In the endless quest to make mine an outdoors family (it really isn’t that easy in the Midwest), I’m always on the lookout for places to take my kids that get them into nature. On paper, Phillips Park in Aurora certainly seemed to fit the bill.
Mastodons have been found here. Mastodons. How cool is that? The stories and the bones are on display in the visitor center, along with a sunken garden, a zoo, and a waterfall (completely manmade, but still, a waterfall!).
We started at the Visitor Center, which, while small, holds a lot of fascinating info on the mastodon remains and the stories of their discovery. There are other historical exhibits, but the mastodon stuff is why you should go.
Up next, the sunken garden. Beautiful, but very limited in terms of excitement, as each quarter of the garden was identical to all the other quarters. If they planted each section with different plants and flowers, it would be a lot more interesting to walk the paths and explore. Still, a serene location to sit and enjoy the view.
Phillips Park Slideshow:
The Phillips Park Zoo is one of the strangest I’ve been to. Each exhibit has two layers of separation (usually chain link fence) between the people and the animal in the cage/habitat/enclosure. This made for difficult viewing and a feeling of remove from the animals. The shining star for us was the Reptile House, with a great variety of critters and some interesting ways of displaying the as well.
Quickly through the zoo and over to the waterfall remembering Aurora’s veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. Isolated on an island between roadways, it’s a beautiful place that’s worth the extra effort to get to.
Some time was spent at the playgrounds, which have a lot of fun equipment for able bodied kids, as well as those with disabilities. Plenty of picnic tables surrounding this area make it a good place for a family to spend some time on a nice day.
I allotted 2 hours for our park visit. Turns out 45 minutes was plenty of time. This could have been stretched longer if the seasonal Mastodon Express was running – Memorial Day through the summer months, this tram takes visitors on a narrated 3 mile tram ride with historical facts and information about Phillips Park.
Depending on your proclivities, you can also play golf, view the World War I cannons, play at the aquatic center, utilize the sports field and have fun geocaching.
In terms of hiking, apart from the zoo and the small sunken garden, one can follow the Mastodon Trail, a 1-mile pedestrian and bicycle path that circumnavigates the 28-acre Mastodon Lake.
Directions to Phillips Park:
Is Phillips Park worth a drive as a standalone destination? Perhaps, perhaps not, depending on the age and attention span of the children involved. But if you’re in the Aurora area already, it’s definitely a nice way to spend an hour or two.