Just upriver from Rockford, the city of Loves Park was incorporated in 1947 and almost doubled in population during a surge of development in the 1990s and 2000s.
As well as shopping centers, great public facilities and sprawling residential neighborhoods, Loves Park encompasses a big slice of the great outdoors and the massive Rock Cut State Park.
In summer, this is a haven for all kinds of outdoor pursuits, from fishing to hiking and horseback riding along 50 miles of trails.
Back on the Rock River there’s a long recreation trail that will take you right into downtown Rockford, threading through lovely riverside parks.
Some of the metro area’s top attractions are also close by, at a remarkable house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the sumptuous Anderson Japanese Gardens and the major Mercyhealth Sportscore One and Two complexes.
1. Rock Cut State Park
Within Love Park’s boundaries is a giant recreation paradise, spread across more than 3,000 acres and containing over 50 miles of trails.
Hiking, cycling, skiing or horseback riding through Rock Cut State Park’s abundant forest’s you’ll find it hard to believe that you’re still in the Rockford metro area.
There are more than 100 types of wildflowers here putting on a dazzling display in spring and summer, and then come fall the wealth of hardwood trees makes for dreamy colors.
The park features a campground, with some 270 premium campsites, as well as shelters, a youth group camp and a rustic cabin.
2. Pierce Lake
Arguably Rock Cut State Park’s biggest draw is this majestic 160-acre lake, wreathed with deciduous woodland in the park’s southeastern corner.
Pierce Lake is fronted by a campground, a shelter, picnic areas, boat ramps and a fishing pier. Also here, on the southwest shore, is the Rock Cut State Park Concession, where in summer you can rent a variety of craft including kayaks, canoes, fishing boats and row boats.
If you’re here for fishing you can drop a line for channel catfish, bluegill, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, northern pike and walleye, to name a handful.
On the other side of I-90 is Olson Lake, designated for swimming and non-motorized vessels.
3. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House
In Loves Park you’re close to the only house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright purposely for a client with a disability. Kenneth Laurent was a WWII veteran rendered paraplegic by illness shortly after returning from the war.
The single-story Laurent House was built on a creekside plot in 1949 after Kenneth and his wife Phyllis had written to Wright and visited his Taliesin studio to outline their unique requirements.
With a hemicycle footprint and composed mainly of red tidewater cypress and Chicago common brick, the Laurent House is oriented to get as much sun as possible, and is remarkable for its deep eaves and broad fascia.
Wright remained friends with the Laurents for the rest of his life, and was particularly proud of his design here. The house is open for hour-long public tours, while private tours are also available year round.
4. Anderson Japanese Gardens
Another of the unmissable attractions in the Rockford area is just past the south end of Loves Park.
Established in 1978 by the Rockford businessman John R. Anderson, the Anderson Japanese Gardens were designed by the noted Japanese-American landscape architect Hoichi Kurisu.
The eminent Sukiya Living Magazine has named Anderson Japanese Gardens among the finest in North America. In 12 acres you can marvel at waterfalls, winding paths, elegantly cultivated pines, raked gravel beds, koi ponds, murmuring streams and examples of masterful craftsmanship, as well as 16th-century Japanese architecture.
To help decode the gardens’ rich symbolism you can take a guided tour, finishing up at Fresco at the Gardens, which has a menu sourced from organic and locally-produced ingredients.
The gardens also host Wellness in Nature programs, scheduling awareness walks, tai chi, yoga, pilates, meditation and more.
5. Rock River Recreation Path
This scenic paved trail traces the Rock River for ten miles through the Rockford metro area, The Rock River Recreation Path begins in downtown Rockford and passes through Loves Park on the way to the suburb of Machesney Park.
The path was constructed as a bicentennial community project in 1976 and is a wonderful way to reach downtown Rockford, or to experience Loves Park’s various riverside properties.
With no slopes to speak of, this is a family-friendly trip, and with so many parks on the route you could bring a packed lunch for a picnic by the river.
6. Volcano Falls Adventure Park
Loves Park is also home to the top family entertainment center in the Rockford area, brimming with indoor and outdoor attractions.
The headline outside is the pair of creatively designed 18-hole mini golf courses, one of which includes a climb up a volcano.
Added to that is a set of three go-kart tracks, from the Rookie Track for kids to the high-speed Slick Track, so fast you’ll need a valid U.S. driver’s license to drive.
Inside, Volcano Falls has a laser tag arena and an arcade loaded with more than 50 games, including new state-of-the-art VR machines.
7. Martin Park
Another spot where you can take it easy and watch the Rock River go by, Martin Park is a space connected by the Rock River Recreation Path.
If fishing is your thing, you can come to the lagoon here to drop a line for channel catfish, smallmouth bass and walleye.
There are two boat launches on the river at Martin Park, and along the riverbank are grassy areas, shaded by tall trees where you can come to feed the many ducks and geese (oats and corn).
The park also has a playground for children, as well as picnic tables with pretty views over the water.
8. B & B Park Bowl
Small but with a lot of bang for your buck, Loves Park’s oldest bowling alley has been open since the 1950s.
Complemented by a fully-stocked cocktail bar, B & B Park Bowl has been a mainstay for generations, and has always moved with the times, becoming just the third alley in the nation to introduce glow-in-the-dark bowling on weekend evenings.
All eight lanes are the latest Brunswick Anvilanes, with 12-strike automatic scoring and bumpers for youngsters and novice bowlers. B & B Park Bowl hosts plenty of competitive league games, but has inexpensive open bowling slots seven days a week.
9. Pig Minds Brewing Co.
Worth the short trip into neighboring Machesney Park, Pig Minds Brewing Co. is the United States first and only vegan microbrewery.
You’ll find ten handcrafted ales on tap at the bar, and, while the selection is always changing, there’s a core of favorites usually available.
These include Happidaze (Blueberry California Ale), Sweep the Leg (IPA) and Southy Bitch Slap (American Red Ale).
To sample everything that Pig Minds has to offer you could always get a flight of all ten for $15. Food-wise there’s an enticing menu, with Beyond and Impossible burgers, bowls, salads, wraps and sandwiches.
10. Shorewood Park
Like Martin Park, the waterfront Shorewood Park is on the Rock River Recreation Path and also has a picturesque lagoon.
For something very out of the ordinary this space is home to the Rockford Ski Broncs, an elite water-skiing team that puts on spectacular public shows on Wednesday and Friday evenings in summer.
At other times you can soak up the gorgeous riverside scenery, or test your skills at the newly established disc golf course, weaving through the park’s groves of mature trees.
Shorewood Park has a boat ramp, and lots of places to enjoy a summer’s picnic in the shade.
11. Hidden Treasures Mall & Antiques
One of the top antiques centers in Illinois can be found in Loves Park. The largest store of its kind in the Rockford area, Hidden Treasures has more than 250 different vendors in close to 40,000 square feet of retail space.
Give yourself as much time as possible to browse the mall’s furniture, ceramics, vinyl records, retro curiosities, primitives, toys, comic books, magazines, vintage signs, retro appliances, musical instruments, and much more besides.
The stock is constantly updated, while there’s an outdoor flea market on regular dates throughout the summer.
12. Rockford Speedway
Loves Park is home to one of only two racetracks operating under NASCAR sanctions in Illinois.
The high-banked quarter-mile Rockford Speedway is a storied circuit, opened as long ago as 1948, and continues to put on races twice a week throughout the summer season (April through October).
These take place on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and are generally local-level events, with some regional and even national races sprinkled in.
Saturdays bring the premier, NASCAR-sanctioned Whelen All-American Series Late Model series, as well as American Short Trackers, Road Runners and All-American Sportsmen.
Then on Wednesdays you’ve got The Road Runner Super Summer Series, Winged Women on Wheels, Bandits and a great deal more.
13. Mercyhealth Sportscore Two
In sporting circles Loves Park is on the map for this state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor facility.
On the city’s east side, just off the I-90, Mercyhealth Sportscore Two is able to accommodate anything from children’s birthday parties to trade shows. Outside there’s a stadium (2,500 capacity), 26 soccer fields, 7 turf fields and 3 sand volleyball courts.
Among the amenities at the indoor sports center is an indoor golf driving range, as well as Skybox, a sports-themed restaurant with big screens and four Full Swing Pro 2 simulators, for golf and a range of other sports like football, haseball, hockey and soccer.
14. Sand Park Pool
Operated by the Rockford Park District, this cherished outdoor pool complex recently reopened following a three year closure.
Throughout the school summer break this is a prime family attraction, with an L-shaped pool accommodating lanes for exercise, along with the splash area for a diving board and two drop slides.
Beside the main pool is Penguin Pond, designed for younger children and boasting a wading pool, slide, interactive sprays and climbing equipment.
The center is surrounded by grassy slopes and the main pool is lined with a continuous row of sun loungers with unbroken views for parents.
15. Carlson Ice Arena
Another high-quality facility in Loves Park is this NHL-size rink able to seat 600 spectators. The Carlson Ice Arena runs a busy schedule of hockey programs for kids, including lessons, clinics and camps, and hosts games for the Junior IceHogs Hockey League.
There’s also a junior figure skating program, while for everyday family fun you can head to the rink for a public skate session.
Under the same roof is Sapora Playworld, an impressive three-story soft play structure designed for children aged 5-12, and accompanied by the Tiny Tots Playspace for toddlers.