Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
44 E. Downer Place, Aurora, (630) 256-4636, aurora-il.org
Home to many attractions, Phillips Park keep the family coming back for more. Often referred to as the “crown jewel” of Aurora’s parks, the 325-acre retreat is home to a golf course, zoo, aquatic center, visitor center and countless other activities year-round.
The park’s original 60 acres were donated to the city in 1899 by the estate of Travis Phillips, a former mayor, alderman and downtown merchant. The woods and lagoons had long attracted families out on a picnic.
A nine-hole golf course was established in the 1920s, improved as part of the New Deal in the 1930s, and completely revised and expanded in 1996. What’s now an 18-hole, championship caliber course ranges from 4,760 yards to 6,200 yards.
The park’s zoo, which features many native Midwestern animals, opened in 1915.
The Visitor Center & Mastodon Gallery offers educational exhibits and displays highlighting the history of the park, the beginnings of the zoo and the story behind the mastodon bones that were found at the park in the 1930s, around what’s now known as Mastodon Lake. These bones are currently on display in the visitor center.
The park also hosts the annual Festival of Lights, a holiday-season favorite among residents.
Johnson’s Pumpkin Stand and Corn Maze
1502 W. Motel Road, Sycamore, (815) 895-3752, johnsonspumpkinstand.com
This family farm has been raising pumpkins for more than a quarter of a century, and it currently offers over 50 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds.
Pumpkins come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and visitors are invited to pick their own. The pumpkins are priced by size and quality with no usage of scales, while the giant pumpkins are priced individually.
Starting Oct. 2, the corn maze is open every Friday through Sunday, weather permitting. This year, Farmer Dean has cut out the shape of a truck with a giant pumpkin on the back. The 8 acres of corn with approximately 2 miles of trails are entertaining enough, but for more of a challenge, follow the maze’s game of riddles and fill in the blanks.
Starting Sept. 19, the farm is open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The corn maze is open Fri. 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., and Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Weekdays and weeknight maze reservations are available upon request.
6950 W. Ill. Rt. 120, McHenry, (815) 344-4000, mchenrycountyil.gov
Originally called the Thompson Burying Ground, this cemetery traces its roots to 1842.
Apollos Thompson, whose lineage dated back to the Plymouth colony, made his way to McHenry Township from Ohio and paid $400 for 320 acres of prime farmland. Six weeks after arriving with the family, his wife, Lucinda, died. The religious man set aside an acre of his new land so he could bury his wife. It eventually became a community cemetery for neighbors, representing many early families to the area.
In 1871, it was renamed Ostend Cemetery to reflect its ties to the nearby Ostend post office that had opened in 1846. Today, only the cemetery, along with a few other local farms, are all that remain of Ostend. The settlement declined with the arrival of the railroads.
In 2013, the McHenry Township Board of Trustees and local residents assumed responsibility for the burial grounds and installed a fence to protect the historical site.