Family Vacation in Rockford, Illinois

A sock monkey is what really piqued my interest in Rockford, Illinois, a city of just under 200,000 people.  Southern neighbor of Beloit, Wisconsin, Rockford is about an hour and a half drive from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison.

Small enough to measure summer by the height of corn, but large enough for shopping, industry, and tourism, Rockford reminds me a lot of my hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Even the Rock River, meandering through a re-vitalizing downtown and remnants of early Native American inhabitants had me double checking the map.

Linked to their industrial past, someone in Rockford, Illinois put a patent on the red-heeled sock and the rest is just monkey business. In the spirit of the primate, we “monkied” around in Rockford and found some fun places worth visiting on a family road trip:

Our first stop, of course, spotting Nelson, the world’s largest sock monkey at the Midway Village Museum. A 19th century village, the museum is set on 137 acres and features 26 historical buildings, many of which you can go in. We arrived first thing in the morning, and our patient tour guide led us through the most toddler-friendly buildings in the village (school, fire station, police station, general store, and pump house).

Sock Monkeys at the Midway Village Museum

Sock Monkeys at the Midway Village Museum

Where to Stay

Find family-friendly accommodations in Rockford, Illinois from traditional hotels to private vacation rentals through Stay22.com:

We could have stayed in The Old Doll’s House building for hours. A building full of doll house displays from around the world, I’d go back here on a rainy day. The museum encourages exploration of the region’s history of industry as well as a hands-on activity constructing an industrial fan. A special section focuses on the Rockford Peaches and the Women’s Baseball League was nicely laid out and inspired us to watch “A League of Their Own.”

Doll House Exhibit at the Midway Village

Doll House Exhibit at the Midway Village Museum

If you haven’t been to the Discovery Center Museum in downtown, you’ll soon see why the museum has been recognized as one of the Top 10 children’s museums in the nation by The National Geographic Society. We were lucky enough to visit the Discovery Center Museum during a grand re-opening, featuring the brand new Ag-Zibit and Air and Flight displays.

A perfect day to cool down in the WaterWorks area of the outdoor Rock River Discovery Park, we continued the splashing indoors in the wonderful Tot Spot water table play area upstairs. Unlike children’s museums in big cities, parking is free. Note that the Burpee Museum of Natural History is located just next door.

Outdoor WaterWorks Interactive Exhibit at Discovery Center Museum

Outdoor WaterWorks Interactive Exhibit at Discovery Center Museum

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that we then ventured over to the Burpee Museum of Natural History to meet Jane, the dinosaur (mental note: based on size of “young Jane’s skeleton,” I’m once again glad dinosaurs are extinct). We looked at fossils and rocks, felt tree bark, and learned about mining.

Jane the Dinosaur

Jane the Dinosaur

On the third floor, the kids were absolutely fascinated with the Native American exhibits and the different dwellings. Here we are seen hunting deer from the safety of the museum canoe. Clean, open, and not too big or too small for younger children, Burpee and Jane were gracious hosts.

Burpee Museum of Natural History

Burpee Museum of Natural History

A fabulous place for kids of all ages is the Anderson Japanese Gardens. Gravel paths wind through the fourteen-acre authentic Japanese Garden, around waterfalls, koi ponds, reflection pools, and even a tea room. Kids can purchase bags of fish food in the Visitor Center. Anderson Japanese Gardens is among my favorite botanic gardens in the Midwest; you should check it out.

Anderson Japanese Gardens

Anderson Japanese Gardens

Alternately, the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is a year-round option, with the indoor conservatory a popular respite in colder months. The gardens feature tropical plants in a 11,000 square-foot exhibition area,  a newly remodeled lagoon (converted to an ice skating rink in the winter) and beautiful outdoor rose garden.

klehm arboretumWithin walking distance of the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens are two unique tours of the city: the the historic Trolley Car 36 and the Forest City Queen Riverboat. Departing from the Trolley Station in Riverview Park, the trolley takes passengers up and down the scenic Rock River trail, past sixteen unique sculptures and making a brief stop at the Sinnissippi Gardens. The riverboat travels up and down the Rock River on an hour-long sightseeing cruise taking passengers through county parks and past some of the more stately homes in Rockford. The boat also passes through the downtown business district.

Forest City Queen

Forest City Queen

One of the more popular summertime attractions in Rockford is the Magic Waters Waterpark located near the Interstate 90 corridor. The waterpark is home to Tsunami Bay, the largest wave pool in the state of Illinois as well as a variety of water slide, a lazy river, and Tiki Island with a variety of interactive toys and a 1,000 gallon water bucket that dumps onto unsuspecting patrons at regular intervals.

MagicWaters

Little Lagoon at Magic Waters (credit: Magic Waters Waterpark)

Another (dryer) option is Volcano Falls Adventure Park, also located on the east side of town. A typical adventure park, the attraction features mini golf, go-carts, lazer tag, and batting cages (we did not go, but it looks fun from the road).

If you visit Rockford and decide to spend the night a nice option for families is the Hilton Garden Inn Rockford, Rockford, Illinois, United States. The Hilton Garden Inn has a super fun swimming pool catered to younger kids; I’ve stayed there before and it’s a nice hotel.

Pool area at the Rockford Hilton Garden Inn.

Pool area at the Rockford Hilton Garden Inn.

Happy trails! Pin for Later:

RockfordPin

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.

1 Comment on "Family Vacation in Rockford, Illinois"

  1. I always wanted my own sock monkey (I eventually got a couple of little sock monkey ornaments a few years ago), so I enjoyed hearing about the home of the little fellows 🙂
    We stayed at a Fairfield Inn & Suites at South Bend, Indiana, just across from Notre Dame. It was just opened when we stayed there last year, and I’d say it also had an “AusTin Powers groovy” vibe…nice little suite that I blogged about, even though I rarely do reviews of chain lodging.

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