The green and peaceful Village of Carol Stream is in Chicago’s western suburbs, and is often named among the country’s most livable places.
One of many things in Carol Stream’s favor is the quality of public facilities, which include a water park, hundreds of acres of parks and even a mini golf course.
The community is also surrounded on three sides by DuPage County forest preserves, and you could walk or ride a bike for hours in restored prairie and woodland and hardly see a car.
Families are especially well catered for in Carol Stream, with numerous attractions all around, from open farms to zoos, as well as the sprawling Cantigny Park with its genteel gardens and two excellent museums.
1. Coral Cove Water Park
Like many communities in the Chicago suburbs, Carol Stream has an outdoor aquatic complex that goes way beyond what you’d expect from a public facility.
Coral Cove Water Park sits next to the Park District rec center on West Lies Rd and is a no brainer for families on hot sunny days.
The centerpiece is a cove-shaped pool, made up of a wading area with beach entry, and a deeper lap pool for fitness and lessons.
All around this pool are engaging features like a small climbing wall, spray equipment, shallow tot pool, a playground with a giant tipping bucket, slides and a picnic area.
2. Kline Creek Farm
Despite being ensconced in the suburbs, there are plenty of reminders all around Carol Stream that the area was dominated by farms until not so long ago.
Moments away at the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve is this historic farmstead, preserved as it was in the 1890s. You can come to witness everyday manual skills in Illinois’ rural communities in the 19th century.
These might be planting (corn, oats and other grains), harvesting, canning, baking, meat curing, coopering, smithing, sheep shearing and ice cutting.
You can take a tour of the historic farmhouse and, depending on the time of year, see the Percheron workhorses in the fields. Kline Creek Farm keeps an array of other domestic animals, like shorthorn cattle, southdown sheep and chickens.
3. Armstrong Park
One of the great things about this spacious neighborhood park is that it connects with Mitchell Lakes Park and Veterans to provide a water-rich green corridor through the heart of Carol Stream.
These are all on the course of Klein Creek, and in 2015 a pair of reservoirs was built in Armstrong Park to ease flooding.
There’s a waterside trail to wander along, and this can be followed to Balog Island, home to a colony of purple martins.
Elsewhere Armstrong Park is filled with recreation amenities, such as a whole baseball hub, sledding hill in winter, basketball court, sand volleyball court, in-line skate rink and the excellent KidsWorld playground.
4. Coyote Crossing Mini Golf
Remarkably, this fun-filled mini golf course is managed by Carol Stream Park District and sits in McCaslin Park.
With a railway theme, Coyote Crossing is a fine option if you need ideas during the school summer break, but also a lighthearted date night choice, as the course stays open until 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Added to that it’s a decent way for experienced golfers to fine-tune their short game in a less pressured environment.
Check the Park District website as there’s a slew of theme days in the summer and fall. Snacks and beverages are available and you can even buy a s’mores kit for the firepit here.
5. McCaslin Park
The park surrounding Coyote Crossing was first laid out in 2002, but owes its current design and many of its great amenities to a multimillion-dollar redevelopment in the 2010s.
Much of the space is occupied by a baseball complex, which serves a number of youth and adult baseball and softball leagues.
The park also has a splash pad, large playground, basketball court and a long paved trail that encircles the entire park and also links with neighboring trail networks.
If you’d like a longer walk, the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve is across E. North Ave. (Route 64), and is on the Great Western Trail, an 18-mile rail trail on the old Chicago Great Western Railway corridor.
6. Ross Ferraro Town Center
Up to the late 1990s Carol Stream lacked a central, monumental space where the village could gather for public events.
This arrived in 1998 and was named for the mayor, Ross Ferraro, who had prioritized it. A cross between a park and a plaza, the Ross Ferraro Town Center is a beautifully landscaped area, with lawns, a visitor center, walking paths, benches, ponds and an impressive decorative fountain.
This is an apt setting for all kinds of events in the summer, including a series of outdoor concerts and the Last Blast Summer Carnival in early September.
7. West Branch Forest Preserve
There are several DuPage County Forest Preserves in Carol Stream’s vicinity. The most convenient of these is this 713-acre tract of nature on the course of the West Branch DuPage River.
The preserve has a patchwork of habitats, including a rare fen, wet prairie, wetlands, tallgrass meadow, floodplain forest and two lakes.
The latter can be found towards the north end, and Deep Quarry Lake, the larger of these, is a fishing destination for its plentiful bass, crappie, bluegill, carp, sunfish and channel and flathead catfish.
Another great thing about the preserve is that it’s on the West Branch DuPage River Trail, and you can follow this path for an almost uninterrupted hike into the connecting Hawk Hollow and Mallard Lake preserves.
8. Cantigny Park
In a matter of minutes you can reach Wheaton’s Cantigny Park, the 500-acre former estate of Chicago Tribune publishers Joseph Medill (1823-1899) and his grandson Robert R. McCormick (1880-1955).
When he died, McCormick left his estate to a charitable trust on the orders that it become a public park. This is now a self-contained day out, with a visitor center, formal and informal gardens, a public 27-hole golf course, restaurants, a gift shop and two museums.
The first of these is the Robert R. McCormick Museum, preserving his grand, 35-room mansion, which was completed in 1897 and can be admired on tours.
Also on the grounds is the First Division Museum. McCormick served with this division in World War I, and outside is the largest collection of tanks and artillery in the area, with immersive and detailed exhibits to check out inside.
9. Cosley Zoo
Also worthwhile in Wheaton is a zoo run by the local park district. Cosley Zoo is compact at five acres, but offers a perfect overview of the species native to Illinois.
These might be white-tailed deer, red foxes, bobcats, raccoons, American kestrels, hairy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and Blanding’s turtles, to name a small handful.
The zoo also keeps a host of domestic animals like miniature donkeys, Guernsey cows, Shetland ponies, llamas, Nubian goats, Montadale sheep and Norwegian fjord horses. The location is also worthy of mention, on the leafy grounds of an historic train station.
10. Sonny Acres Farm
Close by in West Chicago, Sonny Acres farm (1883) is open during the summer and into the fall for all sorts of family fun.
June through August you’ve got tram rides aboard the Sonny Express, as well as an inflatable park, a self-feed zoo with cute farm animals and pony rides.
Then come fall you can visit the pumpkin patch, accompanied by carnival amusements, hayrides, spooky fun and classic fall treats like fresh donuts.
Throughout this time Sonny Acres has a well-stocked and newly renovated store selling anything from seasonal produce to homemade jams and jellies to baked goods, seasonings, sauces, handmade gifts and yard decorations.
Besides all this there’s a kitchen with an outdoor grill serving up burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, Italian beef and more.
11. Bierman Park
Surely one of the prettiest spots in Carol Stream, Bierman Park covers 40 acres, encompassing Heritage Lake. For joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and people out for a stroll there’s a 1.25-mile paved path running around the lakeshore.
This is particularly lovely in summer as there’s a “no-mow” policy on the lake’s banks, producing beautiful native wildflowers and offering a habitat for waterbirds like great blue herons and egrets.
Non-motorized vessels are allowed on the lake, and you come to catch catfish, although catch and release is encouraged.
On the park’s west side you’ll find an array of amenities, among them basketball hoops, a soccer field, sand volleyball court and an enormous playground.
12. Glendale Lakes Golf Club
Golfers have no shortage of affordable public options within a short drive of Carol Stream. Particularly close is Glendale Lake Golf Club, with an 18-hole course owned and run by the neighboring Village of Glendale Heights.
This course was laid out by Dick Nugent, and opened in 1987. Something you’ll notice right away is the abundance of water, as well as the high number of par 3s, so this is a course that rewards precision over power.
The fairways are kept in great condition, as are the greens, which can be extremely quick.
13. Gretna Station & Caboose
At the south end of Armstrong Park is an enthralling relic from earlier times in Carol Stream. What you’ll see here is the clapboard 19th-century train station for Gretna, in the southeast of Carol Stream.
Nobody is too sure why the station was given that name, borrowed from the Scottish town, but it was renamed Carol Stream in 1962.
The original station, along with a historic caboose donated by the Elgin-Joliet and Eastern Railway, served as a small museum that was dedicated for the bicentennial in 1976. Today both stand as a monument in Armstrong Park.
14. Stratford Square Mall
Carol Stream is close to this enormous mall, found just to the northeast in Bloomingdale. The Stratford Square Mall opened in 1981 and has been renovated several times since then.
This center has often been viewed in the shadow of Schaumburg’s famous Woodfield Mall, but is still loaded with familiar retailers.
At the time of writing there were upwards of 100 stores, counting the likes of Foot Locker, Claire’s, Kay Jewelers, Kohl’s, Bath & Body Works and Hot Topic. Food-wise there’s a Red Robin, Sbarro, Sarju Japan, Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon.
15. Rockin’ Jump
In a giant warehouse in Carol Stream there’s a branch of the Rockin’ Jump chain of indoor trampoline parks.
For the uninitiated this is great fun but also great exercise for kids and teenagers. Rockin’ Jump has a vast space with trampolines on the floor and walls, as well as a host of sub-areas.
You’ve got a slam-dunk hoop, a dodgeball court, designated trampolines for smaller children, a battle beam, climbing wall and a special “slingshot” experience combining a harness, bungee ropes and a big inflatable cushion.