Looking for a day trip to take with the family? You don't have to venture far to find the perfect trip.
Many of the parks in this region offer a variety of activities to do, many of which are free—saving you money out of your wallet and gas in your car.
Three Rivers County Park
Start the day by traveling the 1.5-mile trail around the lake at Three Rivers County Park in Lake Station. Have a budding fisherman in the family? Take advantage of the fishing opportunities at the park, or enjoy the water by renting a paddleboat.
Picnic shelters and tables onsite provide the perfect spot for a lunch, and afterward, check out an on-site center where children can explore, create and interact.
"For little ones, ages 9 and younger, plan a trip to Bellaboo's Play and Discovery Center," said Sandy Basala, superintendent of visitor services at Lake County Parks. "Bellaboo's has a dozen rooms devoted to train play, dress up, play kitchen, pizza parlor, grocery store, hands on (play) cooking, as well as large muscle play in a ball pit and slides."
When the weather is nice, the dinosaur dig sand play area is open outdoors as well, she said.
A cafe is located in the center of the play areas so adults can easily keep an eye on little ones, and specially designed educational programs are available for reserved groups.
With about 6 miles of hiking trails that wind throughout the preserve and several spots that overlook ponds and creeks, Goodenow Grove in Beecher, Ill., is the perfect place for a day trip.
"There is a 40-foot high hill that is used for sledding in the winter, but is great to hike up to get a very nice panoramic view of the preserve," said Bob Bryerton, facility coordinator with the Forest Preserve District of Will County, Plum Creek Nature Center.
There is also camping at the preserve, so visitors can stay overnight and enjoy a campfire as the sun sets.
"Plum Creek Nature Center is also in the preserve and offers a variety of exhibits and activities," Bryerton said.
A full schedule of programs can be found on the park's website.
"There is a very nice bird feeding/watching area, craft supplies and a play area for kids, and a nature playscape surrounds the nature center," Bryerton said. "The nature playscape allows kids and parents to have fun in the outdoors and includes places to climb, drop acorns, peek into a nature sanctuary and play with natural materials."
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
In mid-June, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore will feature a new program called "Passport to the Dunes."
"It's designed to get visitors to visit more than just the beach and dunes," said Bruce Rowe, Public Information Officer for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
A small handout "passport" will be available at both the visitor center and Douglas Center. It will include nine different locations within the park, he said.
"There will be a question for each of the nine locations that can be answered by visiting the location and hiking the trail or reading the interpretive signs," he said. "If a visitor answers at least eight of the questions, they will get a small poster featuring out new logos of each of the nine locations."
The program and the posters are free, and it usually takes about a day or a couple of half-day trips to visit the locations, Rowe said.
Take a day trip to Buckley Homestead and visitors may even see newborn baby lambs. Visit June 1, and guests can watch the sheep get sheared, Basala said.
"Many people bring the kids to the farm to see chickens, sheep, cows and the horses," she said.
Don't forget to check out some of the historic aspects of the homestead, from the carriage house to the replica of the original one-room school that was open from the middle 1800s until the 1920s.
Buckley Homestead also features several other activities, from cross country trails to barbeque grills at shelters.
A 46-acre lake at Monee Reservoir in Monee serves as the focal point for several activities during a day trip.
"This site has a little over a mile and a half of hiking trails," Bryerton said.
It has picnic shelters, as well as tables near the visitor center, which sells bait, tackle and snacks, as well as rents kayaks, canoes, rowboats and paddle boats.
"It is a great place to fish, view wildlife on the lake, or just kick back and enjoy being on the water," he said. "They also offer programs on beginning fishing and instruction on canoeing and kayaking."
Mark your calendars - there is a Kite Fly Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 2.
Deep River Park
Spend the day visiting the historic Wood's Grist Mill at Deep River County Park in Hobart.
"Take the steps all the way to the third floor and explore," Basala said. "Find out what happens in the grist mill, then go sit in the gazebo and share what you learned."
If you're lucky, you'll visit on a day when the Deep River Grinders play baseball by the original rules of 1858. The Grinders are charter members of the Vintage Base Ball Association, and the local team plays other vintage teams throughout the Midwest.
"After each home match, children have an opportunity to take a turn at the bat and run the bases," she said.
Check out the team's schedule online.
FYI: Lake CountyParks.com