Travel Illinois: Kankakee
The City of Kankakee’s tagline is “Easy to find, hard to leave,” and it’s not difficult to see why. For a small city of just over 27,000 friendly folks, Kankakee certainly has a lot going for it. The peaceful community, located 55 miles south of Chicago on Interstate 57, is the perfect mix of urban and rural influences and offers an array of attractions, from antiques and agri-tourism to museums, golfing and water sports galore.
Long before settlers came to Kankakee in 1834, the area was home to the Potawatomi Indians, who cherished it for its gently rolling landscape, abundant wildlife and, above all, the beautiful Kankakee River. Today, Kankakee citizens and visitors still love the Kankakee River, which runs 57 miles through the county and provides oodles of outdoor recreation opportunities, including boating, canoeing, camping, hunting and hiking. Fishing is especially popular along the banks of the Kankakee River – it holds the state record for Northern pike, walleye, and small and largemouth bass.
Can’t get enough of the water? Embark on a memorable journey down the Kankakee River with the help of Reed’s Canoe Trips, a family-owned guide service that leads canoeing adventures for all ages. Reed’s departs from two locations along the river and offers three different trip options, ranging from two hours to six hours on the water. Scenic rock bluffs, old Indian caves and wildlife make for excellent scenery along the way. You can even bring a cooler and stop for a relaxing shore lunch.
Surrounding both sides of the Kankakee River for 11 miles, Kankakee River State Park attracts visitors with its 4,000 acres of pristine bluffs and woodlands. A three-mile hiking trail provides views of limestone canyons and a frothy waterfall, and wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, coyote, red fox, beavers and turtles are easy to spot. In addition to hiking, the park has opportunities for horseback riding, biking, camping, fishing, boating and hunting.
Fun for the Family
Treat the family to a soft-serve ice cream cone or a milkshake at the Dairy Queen, whose founder, Sherb Noble, started the ice cream store franchise in Kankakee in 1938. Noble owned a small ice cream store called Sherb’s on South West Avenue, where he launched the multi-million dollar business by offering a deal no one could refuse during the Great Depression – all-you-can-eat, soft-serve ice cream for just 10 cents. More than 1,600 people took Noble up on the offer the first day. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Slather on sunscreen and cool off at Splash Valley Aquatic Park, where you can float effortlessly in the lazy river, slip down a water slide, let the little ones splash in the shallow toddler pool or soak up the sun with a good book. Operated by the Kankakee Valley Park District, Splash Valley is the region’s premier water park and provides endless summer fun for all ages from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Take a break from the heat and hit the ice at Oak Orthopedic Sports Arena, a family ice sports complex with an NHL ice rink, fitness center, arcade, pro shop and the Breakaway Café. Public skating hours and drop-in hockey times are available several days a week, and skates can be rented for $3.
Get a close-up look at bird’s nests, animal tracks, feathers and other natural wonders at Willowhaven Interpretive Center, a free hands-on museum that allows kids and adults to learn while exploring the splendors of nature. Live animal displays and aquariums let you come nose-to-nose with Illinois wildlife, and scheduled programs cover everything from gardening to bats.
Calling All History Buffs
Stroll through the Riverview Historic District, located less than a mile from downtown Kankakee, and you’ll be enveloped by shady, tree-lined streets and graceful homes built around the turn of the century. Among them are two Frank Lloyd Wright houses built side by side – the Warren Hickox and B. Harley Bradley houses. While in the neighborhood, take a peek inside The Stable Shop, which is connected to the Bradley House and was also designed by Wright. The charming shop sells jewelry, Christmas ornaments, clocks, gifts and more.
Stay overnight in the Riverview Historic District at one of two quaint bed and breakfasts – the Magruder House, built in 1892, and the Riverview Guest House, built in 1907. The elegant Magruder House is the ideal spot to relax and unwind by a Victorian fireplace, while the Riverview Guest House is known for its bright and cheerful Maurice Chevalier Dining Room (named for the French actor and singer).
Kankakee boasts 135 churches of nearly every denomination, and the six oldest can be seen on the downtown Historic Church Walking Tour. These six 1800s churches are included in the walking tour, and their breathtaking architecture and ornate stained-glass windows are sure to leave you speechless.