Find an outdoor oasis

"Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air." –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Are you wishing for a chance to get outside this summer and enjoy the fresh breezes and sunny skies? Do you have kids or dogs to entertain? If you've tired of the familiar confines of your own backyard or neighborhood, maybe its time to explore some more adventurous options that are still close to home. Here are 10 excellent outdoor destinations within 50 miles of Springfield. See if you can cross them all off your list!

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary

2315 Clear Lake Ave., Springfield

This 40-acre urban nature center owned by the Illinois Audubon Society features trails free to the public from dusk to dawn. You'll meander through examples of Illinois habitats: woodland, prairie and wetland. Dogs are welcome on a leash.

Carpenter Park

1 Carpenter Park Trail, Springfield

Get an up-close look at the Sangamon River on river rock trails, picnic at the Historic Stone Pavilion and enjoy the diverse plants and animals protected by designation as an Illinois Nature Preserve. Open 24 hours and dogs welcome on a leash.

Henson Robinson Zoo

1100 E. Lake Shore Dr., Springfield

Lake Park

100 Long Bay Dr.

The combination of these two neighboring destinations makes the perfect pair for young kids. After a day seeing the animals at the zoo, you'll find a grassy shoreline with pavilions, docks, shade trees and playground equipment.

Lewis Memorial Acres

399 S. Koke Mill Road, Springfield

This 1.8-mile loop trail is both dog-friendly and mountain bike-friendly. It sits adjacent to the Sangamon Valley Trail and features both wooded landscapes and a large grassy field with playground equipment.

Lick Creek Wildlife Preserve

5600 Old Chatham Road, Springfield

Located on the far western edge of Lake Springfield, between Springfield and Chatham, you'll find 340 acres set aside as a nature preserve in 1991. Easy trails lead through wooded areas and lakeside wetlands. Dogs welcome on leash.

Lincoln Memorial Garden

2301 E. Lake Shore Dr., Springfield

Walk the trails through the woodlands and along the shore of Lake Springfield. Open from dawn to dusk. The nature center is free to the public and open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Preregister for the 8K trail race June 3 or Forest Therapy session June 24.

Other Springfield-area destinations

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area

10149 County Road 11, Chandlerville

Managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, these 16,550 acres offer mature forests, grassland, hill prairie, agricultural land, lakes, ponds, streams and more. Hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, camping and equestrian trails are all available.

Lake Lou Yaeger

4932 Beach House Trail, Litchfield

Water-sport enthusiasts can boat, fish, kayak or cool off at Milnot Beach. Hikers and nature lovers will enjoy Shoal Creek Conservation Area, 266 acres of high-diversity oak and hickory woodland. Equestrian and bike trails, camping grounds and playground equipment round out the multi-faceted experience.

Rock Springs Nature Center

3939 Nearing Lane, Decatur

Check out live animals at the nature center, walk the trails, see the art galleries and borrow fishing equipment at no cost. If fishing’s not your thing, borrow a free family exploration pack with nature guides, binoculars, enrichment activities, wildlife collecting tools and a seasonally-themed hiking map.

Sangchris Lake State Park

9898 Cascade Road, Rochester

This 3,022-acre reservoir managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources offers fishing, boating, camping and hunting. Check out the Hickory Point and Deer Run campgrounds for options to suit both primitive campers and those who prefer to have electrical hookups and bathrooms. Dogs welcome on leash.


Elizabeth Watson is a freelance writer and mother living in Springfield. She hopes to revisit some of these favorite destinations this summer.