Five Places to Spend Some Family Fun Time, Without Spending Money
The Quad Cities area is ripe with adventure for your next family outing. The best part: It's all free, from special days at the zoo to checking out dinosaur skeletons at a geology museum.
1. Dig the Size of the Dinosaur Skeletons at Fryxell
Kids who enjoy collecting things or looking at dinosaurs will appreciate the Fryxell Geology Museum at Augustana College (639 38th St., Rock Island, IL), which hosts one of the best collections of rocks, fossils and minerals in the Midwest. The museum is housed within The Swenson Hall of Geosciences. Dinosaur buffs will dig the 22-foot-long Cryolophosaurus skeleton, which was found on a dig in Antarctica. Many other complete dinosaur skeletons are on display as well.
Kids (and adults) will wow in wonderment at the museum's wall of fluorescent minerals that glows in vibrant colors.
2. Watch a Water Ski Show
Take the kids to see a free water ski show just like those at old-school aquatic theme parks without shelling out any cash. The non-profit Backwater Gamblers Water Ski Club (5000 44th St., Rock Island, IL) puts on free water ski shows at 6:30 p.m. every Sunday and Wednesday from Memorial through Labor Day. Bleacher-style seats allow room for up to 10,000 guests, so you're likely to find a place to sit on any show day, but you also can bring your own lawn chairs. The show includes complimentary show programs with photos and information about the skiers.
Shows last approximately an hour, including a 15-minute intermission. A concession stand offers an assortment of beverages and foods for purchase as well.
Like other outdoor and water-based events, the ski show may be canceled or postponed during severe weather.
3. Wonder at the Animals of the World at the Niabi Zoo
The Niabi Zoo (13010 Niabi Zoo Rd., Coal Valley, IL) offers free entry on Tuesday through Friday from mid-September through the end of October, making it the perfect destination for one of those days the kids have no school because of conferences.
Check out the usual assortment of zoo animals such as giraffes, ostriches and lions, or visit Biodiversity Hall to see macaws, a great horned owl and even a python.
Special Niabi Zoo delights include the tiny fennec fox, which has unusually large ears, or the rock hyrax, which looks similar to a guinea pig or groundhog but is more closely related to the elephant.
The Niabi also has a petting zoo, sure to be a hit with the youngest ones in your group. Kids can pet animals such as a llama, pot-bellied pig or goat. Animal feed is available for 50 cents, allowing the kids to feed their new four-legged friends.
4. Enjoy All Sorts of Natural Beauty at the Vander Veer Botanical Park
The Vander Veer Botanical Park (214 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, IA) just may be the perfect family outing destination for any beautiful weather day or evening, as it has plenty for adults and children to enjoy. This 33-acre park is divided up into separate garden areas such as the Municipal Rose Garden and Hosta Glade areas, both nationally recognized by botanical organizations. The Old World Gardens and Fountain area features a large family-photo-worthy fountain illuminated in colors every evening. Kids can look for the praying mantis sculpture at the Children's Sculpture Garden, while parents appreciate the plants nearby.
The Lagoon and Playground portion of the park has plenty of room for the kids to play, run around or even partake in a family catch-and-release fishing afternoon. Small vending machines offer dried corn to feed the ducks.
5. Connect With Nature at the Loud Thunder Forest Preserve
The Loud Thunder Forest Preserve (19406 Loud Thunder Rd., Illinois City, IL) provides the space and means for the active family to get out and enjoy nature. This 1,600-acre forest site has numerous hiking and horseback-riding trails, plus the sizable Lake George, which is well stocked with fish. Take the family on a hike or a mountain-biking excursion on some of the preserve's shared-use trails, enjoying the view of horseback riders along the way.
In the winter, Loud Thunder is the perfect place to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing if you have your own gear.
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Kathy Adams is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who traveled the world handling numerous duties for music artists. She writes travel and budgeting tips and destination guides for USA Today, Travelocity and ForRent, among others. She enjoys exploring foreign locales and hiking off the beaten path stateside, snapping pics of wildlife and nature instead of selfies.