Dubbed "Forest City," Rockford is famous for its natural attractions, including gardens, parks, and conservatories. The city also has many museums and options for dining, art exploration, shopping, and sightseeing. With its location in Northern Illinois, it’s not commonly seen as a huge tourist destination, but it still offers plenty to do. It’s 1.5 hours away from Chicago and only 30 minutes away from the Wisconsin border.
Whether you're going for a laid-back getaway or an outdoor adventure, Rockford has something for everyone. Find out down below about the nicest places to visit and the best things to do in Rockford, Illinois.
1. Stroll Through The Rockford City Market
The open-air Rockford City Market arrives with the summer, opening during Friday afternoons between May and September. If you want to get fresh produce, you can't do better than this market.
Rockford's region best sellers of fresh produce come to the market found in the downtown area. On any day, you can find tomatoes, cheese, vegetables, fruits, and a dozen other farm products.
You can enjoy some fine dining and wining in the market area and listen to some live music performances on certain days. Nothing better than a day filled with food and music.
If you’re coming with kids, Rockford City Market has unique attractions designed to thrill children. Plus, they can always dive into the market's snack area and taste some of the light foods.
2. Visit The Burpee Museum of National History
Burpee National Museum is the quintessential nature museum on Main Street. There are multiple exhibits, each teaching visitors something about natural history and science. Main attractions at the Burpee Museum of National History include the replica of a Carboniferous coal forest, a dinosaur exhibit, a rooftop garden, and plenty of other interactive displays.
The Burpee Museum is open year-round, although it closes on major holidays. Both children and adults can learn something here, given the sheer effort put into creating an immersive and educational experience. They routinely hold events for children like classes and summer camps.
3. Explore The Anderson Japanese Gardens
Anderson Japanese Gardens is the perfect spot in the city to relax and recharge. With its unrivaled ambiance, visitors can enjoy a respite from the constant hustle-and-bustle of daily life. You can explore a beautiful landscape composed of gardens, waterfalls, and ponds filled with koi fish.
The beautiful Japanese gardens open throughout the year, so you can visit it the next time you're here. Don't worry about bringing food along the trip—Fresco on the Gardens (its dine-in restaurant) provides some of the most delicious meals you'll find in Rockford, IL.
The Anderson Japanese Gardens routinely hold festivals, classes, and other events throughout the year, so make sure to check their calendar, so you visit during the right times.
4. Visit Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden
The Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden was established as a tree sanctuary and offers plenty more. There are about 1.8 miles of paved trails and 2.5 miles of woodland trails for visitors to explore.
There are guided tours around the botanic gardens available but you need to schedule them in advance. You are always just free to explore it all on your own.
If you're really into outdoor landscapes, then visit any, or all, of the eight different botanical gardens, including Nancy Olsen Children's Garden, the Rhododendron, and Azalea Dell. The Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden closes during major holidays, but during the winter you can ski here.
5. Observe Art At The Rockford Art Museum
If you want to explore the burgeoning art scene, Rockford Art Museum regularly puts works from local artists on a rotating display throughout the year.
The museum also has pieces from the early days of the region's art scene. There are more than 1900 pieces of artwork dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries, and some from the current century.
Other attractions at the Rockford Art Museum include an eclectic mix of contemporary art and multi-media pieces, a notable photography collection, and much more.
6. Tour The Nicholas Conservatory
The Nicholas Conservatory is a Mecca of sorts for nature lovers in Illinois. Spread across thousands of square feet of space, the conservatory has enough natural attractions for everyone in the family to explore.
The conservatory is unsurprisingly the main attraction here. Thanks to artificial sunlight, the plants bloom all through the year. There's a winter nature exhibit, though, where you can see beautiful orchards.
Beyond the conversation, other places worth visiting here include the Eclipse Lagoon and sculpture areas. There are walking paths for all the different areas.
The conservatory remains an attraction during the winter as the pond freezes and turns into an ice skating ring.
You can also participate in special events if you visit during specific periods. That includes the All Aglow, a yearly event that features a sheer number of holiday lights, and Tunes on the Terrace, the conservatory's annual butterfly exhibit.
7. Buy Tickets To The Coronado Performing Arts Center
You can buy tickets for the Coronado Performing Arts Center to enjoy some of the best evening entertainment. The 2,400-seater theater hosts everything from local recitals to touring Broadway musicals that have occurred for its 94-years of existence. It's still going strong today, having been renovated to preserve its condition and keep it operational.
You can catch a local comedian delivering one-liners for a standup comedy event or witness an epic Broadway musical production at the Coronado Theater. Book in advance before you come since tickets tend to sell out.
8. Discovery Center Museum
Early childhood is one of the top times to get kids interested in the arts and sciences. Taking a visit to the Discovery Center Museum is an excellent place for that.
Discovery Center Museum is a kid-friendly museum that offers young adults an opportunity to learn about art and science in a relaxed environment. The children’s museum has 300+ exhibits, each designed to inspire kids to expand their knowledge about the world around them.
Discovery Center Museum is open to everyone, including toddlers. They have a unique Tot Spot, where they can play and have fun with other children. Other attractions include the planetarium, Discovery Town, and television studio.
9. Enjoy The Water At Hurricane Harbor Rockford
When temperatures rise in the city, Magic Waters Park, as it was commonly referred to before being taken over by Six Flags, offers a great place to cool off. There's something for everyone at this water park, from the thrilling Double Dare Drop to the child-friendly Little Lagoon.
It’s a great place to visit as a family or friend group. You can buy food and drinks at the concession stands to quickly organize a picnic before you relax on the lazy river or swim in the wave pool. You can store your belongings with plenty of locker and cabana rentals available.
Rockford can get quite cold in the winter, so it’s a good place to enjoy during the summer as it closes when the warm-weather season ends.
10. Go Camping At Rock Cut State Park
Rock Cut State Park is an amazing natural attraction in Rockford. This area covers 23 miles of bike trails and 40 miles of hiking trails and has two lakes for fishing and watersports.
The facilities available for camping at Rock Cut State Park earn it a good spot in the rankings. Campers can appreciate comforts like stable electricity, running water, and convenience areas.
If you need food during your camp stay, visit the concession and cafe for something to eat. However, to really enjoy your camping it’s better to make your own lunch and dinner. Each campsite has a grill you can cook on over the fire. The cost for staying overnight is only 30$ per day. See below our delicious steak and shrimp with rice dinner we made:
11. Midway Village & Museum Center
Your trip to Rockford wouldn’t be complete without visiting Midway Village and Museum Center. The 54-year old facility is your chance to immerse yourself in the history of Rockford and see just what life looked like in the past.
The Museum Center has several exhibits that educate visitors on different aspects of the city’s rich history. You can learn more about the roots of the town's sports, arts, culture, industry, and people.
Another highlight is the Victorian Village, a collection of 26 historic buildings built to reflect 20th century Rockford. There are on-site guides for any questions you might have at this history museum.
12. Volcano Falls Adventure Park
If you’re looking for an activity for your kid in the city, Volcano Falls Adventure Park offers kids enough memorable experiences to last a lifetime. It's definitely one of the most fun things you can do in Rockford, IL.
The list of activities to enjoy at Volcano Falls is endless. Children can participate in a speed-eating challenge to finish an 8-scoop ice cream sundae in 10 minutes. They can also test your batting skills and do their best Tiger Woods impression at the golf courses.
Parents can join in the fun by racing go-karts and playing laser tag. You might also be asked to compete in a mock competition at the arcade. For kid-friendly activities in the city, this takes the cake.
13. Historic Auto Attractions
Ignoring the boring name, Historic Auto Attractions is one of Rockford, Illinois' best historic places to stop by. Attendees can see pop culture's most famous vehicles, including a Batmobile, a chariot from Ben Hur, and a limousine from JFK's motorcade.
But cars aren't the only pop-culture elements on display at Historic Auto Attractions. There's a sizable collection of historical materials that can thrill both history buffs and antique enthusiasts.
You can see the equipment used by NASA on its famous space expeditions, firearms from the Wild West era, and clothing belonging to famous rock stars and entertainers. There's even a car on display owned by the legendary Elvis Presley!
14. Wakeboard At Wake Park
If you’ve never tried wakeboarding, visit West Rock Wake Park for wakeboarding and water skiing opportunities. All you need to do is book a spot and show up, you don't even need a boat!
Wake Park has provisions for advanced and beginner wakeboarders so that you can visit, regardless of your skill level. If you're an expert, you’ll like the obstacle-filled course designed to improve your skill and feel the thrill of the ride.
Beginners benefit from personalized guidance from wakeboarding instructors in a “never ever” class. You won't have to deal with having too many people in the water, which is a bonus for anyone trying to learn correctly.
Levings Park, where West Rock is located, offers visitors other facilities for recreation, including BBQ and picnic areas, a basketball court, and spots for amateur fishing.
15. Explore The Rock River By The Forest City Queen Riverboat
Rockford is defined mainly by the Rock River, separating the city from Downtown Rockford. You can cruise the Rock River for a chance to witness the splendor of the city from the water.
Your best option is to ride the Forest City Queen Riverboat. This tour boat service has been operating since 1979, so they know the best way to explore Rock River's waterways.
There are guides to accompany you on the trip, offering lessons on the area's history. This is a great way to learn more about the Rockford region.