’N’ More exhibit near the Visitor Center to learn about reptiles native to Illinois, or a ride on the miniature train that runs through the park.
The park is an easy day trip from Chicago. But if you can spare the time, stay overnight in one of the cabooses, cottages or the renovated stables. It’s just plain fun.