Wildlife Prairie Park offers nearby fun for all ages

One warm evening, I found myself sitting at a picnic table under the stars, a forested area behind me and a herd of bison grazing in a field in front of me. Nearby, nine happy children ran in and out of four old train cabooses, screaming and having the time of their lives.

Three of my friends and I, along with all of our children, decided to take advantage of a unique lodging opportunity offered at Wildlife Prairie Park, near Peoria, about two-and-a-half hours southwest of Chicago.

The Santa Fe Train Cabooses were our home for the evening. Each caboose can comfortably sleep five people and are one of several unique, reasonably priced overnight accommodations inside the park. They are nestled between Caboose Lake and a field dozens of bison and elk call home. While we grilled our dinner, the kids—and adults—were delighted to get an up-close look at the animals grazing mere feet away.

My kids, Madeline, 6, and Maxwell, almost 3, loved sleeping in the cabooses. Although they aren’t luxurious, they are clean and functional, with a bathroom, shower and mini-refrigerator.

While the cabooses are only available to rent April-October, other year-round overnight accommodations are available, including Cabin on the Hill and Prairie Stables.

Although sleeping in the cabooses was probably the highlight of our overnight stay for the nine kids, there were many other things the kids enjoyed doing.

Max loved riding the small-scale train, which loops from one end of the park to the other. The younger kids also liked walking through the exhibits of animals native to Illinois, including a bear, cougar, bobcat, coyote and fox, wolves and bald eagles.

The kids loved petting small ponies and feeding the goats as well as walking through the butterfly habitat.

A highlight for some of the older kids was the Gollywhopper Sliding Board, a nearly 60-foot-long slide down the side of a hill. Even though they had to climb dozens of steps to get from the bottom of the slide back to the top, they all slid down dozens of times, each time trying to figure out how to go faster.

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