by Stephanie Harper – Fall is the perfect time to visit Rockford, Illinois as the colors are bright and leaf-peeping is the showstopper, while taking in the sights. With weather dropping comfortably in the 40’s, there’s plenty of activities to keep you warm all day!
Rockford is just one of the cities that borders along Rock River and is an hour-long drive from Chicago. With nicknames such as “Forest City” and “City of Gardens” it’s no wonder families seek outdoor recreation in a space close to the convenience of urban living–while the nickname “Screw City” lends its history to the origin of Rockford once being a leading manufacturing location, the city itself is full of cultural development and is the 3rd largest city in Illinois.
Adventure-Filled 3-Day Rockford Family Trip Itinerary Includes:
– Apple picking at an orchard
– Anderson Japanese Gardens
– Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens/Sinnissippi Bike Path
– Hiking at Rock Cut State Park
– Discovery Center Museum
– Horseback riding at Lockwood Park Trailside Equestrian Centre and Children’s Farm
– Severson Dells Nature Center
Where to Stay in Rockford
The Radisson Hotel is affordable and comfortable while still in close proximity to all your mini adventures. The suite rooms come complete with a pull out couch and living room area and a small fridge can hold snacks and drinks. There’s an indoor pool (for the restless kids who still have tons of energy in their reserves) and a fitness room on the property. The Forest City Pub is just downstairs for the days you don’t feel like going out. It serves American fare in a comfy setting.
Family Adventure in Rockford
The outdoor scene in Rockford is a smorgasbord of selections — I’d suggest planning out each day to include at least one of them. Anderson Japanese Gardens is a unique place to find some early morning zen and observe the Fall colors of Japanese fauna and flora this time of year. The pond and bridge is a peaceful setting and walking throughout the grounds will rejuvenate and clear your mind. You may want to leave snacks and water in the car during your short stroll — the gardens’ etiquette stresses not bringing in plastic bottles, outside food or drink, or climbing any structures you come across.
Rock Cut State Park is the perfect place to get the most out of the green space that Winnebago County has to offer — between hiking, boating, and camping to name a few. For your trip, get your trail legs going using the park map. Afterwards, don’t forget to make a stop at the Nature Preserve, also in the park for a chance to see some wildlife.
For all the farm feels, take a quick trip to the Lockwood Park Trailside Equestrian Centre and Children’s Farm and get to know the horses, goats, rabbits, ewes, and more. There’s a park and picnic tables to rest at after going on a trail ride! The trail rides are on Saturdays only and if you’ve got little ones, there’s even wagon rides and a pony circle.
Get lost in wonder at the Discovery Center Museum, and interactive, hands-on museum for kids of all ages. It is one of the “top family attractions in Northern Illinois” and boasts over 300 interactive exhibits for you and the family to enjoy. The Discovery center Museum is one of three on the Riverfront Museum Park campus, with the Rockford Art Museum, and the Burpee Museum of Natural History.
Be transported to a modern day, tropical adventure at the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens. The beautiful Rock River Recreation bike path edges alongside the river and the Conservatory and there’s even a path that goes straight to the Sinnissippi Rose Garden. Visit the Lorikeet Exhibit as you walk among the Lori as they fly above your head and try to land right on your shoulder!
Family Friendly Dining in Rockford
- Fresco at the gardens: Casual, organic, locally-sourced lunch at the Anderson Japanese Gardens
- Prairie Street Brewhouse: Enjoy options such as cheese curds, beer can chicken, or Korean tacos all on the outdoor deck overlooking the Rock River. Great selection of beer on tap.
- Mary’s Market: Made fresh daily; cafe bakery selections. (Tend to your sweet tooth, here.)
- The Olympic Tavern: 28 beers on tap, and dishes such as Poorman’s lobster, poutine, and stout bison chili–fun dining and family-friendly
- Lino’s: Italian food at its best! From the sea, Poor Boy sandwiches, and classic Italian eats like eggplant parmigiana. The kids menu has lasagna!
Even MORE Family Fun in Rockford
If you have some time in between your stops, try and fit in a self-guided walk at the Severson Dells Nature Center is another great place to get your dose of Vitamin N without the everyday constraints of structure. You’ll be able to see migratory birds in the area and learn about the native plants and trees. The Grove is a nature playscape aesthetically designed to look like the environment within the nature center. Climb, build, and create to your heart’s content.
Get your core exercise in at Cherry Valley Orchard, Edwards Apple Orchard West, or Curran’s Apple Orchard. Apple-picking in the Fall is a must and these popular destinations are the best for U-picking apples in the Rockford area. Soak up the gorgeous fall foliage and partake in hay rides, featuring fresh, fried apple donuts, or caramel apples–Don’t forget to check for hours of operation and U-pick hours for each location as this changes frequently during apple-picking season.
Now that you have all the details on your next Fall foliage family trip to Rockford, Illinois bundle up and make some memories during Fall foliage, one of the most beautiful times of the year.
Stephanie Harper is a freelance writer who lives in Asheville, NC. Originally from Oakland, CA, she and her husband, James, decided to move their blended family cross-country in hopes to broaden their landscape for outdoor adventuring and love of nature. You can follow the Harper family on her blog raisingkidswild.com.
We usually pass right through Rockford on our way to visit family, giving no thought to stop and explore the area. I had no idea there were so many things to do there. Rock Cut SP looks gorgeous in the fall!