Discover Peoria The River City
Discover Peoria The River City

Find Harvest-time Joy in Central Illinois

Fall On the farm

Find Harvest-time Joy in Central Illinois

By Caren Friedman

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Ah, the sights, sounds and tastes of fall. Bold reds, yellows and oranges blazing from the trees. Leaves crunching underfoot. Spiced cider and donuts tempting noses and bellies.

Though this year’s back-to-school routine is far from typical, your family doesn’t have to forgo the joys of the season.

In fact, there’s no better place to relive your childhood memories with your own kids than Peoria, which is next door to Morton, the pumpkin capital of the world (seriously!). The call of the harvest is reason enough to make the quick drive (less than three hours from Chicago and its surrounding suburbs) to Peoria, where you can also get lost in a corn maze, pick juicy apples and sample wines from the region’s vintners.

Harvest time and the abundant seasonal outdoor activities in Central Illinois provide the perfect backdrop for maximizing your (socially distanced) last-hurrah-before-school-starts getaway.

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You’ve been cooped up for a long time and are itching to get back to nature, right? Peoria invites you to take advantage of the area’s orchards, patches, farms, U-picks and markets.

A man wearing a baseball cap holds two baby goats at Akerman Family Farms near Peoria, Illinois

Ten minutes from downtown Peoria in Morton, Illinois, Ackerman Family Farms boasts 160 varieties of pumpkins and squash, plus mums, corn and other fall home décor goods. For more than 100 years, the Ackerman family has maintained this farmland, open to visitors from late August through October 31. The animal lovers in your group will delight in saying hello to the farm’s residents (always wanted to meet a baby goat?), and weekend visitors can hop aboard a hayrack ride—the ultimate fall activity.

Pro-Tip

Foodies, head to the gift shop to stock up on local specialties including jam, jelly and salsa.

A box of red and green apples from Orchard Hill Farm and Country Store in Lewiston, Illinois

Four miles down the road, you’ll find more pumpkin and animal fun at Roth Pumpkin Patch Select a giant Jack-o-lantern for Halloween or a variety of cute little pumpkins and gourds for your holiday display. Then hang with the chickens and their barnyard friends at the Coop. When your kids’ tummies start rumbling, you’ll find this the perfect spot for fresh kettle corn and cider slushies. Enjoy the hayrides, straw bale maze and more from September 14 through October 31.

Pro-Tip

Weekends are for grilling! Hot dogs and brats are made fresh each weekend and on Columbus Day.

White, orange, and bumpy pumpkins arranged around a hay bale from Roth Pumpkin Patch near Peoria, Illinois

Orchard Hill Farm and Country Store in Lewiston, Illinois, makes for a charming day trip. Established in 1933, Orchard Hill offers nature trails, a corn maze and weekend barrel train rides. And eighteen acres of apple and peach trees means lots of delicious fruits, jellies, baked goods, cider and wine to satiate your cravings.

Pro-Tip

Store opens the last weekend in July. Check website for exact open times and special events.

Caramel apples dipped in nuts from Tanners Orchard near Peoria, Illinois

Never heard of Speer, Illinois? Tanners Orchard is about to change that! Half an hour north of Peoria, Tanner is a memorable family farm experience spanning four generations. Fill an enviable basket of fruit from the orchard’s 11,000 U-Pick apple trees (and their 17 varieties of apples) and 20-acre pumpkin patch. There’s never too much of a good thing at Tanners, where you’ll find apple cider donuts, apple pie, apple strudel and caramel apples in the bakery, as well as apple butter and jam in the market. Visit the llamas and goats on the farm, and snap photos of your kids taking a pony ride or letting loose with mini golf.

Pro-Tip

Appled out? Dig into homemade fudge, lattes, smoothies, salads and wraps. There’s something for even the pickiest eater!

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Okay, let’s get real. There’s a point in every family vacation when you want an adult minute (or 10). Spend those lucky moments at a local winery—Kickapoo Creek Winery and Mackinaw Valley Vineyard are two great options. Enjoy a glass of wine with lunch or sample several varietals during a wine tasting. Outdoor decks, patios and acres of countryside provide idyllic spots to sip while soaking up the late-summer sun.

Enjoy a glass of wine with lunch or sample several varietals

Pro-Tip

Check websites for updates on safety measures being taken per the state’s public health guidelines. 

Three adults drink wine at a table with a bottle of wine from Kickapoo Creek Winery in the foreground, near Peoria, Illinois

Enjoy a glass of wine with lunch or sample several varietals

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Entrance to the Luthy Botanical Garden in Peoria, Illinois

Just 10 miles from downtown Peoria, Luthy Botanical Garden is a respite from the city bustle. Explore five acres of nature, the conservatory’s succulents and tropical plants, and 15 themed gardens, including an herb garden, children’s garden and rose garden. Peruse mementos in the gift shop—perhaps your kids will select a holiday ornament, or you’ll pick up a unique decoration for your home garden. With free parking and admission (donations appreciated), Luthy is sure to become a favorite urban oasis.

Entrance to the Luthy Botanical Garden in Peoria, Illinois
Pro-Tip

Benches throughout the garden offer beautiful spots for reflection. Have each family member bring a sketchpad or journal and take a mindfulness or gratitude break. 

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Saturday mornings, support area vendors at the Peoria RiverFront Market, offering locally grown produce and handcrafted art.

Take in downtown’s vibrant scene with a stroll along the river trail.

Pro-Tip

The market is operating as an “in and out” grocer to protect the health of shoppers and vendors. 

After a busy day living the rural life, you may be eager for a touch of elegance. Downtown’s Pere Marquette hotel is just the place for sophisticated relaxation. Feel the history of Peoria in its timelessly chic lobby and grounds, elevated by modern conveniences such as free hi-speed Wi-Fi, 24-hour fitness center and complimentary parking. 

The Pere Marquette hotel seen lit up at night in Peoria, Illinois

There’s so much to enjoy, your kids won’t even notice the pool’s temporary closure—and you will rest easy knowing your family is safe.

Fresh from your afternoon exploring farms and orchards, you will appreciate the farm-to-table cuisine at Pere Marquette’s on-site restaurant, Table 19. Which of the day’s local produce can you spot on the menu? 

For a more casual option, pop into the bistro. Or if you’d rather throw on a robe and get cozy under your down comforter, order room service and click on your favorite movie. 

Need more reasons to make Peoria’s rolling countryside, orchards and farms your family’s choice for a late-summer adventure? (We don’t either.)

Triangle

Take in downtown’s vibrant scene with a stroll along the river trail.

Saturday mornings, support area vendors at the Peoria RiverFront Market, offering locally grown produce and handcrafted art.

Pro-Tip

The market is operating as an “in and out” grocer to protect the health of shoppers and vendors. 

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