Zoo in Monroe

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When he shuts up his workshop at the North Pole after another successful holiday season, Santa Claus doesn't simply hibernate until next December. Instead, he packs up his sleigh and heads to his summer home at the Fox River Valley's Santa's Village Azoosment Park. Open from May to October, the wonderland greets guests with three separate amusement experiences. The fun begins in Santa's Village, where quaint alpine building and expertly manicured pathways awaken feelings of nostalgia in hearts young and old. There, visitors can zoom down the original Santa's Tree House Slide, hitch a ride on the Kringle Convoy, or snap a picture at a recreation of Santa's North Pole home. They can also tap into the amusement rides including the antique carousel, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and Dracor the Dragon's Coaster.

A renowned lover of animals, Santa has also filled his park with a menagerie of creatures both familiar and exotic. After visiting Rudolph and company at Reindeer Ridge, visitors can grab a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh on their way to see the denizens of Parakeet Paradise, Tortoise Island, or Old MacDonald's Farm and Petting Zoo. In addition to grabbing up-close peeks of everything from a red-tailed boa to a fennec fox, visitors can also take in an exotic animal show that educates audience members about the park's wild residents.

Always in the holiday spirit, the park welcomes groups looking to add a spark to reunions, birthday, or group outings. This accommodating spirit even extends to the park's rule book: parking is free, and picnic baskets are encouraged.

601 Dundee Ave.
East Dundee,
IL
US

Over the past quarter century, Serpent Safari's indoor zoo has amassed a collection of rare reptiles that have appeared in publications such as National Geographic. Animals of impressive age, unusual coloring (such as an albino alligator), and Guinness World Record-holding weight have all called the Safari their home. Originally founded as a reptile adoption and education center, the Safari now runs guided tours and birthday parties that usher children through the world of scaly, cold-blooded creatures known as bankers into the diverse realm of reptiles. Following the tours, patrons can partake in photo opportunities with giant snakes, or take home a friend from the pet store.

6170 Grand Ave
Gurnee,
IL
US

Hinchley's Dairy Farm's bounty of more than 260 dairy cattle, barnyard mammals, and a variety of harvestable goods are sprawled across more than 2,300 acres of pristine farmland. Embark on the one- to three-hour countryside sabbatical starting at the dairy barn, where guests can observe the milking equipment being used and milk a cow. Afterward, visitors mosey to the barnyard to pet and feed the chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, and vagrant squirrels dressed as ducks. Weather permitting, tour-goers meander through the farm fields on a hayride pulled by a vintage tractor while hearing about the crops and daily farm life. Hinchley's Dairy Farm's guests can also pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic tables embellished with festive cow spots.

2844 State Road 73
Cambridge,
WI
US

On June 30, 1904 Col. William and Anna Vilas donated a tract of land to become a public park and free recreational space in memory of their son, Henry, who died due to complications from diabetes at a young age. They added numerous improvements over the decade and in 1911, the Henry Vilas Zoo gained its first animal exhibits. Today, the zoo covers 30 acres and features a number of creatures from around the world, ranging from the vanishing chimpanzee and endangered red panda to locals such as the great horned owl and american alligator. The zoo also remains one of the few free AZA-accredited zoos across the country.

Leading up to and following the zoo's centennial, the ReZOOvenation project has expanded the visitor areas, replacing the entrance and gift shop and adding a tropical-rainforest aviary and big-cat complex. A variety of annual events are scheduled, including Halloween at the Zoo, with costumes and stops for sustainable palm-oil candy, and earth day, when children can plant trees to help lower the global temperature just enough for icicles to form. The zoo’s many conservation projects also engage the public in protecting the environment and its inhabitants by installing solar-energy panels, sponsoring trips to save endangered orangutans, and collecting old cell phones.

702 S Randall Ave
Madison,
WI
US

After traveling to Japan in 1966 and to the Portland Japanese Garden soon thereafter, John Anderson found himself inspired by the country's lush landscape and tranquil gardens. In 1978, after returning to his home in Rockford, he partnered with expert designer Hoichi Kurisu to begin constructing Anderson Japanese Gardens?12 acres of paths, plants, and streams, as soothing as those John visited in Japan.

The gardens still encourage a sense of calm and thoughtful reflection, as guided and self-guided tours stroll past undulating waterfalls, trickling across colorful flowers, beneath arched bridges, and over lily pads. Fruit blossoms on trees and bushes, sculptures stand very still, and koi fish flit about in a pond. On Thursdays, participants read from scripture, listen to music, and meditate during worship services, and a series of classes held onsite, such as origami and tai chi, impart Japanese traditions.

318 Spring Creek Rd
Rockford,
IL
US

Across 146 acres of gently rolling meadows, visitors of all ages can find something to enjoy at Lockwood Park. Visitors to the farm bask in its bucolic landscape as they stroll through wooden areas or along a stream, or head to one of the regularly held events throughout the year. At dusk every other Saturday, the observatory opens up to guests, who can enjoy free viewings of the sun, moon, stars, and businessmen sleeping in airplanes. Other attractions include a children's farm, equestrian center, and cookhouse.

5201 Safford Rd.
Rockford,
IL
US