Free Things to Do in Peoria, Illinois

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Peoria Celebrates Discovery and Family-Friendly Experiences

Peoria honors hometown life with a blend of traditional celebrations and family-oriented recreation options. City venues unfold a wealth of free, wholesome learning, discovery and outdoor adventures during the changing seasons.

Unleash Your Wild Side

Explore woodlands, prairies and wildlife at the 540-acre Forest Park Nature Center (5809 N. Forest Park Dr., Peoria, IL), an Illinois State Nature Preserve. Hike year-round along 7 miles of trails, ranging from easy, family-friendly paths to more challenging routes scaling the hills of the Illinois River Valley. The dense forest canopy keeps woodland trails cool in summer and paints the landscape with autumn colors. Outdoor lovers and young budding naturalists enjoy discovering the park’s ecosystems, which are home to a diverse mixture of Central Illinois native critters, including 140 bird species. Spring is a good time to view migratory birds. In winter months, it’s possible to view birds visiting the feeding station from a warm and cozy spot inside the interpretive center. Stop by the center before hitting the trails to check out the exhibits, which offer information on the preserve’s flora and fauna. Ask about free drop-in programs. You can go old school and learn to navigate the park in a Compass Challenge, or encourage the kids to investigate forest secrets in an I Spy Hike or photo scavenger hunt. There’s fun waiting here in every season.

The Band Plays On

For generations, families have gathered on warm summer nights to enjoy free performances by the Peoria Municipal Band. The 50-member band marked its 80th season in 2017. Catch a Sunday evening concert at Glen Oak Park Amphitheater (2218 N. Prospect Rd., Peoria, IL) or a Wednesday evening street performance (619 SW Water St., Peoria, IL) in the Warehouse District. Each of the season’s 24 concerts offers a variety of music. You might want to bring lawn chairs or a blanket to toss on the grass. The informal setting allows parents to soak in tunes, while on the sidelines, restless youngsters dance and march to the beat to their hearts’ content.

Explore the Cosmos

Take a free trip to the stars at Northmoor Observatory. Located at Donovan Park (5805 N. Knoxville Ave., Peoria, IL), Peoria Astronomical Society volunteers guide star travelers through the night skies on cloudless evenings from mid-May to October. Northmoor was the first observatory in the state to offer public viewing. See stars, planets and the moon from a new perspective through the 9-inch refractor telescope. Volunteers happily share their expertise with adults and curious youngsters. The free sky journeys begin at dusk.

Welcome St. Nick

Peoria’s Santa Claus Parade has ushered in the holidays since 1887. In fact, it’s America’s longest-running holiday parade. The themed procession marches through downtown on the Friday morning following Thanksgiving. Crowds line the sidewalks to see as many as 100 floats, including vintage floats from previous parades, costumed characters, horses and bands. Watch the kids’ faces light up when the candy gets passed out. Santa and Mrs. Claus mark the parade finale as they make their entrance by sleigh to signal the start of the Christmas season. Stay in town for the Yule Like Peoria festivities later in the day to enjoy the community tree lighting ceremony, entertainment and free refreshments.

Experience Sledding Thrills

Snowy days offer old-fashioned sledding fun at Detweiller Park (8327 N. Galena Rd., Peoria, IL). When big snows blanket the area, the park department closes one of the entry roads at the upper park. That’s when locals like to hike a short ways in to one of the fastest and longest sledding slopes in all of Peoria. Detweiller’s formal sledding hill in the north parking area by the Pine and Dogwood Shelters thrills kids of all ages and their grown-ups. The official hill opens weekdays from noon until dark and from 10 a.m. until dark on weekends and holidays. If you don't have a sled, take along a large plastic bag for a makeshift ride.