Nestled about an hour south of Chicago, Kankakee County is home to farmers markets, festivals and family fun. And for city dwellers looking to experience nature’s splendor, there’s no need to journey out of state. Travelers can meander through miles of hiking and biking trails, float down a river or drive through the countryside—all before capping the night off with a craft beer over a good meal. But don’t try to see everything in one day. Plan at least a weekend to explore all this Illinois gem has to offer.
Yolks & Berries in Bradley is a delicious way to start the morning. Pop in after 6 a.m. and try the Berry ‘Ola French Toast for a taste explosion hot off the griddle. Visitors in Kankakee can get breakfast all day at Blue’s Cafe, a cash-only diner. Make sure to leave room for pie, we hear it’s the best in the county.
Guests who want to slow down for dinner can head to the family-run Locavore Farm in Grant Park. The farm is available for private events, but on select dates—while the harvest lasts—100 guests can gather for a true farm-to-table meal. Choose from vegetarian options or order pasture-raised meat served straight off the grill. Sip on bourbon lemonade, craft beer or wine. Call for a reservation before stopping by.
For cozy conversation over a seasonal wine flight, head to Kankakee’s Grapes and Hops. Their wine slushies hit the spot when visitors need to beat the heat in summer. For Bourbonnais visitors, get world-class wine at Flight 102 or grab an award-winning craft beer at BrickStone Brewery. Fans of Italian fare can fill up on endless salad, hot rolls and classic made-to-order pasta dishes at Tucci’s, a family-owned restaurant that has been in business since the early 1900s, or head to Uptown Grille for Executive Chef Farinati’s authentic Northern Italian cuisine.
Let the little ones probe their curiosity in Bourbonnais at Exploration Station...a children's museum in Perry Farm Park. They can transform into royalty in the Exploralot Castle before winding through secret tunnels and learning about sound while playing musical instruments. All ages are welcome, but the exhibits are designed for ages 2–8. At Strickler Planetarium in Bourbonnais, budding astronomers can explore the universe under a three-dimensional view of the night sky.
In July, Kankakee County hosts the Kankakee River Fishing Derby, 10 days of shoreline wading, boat or fly-fishing on the Kankakee River. Recognized as a National Water Trail and listed on the Federal Clean Streams Register, the river is one of best in the state. Just down the street, you’ll find Adventure Commons, a 70,000-sq.-ft. recreational facility complete with an indoor turf field and four basketball courts.
During summer, head to Kankakee to rent a kayak or canoe on the Kankakee River or cool down at the splash pad at Manteno’s Legacy Park. Explore history at the Kankakee Railroad Museum, where kids and parents can tour a 1947 Pullman Coach and a 1964 Union Pacific Caboose.
Whether you prefer getting your hands dirty in the field or strolling through produce stalls at the market, Kankakee County’s rich farm culture means that you’ll have your pick when it comes to eating local. Get a lesson in African-American history alongside a sustainable, organic farm experience at Basu Natural Farms. Enjoy free hayrides and hot cider while you look for the perfect choose-and-cut Christmas tree from Cupola House Tree Farm. Pick seasonally available berries at Mary’s Berries, or, if you prefer to see the bounty spread before you, stroll the Kankakee Farmers’ Market from April through October.
Bring the bike and pack the camping gear for a nature-filled weekend at the Kankakee River State Park. Surrounded by bluffs and woods, there are 4,000 acres of grounds to explore all year. In summer, drift down 11 miles of river in a boat, kayak or canoe. Or wade into the water to catch smallmouth bass, channel catfish or northern pike. In winter, glide through the snow on cross-country skis or crunch along on snowshoes. Four-legged friends—including horses and dogs—are also welcome to roam the grounds, with their human guides of course.
For visitors who like their wilderness a little more contained, bring your clubs. The lush golf courses of Kankakee County boast modern layouts, sculpted fairways and plenty of water to test your accuracy.
The Barn Quilts of Kankakee County are not to be missed. Each barn quilt pattern is painted on a piece of eight-by-eight-foot wood in a colorful, distinct design. Spend a day driving through the countryside to view all 50. Download a self-guided tour to learn about their location and history.
Kankakee County will not disappoint architecture buffs. In Kankakee, park next to the Beaux-Arts style county courthouse and set out on foot for a walking tour of six of the county’s nine historic churches, which date back to the 1800s. Frank Lloyd Wright fans can see two homes built side by side for a pair of siblings designed by the renowned architect. The B. Harley Bradley Home, set on the banks of the Kankakee River and one of Wright’s first Prairie-Style homes, is open for tours. The Warren Hickok House is privately owned and can be viewed from the outside. Unique river tours can be taken from this location, so pack a picnic basket and enjoy a boat cruise on a Duffy electric boat.
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, Kankakee County has something to entertain. In May, Kankakee hosts the Strawberry Jazz Festival. In July, visitors can take in a rodeo, spin around on a carnival ride or eat fried treats at the Kankakee County Fair. Kankakee is also home to Merchant Street MusicFest, which takes place every July at the historic downtown train depot. Visitors can dance to the music of local bands as well as peruse art from vendors.
Enjoy environmental theater with a summer performance by the Acting Out Theatre Co. Each fall, the company partners with the Bourbonnais Township Park District to guide viewers through The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Guests travel from camp to camp to see how the story unfolds. Brace yourself for an exciting ending.
From the brilliant yellows and reds of leaves in the fall to the twinkling lights of winter’s Gallery of Trees and from the interactive Arts Center to a host of local galleries, Kankakee County is never dull. Plan a stop at Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism, one of four galleries in the nation that promotes artists with autism. View works by up-and-coming talents at the Brandenburg Gallery/Larsen Fine Arts Center, find unique local art and gifts at Yellow Elephant Gallery or learn more about the role of art in contemporary society and get to know the Kankakee community at the Feed Arts & Cultural Center.
Kankakee County is a great place to spend a day, a weekend or a week. Whether it’s biking through the Kankakee River State Park (followed by a bite to eat), skimming the surface of the Kankakee River or spending a girls’ weekend touring the B. Harley Bradley House, there’s more than enough for the whole family to do.Find out why Kankakee County is for you!