What’s life without a little adventure? And what’s summer without at least a little travel? Take the family along on our brand-new scavenger hunt and spend a day, a weekend or the rest of the summer exploring new scenery, digging up new clues to our past and encountering more than a few fun ways to reconnect with each other.
Every weekend of your summer could be spent in a new, fun-filled destination if you tried. It’s no challenge to find adventure all across our region, but to make your day or weekend excursions even more interesting, here’s a region-wide scavenger hunt and trivia game for your family to enjoy.
Join our summer scavenger hunt and enjoy exploring unusual finds in every corner of our region. Have some fun, find something new, and snap a few pictures to capture the memory. Use the QR codes in this story to discover more surprises, and share your finds on social media using the #NWQSummer hashtag. Happy exploring!
Delavan: Circus City
These days, it’s the fishing, boating and extensive park system that visitors find alluring about Delavan, Wis. But in 1847, it was something else about this former temperance colony that attracted Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie, two brothers behind the United States Olympic Circus, the nation’s largest circus at the time.
Delavan’s convenient location for touring, proximity to water and suitable land for growing feed convinced the brothers to make southeast Wisconsin their circus’ winter home. Soon, other circuses followed suit and, before long, 25 circuses converged on the city every winter, bringing with them a menagerie of animals, performers and crew members. The city’s reputation as a circus town was so entrenched that, in May 1966, the local post office was the first to release a U.S postage stamp commemorating the circus.
Today, the city honors its circus history with animal statues hidden around town. A life-sized clown statue greets visitors at Tower Park, along with an imposing elephant statue standing on its hind legs. A giraffe stands guard near the city’s water tower. Can you find more?
Scavenger Hunt Activity: Find one of the circus animal statues, take a selfie in front of it, and share it with us on social media using the hashtag #NWQSummer.
Lake Geneva: Staring at Stars
From beautiful beaches to pampering resorts, Lake Geneva is the first choice for many in our region when it comes to relaxation and fun – as it has been since the days when famous families like the Wrigleys, the Schwinns and the Searses built their stately homes near the water.
These affluent families and their summer retreats aren’t the only stars you can see in Lake Geneva. On the northwest side of Geneva Lake, in Williams Bay, the Yerkes Observatory has cast its Great Refractor telescope toward the heavens, keeping stargazers spellbound for 125 years. Considered to be the birthplace of modern astrophysics, the observatory is also an architectural wonder, featuring the breathtaking Great Dome, murals, statues and gargoyles. This is the place where the shape of the Milky Way galaxy was discovered, and where Subrahmanyan Chandrasekar did research that earned him a Nobel Prize in physics in 1983. Famed astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan also worked here, as did Edwin Hubble, namesake of the Hubble Telescope.
Recently reopened to the public, Yerkes Observatory once again offers tours to anyone who registers in advance.
Scavenger Hunt Activity: Strike an astronomical pose in front of Yerkes Observatory and share it with us using the hashtag #NWQSummer.
Woodstock: That First Step’s a Doozy!
The cult classic film “Groundhog Day” tells the story of Phil Connors, an arrogant TV weatherman who’s forced to repeat the same day over and over. It was filmed right here in Woodstock, a place where, if this curse was real, it wouldn’t be such a bad place to be stuck. A haven for music, art, culture, dining and shopping, there’s no shortage of fun.
The city’s heart lies within its Historic Square, where you’ll find parkland and well-preserved buildings with lively restaurants and stores. The square, the Woodstock Opera House and the Old McHenry County Courthouse, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city itself was named a Preserve America Community by the White House in 2014.
The beautiful Woodstock Opera House, which overlooks the Square, was built in 1888 and once served as the city hall, public library, and police and fire stations, as well as a host for live entertainment. In 1926, a young Orson Welles strode the boards in a variety of performances before returning to direct several summer dramas, including a production of “Hamlet.” The Woodstock Opera House continues to host plays, concerts, lectures and dance productions today.
A city that proudly wears its Hollywood credentials on its walls (there are murals, plaques and mementos throughout the city commemorating “Groundhog Day” and Orson Welles), Woodstock has much more waiting to be found.
Scavenger Hunt Activity: Find one of the plaques marking actual “Groundhog Day” filming locations – including “Ned’s puddle,” where Bill Murray stepped. Share a photo on social media.
Crystal Lake: Markets and Mansions
With its bustling downtown, vintage architecture and thriving arts center, Crystal Lake seems like a locale from a classic film come to life. One stroll through the city’s quiet historic neighborhoods, with their pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares, will have you searching for a newspaper to make sure you weren’t whisked back in time.
Nowhere is this feeling more apparent than the Dole Mansion, located near the city’s namesake lake. The historic mansion, built in 1865, was originally the summer home of a Chicago grain merchant who spared no expense on a home he built for $100,000 – a sum equal to almost $2 million today. He lived in the mansion with his family until 1896, when he sold it to his son-in-law, A.C Stockwell, for $1. Stockwell, in turn, used the mansion to house his own ice harvesting business until 1914.
In 1922, the home fell into the hands of Eliza Ringling, widow of Ringling Brothers Circus’ Al Ringling. A circus performer herself, she purchased Dole’s mansion and made the property a country club. In 1925, she added a Tudor-style annex, complete with a ballroom inside and an 18-hole golf course outside. The country club closed in 1938 and the mansion became a boys school and a community center before community leaders purchased the property and established a haven for arts-related activities. A Sunday-morning farmers market brings crowds all summer long.
Scavenger Hunt Activity: The Dole is located on Ringling Road. Take a picture pointing to the road sign and share it with us.
South Elgin: Ride the Rails
Nestled along the Fox River, Elgin is a suburban community with the street cred of a big city. Jam-packed with theaters and music venues, sporting miles and miles of hiking and biking trails and boasting challenging, award-winning golf courses, Elgin is a cool and fun secret you’ll want to share with everyone you know – especially if you already live there.
The Elgin area is also filled with historical connections. This city gave birth to the world-famous Elgin watch, and its role in the dairy industry supported the third-oldest library in Illinois.
Just south of the city in the village of South Elgin is the Fox River Trolley Museum, a hands-on tribute to the electric trolley cars that once flew up and down these riverbanks. Visitors can experience this history firsthand aboard the museum’s old-time trolley cars, which make a 4-mile journey along the scenic Fox River. The museum also decorates its trolleys on holidays, with themed rides offered on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Halloween and Christmas.
Scavenger Hunt Activity: Take a ride at the Fox River Trolley Museum and share your photos or videos with us on social media.
St. Charles: History Happened Here
This vibrant city offers up its own vibe, with a scenic downtown, incredible art installations and vintage architecture. There are 62 parks in town, including beautiful Pottawatomie Park, which is not only the city’s most scenic spot, but also Illinois’ first public park.
Visitors who want to learn more about this laid-back, vibrant city should head to the St. Charles History Museum. Located downtown in what used to be a gas station, this museum houses more than 10,000 photographs and 15,000 artifacts from St. Charles and the surrounding area. Inside, visitors can learn all about St. Charles’ roots, from its days as a tiny settlement on the outskirts of Chicago to its time as a training ground for Civil War soldiers, its brush with wealth and its status among residents as the “pride of the fox.”
Scavenger Hunt Activity: Strike a historic pose at the St. Charles History Museum and share it with us.
Rockford: Where the Dinosaurs Roam
With over 125 neighborhood parks, a state park, 44 forest preserves and more than 100 miles of hiking trails throughout Winnebago County, there are plenty of opportunities to get outside and explore the natural world in and around Rockford’s bustling urban environment. But there are plenty of great places to go inside and explore, too.
Located on Main Street north of downtown Rockford, the Burpee Museum of Natural History is a four-story museum dedicated to natural history and paleontology. A part of the Rockford community since 1942, it’s filled with exhibits targeted to inspire natural scientists of all ages.
While all of the exhibits are engaging, Burpee’s work in paleontology really sets it apart from other museums. Each summer, the museum sends crews to Utah and Montana to lead fossil excavations. What they find is sent back to the Burpee paleontology lab to be cleaned and prepared for display. There are many impressive specimens on display, but the star of the show is Jane, the world’s most complete and best-preserved juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex. For 66 million years, 11-year-old Jane lay buried in the Earth before her 21-foot skeleton was dug up, restored, and placed on display at Burpee.
Scavenger Hunt Activity: Do your best T-rex impression in front of Jane and share it with us on social media.
Dixon/Grand Detour: Run Like a Deere
Filled with unique, locally owned shops and eateries and an abundance of park space, trails and outdoor fun, Dixon is an escape from the hurly-burly of the big city. Former U.S president Ronald Reagan lived here as a child and returned as a Hollywood actor, Governor of California and President of the United States.
But Reagan isn’t the only historic figure to make his home here. John Deere, whose name is now synonymous with farming, gardening and lawn equipment, settled in nearby Grand Detour in 1837. It was here that Deere invented the first self-scouring steel plow, specifically built to handle Illinois’ tough clay-filled soil. The wonders of his plow soon spread far and wide and, before long, Deere was making and selling hundreds of plows per year on his way to becoming a household name.
Visitors to Grand Detour will want to pay a visit to the John Deere Historic Site. This is the place where Deere invented and perfected the “plow that broke the plains.” Live blacksmithing demonstrations are held in a replica of Deere’s original shop. Tours are regularly held in his family home, offering an intimate look at the life of this inventor, as well as pioneer life in the 1830s. Artifacts abound, including a recording of John Deere himself, describing how he built the business that bears his name today.
Scavenger Hunt Activity: Take a photo of yourself at the John Deere Historic Site and share it with us.
These are just a few of the many things for families to see and do in our region. We hope you’ll share your photos with us, along with other ideas you might have for fun scavenger hunt activities. Happy hunting!Click to here to download the PDF Checklist.