Rader Family Farms, Normal, Illinois

Since Abby was a baby, Derek and I have taken the kids to a pumpkin patch each Fall. We have been to Boggio’s, Tanner’s, and Edward’s. This year I read about one that we hadn’t tried before and we decided we would try it out. We went to Rader Family Farms at 1238 Ropp Road outside of Normal. The farm opens at 10 a.m. on the weekends, so we headed out at about 9 and made it there just as it was opening. It was a pretty easy drive down I39 and not too far from the exit. There was a large area for parking and lots of signs making it easy to know where to go. Image

Right away, I knew this was not going to be another Jollay Orchards mishap. There looked to be so much to do. The signs on the way in were beautifully done and so artistic.

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I am not an easy going person. I get stressed out about things. If I go somewhere new and I don’t know where to go or how much things cost or what’s going on, I get nervous. I LoVeD all the signs. It made it so easy to know where to go, how much things cost, what was included, and what was going on.

We got our wristbands for $8/each and Cara (age 2 and under) was free. The large corn maze was not included in that, but the Kid’s Maze was difficult enough for us so that was actually a good thing. There were so many neat activities for the kids to do. The kids climbed the haystack, rode in the mower pulled caterpillar, climbed on a spider web, ran across the tire track, raced ducks, played in the little village, tried to lasso a steer, climbed a mountain and slid down, rode big trikes, played in the tire sand box, played in the corn, saw and pet farm animals, jumped on a pillow, rode on horse swings, navigated the kids’ corn maze, and rolled in giant rollers like hamsters.

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After all the activities, we worked up an appetite and decided to head into the gift shop area to find some lunch.

IMG_8014I was really impressed with the selection. The prices weren’t bad either. I had the BBQ pulled pork farm hand meal. The sandwich wasn’t big but it was enough. The kids’ meals were a great deal. Abby and Cara had the mac & cheese. It was Kraft-ish but not. Abby could tell and didn’t love it but it was fine. Cade had a hot dog. All the kids’ meals came with apples, a cookie, a bottle of water and a pumpkin sippy cup (which sells for $1 in the gift shop).  We ate at a picnic table under a tent and everything was very clean and even decorated with little pumpkins and gourds.

After we ate we did a few more activities and then it was time to head home. We were at the farm for about 3 1/2 hours and it was a great fall day.

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Starved Rock State Park, Utica, Illinois

Summer vacation is winding down and I decided I needed to do something fun with the kids before school starts back up again next week. I decided to pack a picnic lunch in a backpack and drive the whole 5 minutes over to Starved Rock for a hike. I usually like to go to Matthiessen but decided we would head to Starved Rock this time. I went to my usual place, St. Louis Canyon, but the small parking lot was full. The entrance to St. Louis Canyon is right across the street from Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Lodge. It has a nice trail and neat waterfalls. I had to go to my backup though. I parked at the back of the Starved Rock Lodge public parking lot and went in by the bald eagles totem pole. It is closest to French Canyon. We hiked in through French Canyon and a little further up the trail before we found a spot next to the trail to lay out our blanket and have a picnic.

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After lunch, we hiked some more. We went past Pontiac Canyon and stopped at Lover’s Leap Overlook by the dam.

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Then we turned and headed back toward the parking lot. The trail was easy. It was just me with three kids ages 7, 5, and 2 and I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Even my two-year-old hiked the whole way. Living by Starved Rock, we often hear emergency vehicles headed toward the state parks and know that often that means someone has wandered off the trail and gotten hurt. People need to remember that this isn’t a manmade amusement park. It is nature. We stayed on the trail and were fine. There are even signs there to remind you to do just that.

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If you are looking for a trail to hike at Starved Rock with minimal stairs and some nice overlooks, I’d recommend the path we took. It is still a hike, but I would say it is pretty easy. The kids proclaimed it: “The best day ever!” It was a fun time and a good way to end summer vacation.