Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Mississippi Palisades Park
16327A IL Rte. 84, Savanna, Ill. (815) 273-2731, stateparks.com & visitcarrollcountyil.com
If you love the great outdoors but have never visited this unique state park, you’ll want to make time to explore its steep bluffs, distinctive rock formations and wide vistas overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple rivers. As you do, you’ll experience views very similar to those seen by native people 1,000 years ago.
The word “palisades” is defined as a line of cliffs and these 2,500 public acres have plenty of them, along with limestone caves and sink holes – which are caves that go straight down – so be careful.
There are 13 miles of trails. Those in the northern half of the park are wider and safer; the southern trails are very narrow and hazardous when wet. Wildlife is abundant here, and eagles often are spotted fishing the rivers. Trails are closed during three-day deer and turkey hunting seasons.
Campsites are spacious, private and well-reviewed by visitors. A park store is open through Sept. 15. If camping’s not your thing, there’s also lodging nearby. Learn about lodging options and other local attractions at VisitCarrollCountyIl.com.
Rock climbing, at your own risk, is allowed in certain areas of the park, with no check-in necessary. There are public boat launches and no boat motor size restrictions; anglers report excellent fishing in the Mississippi backwaters.
Whether you’re looking for adventure or serene relaxation, this place is special.
The park is located off Route 84, about 18 miles from Route 20, 3 miles north of Savanna.
Circus World Museum
Baraboo, Wis. (608) 356-8341 circusworldbaraboo.org
It’s the end of an era for most of the 10 million people who visit a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance each year. The circus finished its 146-year run of traveling performances in May, citing declining ticket sales and rising operating costs. But residents of our region can always enjoy all things circus, including performances under the Big Top, at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., less than two hours from Rockford.
A state-owned historic site, the Baraboo location was the winter home of Ringling Bros. from 1884 to 1918. Visitors enjoy live shows, circus animals including elephants and tigers, interactive activities for children, historical exhibits and much more. The International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center also is located in Baraboo.
This year only, the museum will welcome its retiring circus performers and employees with a giant homecoming celebration in July. Three days of related events are open to the public beginning July 20 and include a traditional circus music performance in downtown Baraboo, a tour of the cemetery where circus luminaries are interred, an community film showing of the 1952 classic, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” clown antic street performances, a Big-Top Parade, and a one-time Saturday night performance of “Sawdust, Spangles & Dreams,” presented by performers from the Greatest Show on Earth.
Find the full schedule for these events at the website under “Connect” and “News.”
Circus World is open daily through Oct. 31.
Ski Broncs Water Ski Show Team
Shorewood Park, 235 Evelyn Ave., Loves Park, Ill. (815) 654-1155, Skibroncs.com
As it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, the world-class Ski Broncs will not only perform twice-weekly free shows for the public, but also will host the Central Regional Championships on July 8 & 9 and the Division 1 National Water Ski Championship Aug. 11-13 at Rockford Park District’s Shorewood Park in Loves Park.
It’s fun to spend an evening outside watching this exceptional water ski team perform acrobatic, theatrical and always-entertaining feats on the beautiful Rock River, such as five-high pyramids and thrilling jumps.
Public shows are Wednesday and Friday nights at 7 p.m. in June and July, and at 6:30 p.m. in August and early September until Labor Day.
There are a few exceptions to the schedule, so consult the website before you go, or call the phone number above to check for weather cancellations.
Concessions are available and there’s bleacher seating. Dogs on leashes are welcome in Rockford Park District parks and parking is free.
It’s not unusual to see children and parents working together in these water ski shows and although this is a tightly knit group, it’s also a very welcoming one to new members. The Ski Broncs host Community Learn & Ski events for wanna-be skiers and also work with underprivileged children, people with disabilities and wounded warriors who want to water ski.