Along the Golden Corridor, Huntley is one of the fastest growing communities in the northwest Chicago area, with a five-fold population increase since 2000.
The village goes back to the mid-19th century, and so despite the profusion of new residential areas there’s a historic core with a clutch of old buildings and thriving independent shops and services.
Amid all that rapid development Huntley does have plenty of open countryside, with long-standing farms welcoming the public to country stores and fall festivals.
In late September, Huntley has its own Fall Fest, with live music, carnival rides, great food from local eateries and tons of family activities.
1. Illinois Railway Museum
Barely ten minutes from downtown Huntley you’ll find the largest railway museum in the United States.
In the small village of Union, the Illinois Railway Museum explores the role that railroads played in the development of the Chicago area and the United States.
The museum is on a vast, 80-acre site, with a 4.6-mile railroad line and a mile-long streetcar loop.
You can ride these lines aboard vintage steam or diesel trains, and the museum’s bustling schedule of themed events is posted online to help you plan your visit.
Allow plenty of time to tour the yards and and barns on the site, teeming with nationally significant collections of restored locomotives and cars, many of which can be boarded.
2. Downtown Huntley
Unlike many suburbs, Huntley benefits from a definite central business district, with some old architecture and a collection of local businesses.
Downtown Huntley came through an extensive makeover in the 2010s, in which the sidewalks were widened, town square re-landscaped and several new buildings constructed, harmonizing with the older architecture already here.
There’s a farmers’ market in the town square on Saturday mornings, and an inviting range of food and drink options, for gelato, pizza, confectionery, BBQ and pub grub.
3. Deicke Park
Just south of downtown, Huntley’s largest park is also the stage for all kinds of community events in spring, summer and fall.
The biggest of these is September’s Fall Fest, but you’ve also got outdoor concerts, movie screenings and children’s entertainment.
On 25 neatly landscaped acres, Deicke Park is bordered by the park district’s rec center and its water park, which we’ll talk about below.
The park is also a hub for active recreation, with amenities for baseball/softball, basketball, fishing and sand volleyball, as well as a long cycling and walking trail running down the east side.
There are two playgrounds for children, one of which is gated, while the other by the pond has a huge, old-school slide.
4. Tom’s Farm Market
Just the kind of rural business you would hope to find in a place like Huntley, the family-owned Tom’s Farm Market has been around since 1959.
Open late-March through December, the farm has more than 80,000 square feet of greenhouses.
In spring you can call in to check out the sizable range of annuals, perennials, combination planters and hanging baskets.
As the summer progresses you can shop at the farm market for freshly picked, seasonal fruit and vegetables, accompanied by a bakery and a cafe using the farm’s produce.
In fall, Tom’s Farm Market becomes a full fledged family day out, with activities like a six-acre corn maze, a petting zoo, duck races, barrel rides and delicious fall treats like apple cider donuts.
5. Stingray Bay Family Aquatic Center
In summer, families with restless children can head for this park district pool complex, just next door to Deicke Park.
The season here runs from Memorial Day weekend to mid-August, and while there’s a discount for residents, general admission is still reasonable.
Stingray Bay has a giant pool, with beach entry and a large wading area dotted with play structures.
In the deeper areas there’s a diving pool, exercise pool with lanes and the splash pool for the center’s two resort quality slides. There’s a concession stand, Ray’s Cafe, at the park, but you can also bring your own food or order delivery from a local restaurant.
6. Exner Marsh Conservation Area
On Huntley’s east side is an Illinois State Nature Preserve protecting an expanse of marsh punctuated by shallow ponds.
Exner Marsh is on a shallow glacial lake bed, fringed by higher ground created by glacial till and thousands of years of outwash deposits.
You can navigate this 116-acre space along 1.3 miles of hiking trails, with a picnic shelter and picturesque views.
The marsh is an important staging point for migrating wetland bird species, so a good time to visit is in the spring and fall. A few species that stop by include great egrets, blue-winged teals, pied-billed grebes, least bitterns and Virginia rails.
7. Goebbert’s Farm & Garden Center
Mid-April through October this farm close by in South Barrington opens its doors to the public. In spring you can drop by to browse the garden center, selling annuals, perennials, indoor plants, vegetable and herb plants as well as trees and shrubs.
From late June there’s Goebbert’s Country Store, brimming with local honey, salsas, pickles, hot sauces, vegetable dips, salad dressings, preserves and much more.
A little later comes the Fall Festival, turning the farm into a family wonderland, filled with attractions and activities like a petting zoo, a barn with a real giraffe, pig racing, a haunted barn, camel rides, pony rides and more than we could possibly list here.
The Harvest Market runs throughout this period, for pumpkins, vine-ripe tomatoes and sweet corn, as well as baked goodies, from fruit pies to apple cider donuts.
8. Huntley Farmers’ Market
On Saturday mornings May through October this flourishing outdoor market brings a little more animation to downtown Huntley.
Held on the square, but also spilling onto Coral Street and Church Street, the market has in excess of 20 vendors.
For an idea of what to expect, you’ll find producers and makers selling locally grown fruit and vegetables, flowers, herbs, spices, granola, kettle corn, eggs, pastured meat, baked treats, loose leaf tea, perogies, handmade soaps, alpaca yarn and freshly roasted coffee.
November through May there’s also an indoor market at Legion, 11712 Coral St, on the 2nd Saturday of the month.
9. Randall Oaks Zoo
The Dundee Township Park District runs this zoo, a short drive southeast of downtown Huntley.
The Randall Oaks Zoo is perched on a hilltop, and is a child-friendly attraction encouraging interaction where possible.
For instance there’s a petting zoo here in a barn where kids can meet goats and alpacas. Among the many other animals at the zoo are emus, mini horses, deer, cows, pigs, peacocks, sheep and red-tailed hawks.
The surrounding park is more than 140 acres, with picnic areas, a 10 ten-hole disc golf course and group hayrides in fall.
10. Pinecrest Golf Club
One of two highly regarded public golf courses in Huntley, Pinecrest Golf Club opened in 1972 and has been in the care of the Huntley Park District since 2003.
Spread out on 130 acres, this 18-hole championship course has come through plenty of changes over the last 50 years, and is praised for some of the best greens in Illinois.
To keep you on your toes, hazards include five lakes, 63 bunkers and fairways traced by groves of maturing trees.
As for practice facilities, there’s a driving range with grass tees, a putting green and a chipping area. For a post-round bite the clubhouse’s restaurant has an enticing menu, with pizza, burgers, wings and sandwiches.
11. Freeman Kame Meagher Forest Preserve
Between Huntley and Gilberts is a forest preserve in an area with some of Kane County’s most scenic topography.
Here you’re on the northern edge of a moraine complex, with sheltered woodland in lower areas and a series of hills and drumlins bringing drama to the landscape.
Visiting Freeman Kame Meagher Forest Preserve you’ll get a clear picture of what this region looked like centuries ago, appreciating scores of native plants.
The main loop is an invigorating, hilly walk, with some fine views, while there’s a horseback riding area and a special section for model aircraft.
12. Whisper Creek Golf Course
Another highly-rated public course in Huntley, Whisper Creek was designed by famed architect Greg Nash, collaborating with U.S. Open and Masters champion, Billy Casper.
This 7,103-yard par-72 is a certified Audubon partner sanctuary, integrated with wetland habitats and native prairie, and using dense bluegrass for its rough.
There’s also some eye-catching landscaping as you play, including rock formations with impressive waterfalls.
The course also has a fully-stocked golf shop, a driving range with 24 hitting bays and a cafe with a patio with views of the 1st and 10th tees.
13. Donley’s Wild West Town
Also in Union, this Wild West-themed amusement park and museum has been around since 1974.
As well as child-friendly rides, there’s a 19th-century street scene at Donley’s Wild West Town, complete with a saloon, jail, print shop and blacksmith’s shop.
Kids and parents can pan for gold, take a ride on a narrow-gauge train, check out authentic artifacts from the Old West and catch an action-packed stunt show with gunslingers. You can also test your own skills with a bow and arrow, slingshot, tomahawk or air pistol.
14. Visit McHenry County
Huntley is in two counties, but the village’s downtown area is firmly in McHenry County, which encompasses a big swathe of land up to the Illinois-Wisconsin line and out into rural northern Illinois.
In Henry County you’ll leave the Chicago area’s sprawl behind for quaint little towns resting in gently rolling countryside.
One spot within an easy drive of Huntley is Woodstock, the county seat and with a delightful townscape that was used as a location for the classic movie, Groundhog Day (1993).
In downtown Huntley there’s a tourist information center for the county, arming you with maps, practical info and ample inspiration for your next stop in McHenry County.
15. Huntley Fall Fest
Deicke Park is the venue for a four-day festival at the end of September to celebrate the harvest season.
Organized by a not-for-profit organization, Huntley Fall Fest has carnival rides, midway games and a wide choice of carnival food. There’s an exciting bill of live music on the main stage, but also a kids’ stage for family fun.
Among the slew of events and activities taking place across these four days are a 5k run, car & tractor shows, a book sale, hayrides, a model train display and a scarecrow contest. There’s also a huge choice of food vendors, all originating from Huntley or nearby.