Located 60 miles south of Chicago, Kankakee is the county seat and the main city of the Kankakee-Bourbon-Bradley metropolitan area.
The city of about 28,000 people sits on the sparkling river of the same name, where 18th-century French fur trappers traded.
Kankakee has some fabulous heritage, with striking architecture in the city center and two Prairie School houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright at the turn of the 20th century.
Once out of the city, the Kankakee River cuts through woodlands and cliffs and through a system of dolomite caves and canyons that you can visit at Perry Farm Park.
1. B. Harley Bradley House
The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home is owned by a non-profit organization and is open to the public for tours.
The B. Harley Bradley House was an early example of the Wright Prairie School style, inspired by the surrounding tallgrass prairie and wide horizontal landscape.
Serving residences, offices, and even an acclaimed restaurant for over 120 years, the property was restored in the 2000s and opened to the public in 2010.
The house had many of the features that would later become Wright signatures, such as the low roof, overhanging eaves and rich stained glass. In fact, art glass is particularly popular here, with 82 of the original 90 windows surviving.
2. Downtown Kankakee
Kankakee’s pedestrian CBD has significantly enhanced in recent years, incorporating charming shops, grand landmarks, interesting museums, diverse dining and a dozen entertainment venues within a few blocks of space.
As we write this, the county has also commissioned the Finding Frank murals, stylish street art pieces that evoke Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School style.
At the heart of the city center is the Harold & Jean Miner Festival Square, an events plaza that surrounds the city’s historic railway station and hosts the Summer High Street Music Festival.
3. Kankakee County Museum
Founded in 1906, Kankakee County has the oldest historical society in the state.
The Society’s museum is located on the west bank of the Kankakee River in Little Memorial Park. There, you can peruse two living historic buildings, the small memorial to Dr. AL (1855) and the one-room schoolhouse circa 1904.
The main modern building houses fascinating permanent exhibits and regularly updated temporary exhibits.
You can learn about three Illinois governors from Kankakee County, Kankakee-raised sculptor George Gray Barnard (1863-1938), the county’s athletic prowess, the story of the Civil War and its African American heritage.
The largest space is dedicated to showcasing a full interactive timeline of Kankakee County from the Ice Age to the 1980s.
4. Perry Farm Park
The Bourbonnais Township Park District takes care of this idyllic park in what was once farmland.
Reminiscent of previous work on the historic farmstead, with farmhouses, barns, outbuildings and a variety of livestock for the children to meet and feed.
The park also features a mosaic of formal gardens, orchards, and recreational grounds, as well as 4 miles of paved trails that meander through woods, grasslands, and riverside habitats for walking and biking.
Unexpectedly, right on the banks of the Kankakee River, there is a system of ravines and caves, which we will talk about later.
5. Riverview Historic District
On a sunny day, you can wander around this elegant area a few blocks south of downtown Kankakee for an hour or so.
The Riverview Historic District is, of course, home to the B. Harley Bradley House, the oldest intact neighborhood in the city, covering nearly 80 acres with dozens of luxury homes, many of which are centuries old.
Wright also designed Warren Hickox House (1900) next door to Bradley House, while there are 116 other properties in the area.
They are located on wide, tree-lined streets and boulevards with mature elm, oak and maple trees. There is a downloadable self-guided tour guide on the area’s website, starting at Bradley House and making 13 stops along South Harrison Ave, South Chicago Ave and Cobb Blvd.
6. Exploration Station
This children’s museum in Perry Farm Park is fun and interactive for children ages 2 to 8.
With engaging hands-on exhibits and a wealth of daily activities, the Discovery Station will be a rich and educational day for kids.
Exhibits and areas include an interactive exploration castle, a science and math-themed Illumination, Up, Up, and Away, where kids can build and test their own planes, and a Shop-A-Lot market for everyday role-playing.
In the STEAM Learning Lab, kids can put concepts into practice through open-ended exploration, while budding veterinarians can learn the fundamentals of animal care in a veterinary clinic.
7. Indian Caves
On the west side of Perry Farm Park, Bourbon Creek flows past a beautiful community of Dolomite cliffs and caves to the Kankakee River.
Spread over 30 acres, these formations are protected as an Illinois State Preserve and are a joy to explore, especially in the summer if you need to cool off.
There is a narrow gorge, several caves and a beautiful small waterfall, all framed by rugged dolomite walls and embedded in woodland.
A good pair of walking shoes is a must as the rocks can get slippery and it is best to stick to the designated paths.
8. French Heritage Museum
Run by the Kankakee County Museum, this downtown attraction is open Saturdays April through December.
The first thing to notice about the French Heritage Museum is its historic limestone building, built as a carriage house in the 1860s by businessman Lemuel Milk, whose sprawling mansion once stood nearby.
It is officially the third-oldest building in Kankakee and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Inside, you can learn about the roles French explorers, traders and missionaries played in the history of the Kankakee Valley. There are also fascinating details about how this French heritage became part of Kankakee’s identity.
9. Kankakee Railroad Museum
This delightful little museum is located at the north end of the restored historic Illinois Grand Central Station, which is still a well-functioning Amtrak station.
The Kankakee Railroad Museum was founded in 1999 by the local model railroad club and consists of several railroad artifacts.
Most notable is the Pullman Coach, built in 1947, which houses a full dining cart complete with furniture and a variety of interesting fixtures.
Next to it is a Union Pacific cupola caboose and a cart barn with a long restored vintage cart.
Enter the depot, which is full of interesting items related to real and model railways. You can also view three complete model railways on the N, HO and O scales.
10. Splash Valley Aquatic Center
Summers in Kankakee wouldn’t be the same without this outdoor pool complex, located on a campus that is also home to the Centrue Bank Athletic Center and Ice Valley Center Ice Rink.
Splash Valley completed a major redevelopment project in the late 2010s, centered around a large pool with deeper areas for serious swimmers and shallower areas for families.
The complex features three slides, two enclosed and one open, as well as water tanks, a ride, concession stand and two beach volleyball courts.
11. Kankakee River State Park
Beginning in Lower Kankakee, is a 4,000-acre state park that surrounds the Kankakee River with woods and scenic cliffs for approximately 11 miles.
You can venture into this wilderness with an entire network of trails, including the paved Kankakee River Trail, a paved bike trail that runs nearly the length of the park.
The river is a huge draw as it has been for centuries, attracting Native Americans in Illini and Miami in the 17th century, and then famous French fur traders like Noel Le Vasseur in the 18th century.
The park has two campgrounds, each offering more than 100 sites, as well as a 12-mile equestrian trail, numerous fishing opportunities, boat launches, picnic areas and seasonal concession stands.
12. Reed Canoe Tour
The Kankakee River is reputed to be one of the cleanest rivers in the country, and when you match it with stunning natural beauty and easy currents, you’ve got a great paddling channel.
Located in Kankakee, Reeds Canoe Trips offers three tour options ranging from 2 hours to up to 6 hours for kayakers of all abilities.
One of the most popular is the 12-mile trip to Kankakee River State Park, stopping at Perry Farm Park and going ashore to explore Indian Caverns.
The tour includes all necessary basic equipment, as well as transportation and transfers to the starting point and the final return to Kankakee.
13. Kankakee Farmers Market
From May to October, the Kankakee Farmers Market takes place downtown on Saturday mornings.
It’s the only Saturday market in the area and helps attract shoppers from neighboring towns and even from the other side of Indiana.
All in all, the market has everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to cheese, meat, poultry, spices, flowers, all kinds of baked goods, kettle corn, crafts and more.
There’s also a wide selection of food and beverages such as freshly roasted coffee, pizza, tacos and Filipino street food, and there’s live music most weeks.
14. Hagrid Quarry
An old flooded limestone quarry on the outskirts of Kankakee has been transformed into a top-notch scuba diving center.
Haigh Quarry has amazing visibility in part because it is fed by spring water, and the 12-acre pool is home to a variety of Midwestern freshwater fish.
The quarry descended more than 50 feet and sank all kinds of interesting things here, such as 33-foot cabin cruisers, trucks and amphibious vehicles.
Open May-October, Haigh Quarry offers PADI courses at all levels, down to the professional, as well as equipment rentals.
15. Merchant Street Music Festival
At the end of July, a colorful arts and music festival takes place in Kankakee. The Merchant Street MusicFest takes place at the Harold & Jean Miner Festival Square in the city centre, with the historic train station as an unforgettable backdrop.
There are three stages of live music in the store, showcasing local, regional and national artists. This all complements the numerous art vendors along Artists Lane and a great selection of local food and drinks.
Choose from BBQ, fried chicken, tacos, wood-fired pizza, Philly steak sandwiches, Filipino fare and more.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Kankakee, IL
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