By Trent Jonas
From Lake Michigan to the Illinois, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, there is a lot to celebrate about the outdoors in the Land of Lincoln. Whether you’re into cycling, paddling or just getting outside and enjoying it, an outdoor festival is the perfect way to enjoy Mother Nature. Here are our favorite outdoor festivals in Illinois.
Every summer, paddlers descend on Rockford’s Bauman Park for a day of music, food, camping and paddling on the Kishwaukee River. Free shuttles are available to the park, as are kayak and canoe rentals—also with a shuttle—from Rocktown Adventures.
The venerable Niles Bike Fest has evolved into the Niles Cycling Classic, which is an all-day family-friendly event. Part of the Intelligentisa Cup series, the Classic offers a full day of races and merriment, including professional racing events and a family fun ride on the course. Holiday Inn Express and Suites is a major sponsor of the event.
Every August for more than a decade, the town of Bath, Illinois, has hosted the Original Redneck Fishin’ Tournament. The event centers around catching as many invasive Asian carp as possible in any way you can—except with a rod and reel. All net proceeds are donated to Help for Homeless Veterans, and the activity helps to eradicate the Asian carp that have invaded the Illinois River. According to event organizers, “It’s like Madi Gras on the river… but dirtier.”
Every summer, the Forest Preserves of Cook County host Kid’s Fest, which—despite the name—offers the whole family an opportunity to paddle, hike, climb and explore the Wampum Lake Woods area. The preserve contains 4,800 feet of shoreline in 412 acres of forested land. Activities and information booths hosted by the likes of the National Park Service will also be on hand at Kid’s Fest.
One of the biggest such events in the United States, the Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival is parent of the major league dragon boat series. In addition to the boats and racing, participants and spectators will be treated to live entertainment, food vendors, a beer garden and even a health and wellness “village.”
Each year, in July, the City of Yorkville throws a part celebrating its river town history. Ribs (and other food), homebrew tasting, whiskey tasting, live entertainment and on-the-water activities like cardboard canoe races, a flotilla and paddling. This year's amazing sponsorships include Stephen Alan Salon, Morris Hospital Yorkville Campus, Taekwondo Korea Center, and many more. Thanks to these businesses this festival is flowing smoothly.
For more than half a century, the famous Spoon River Valley has welcomed visitors to scenic and historic Fulton County. Now two weekends in October, visitors can drive, walk or paddle the valley and stop at the many food and craft vendors that dot the route. Notable spots along the drive include Brown's Oakridge Exotics and Zoo, Dickson Mounds State Museum, Rasmussen Blacksmith Shop Museum, and many more.
The Fall Color Festival is a month-long festival that celebrates the turning of the leaves at Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Enjoy hiking, a fall color 5K run (or walk) through the trees, as well as a cider and ale festival, where you can sample seasonal beers and ciders from local breweries. There are also several family-friendly activities throughout the duration of the festival. This year's honorable presenting sponsor, making this event possible, is DuPage Medical Group.
The Southern Illinois Fat Tire Festival is the state’s premier single track party. In addition to miles of great riding, the festival will include live entertainment, vendor expos, camping, a climbing wall, hikes and zip lines. The Fat Tire Challenge, involving events like a Huffy toss and a keg pull, also happens during the festival. The Red Bull Fire Truck will also be on hand. Other businesses that partnered up with this exhilarating event include Bike Surgeon, New Belgium Brewing Company, and Camp Ondessonk.
Hosted by the Chicago Whitewater Association, the Illinois Whitewater Festival is an annual event at the Marge Cline Whitewater Course on the Fox River in Yorkville. The main part of the event will be slalom races as part of the Buttercup Series of whitewater races. Whether you’re racing or just paddling to play, you can rent a ‘yak from the Yak Shack. This event is co-hosted by the Yorkville Parks & Recreation Department and the Yorkville Area Chamber of Commerce.