Set on the east bank of the Rock River, Machesney Park is a village of around 23,500 in the Rockford metro area.
The village is relatively new, having been incorporated in 1981 and mostly developed in the 1980s and 1990s.
For visitors there’s an enormous shopping center, a craft brewery, entertainment amenities and easy access to some of the standout attractions in and around Rockford.
Despite the urban setting there’s 3,000 acres of woodland and open water right next to Machesney Park at the gorgeous Rock Cut State Park, a favorite summer destination for outdoor activities.
The Rock River Recreation Path can also be accessed in Machesney Park and leads all the way to downtown Rockford along the scenic riverbanks.
1. Rock Cut State Park
You don’t have to leave the Rockford metro area to escape to nature, as this 3,000 acre state park is on Machesney Park’s doorstep.
Largely made up of hardwood forest that is nothing short of spectacular in fall, Rock Cut State Park has 40 miles of hiking trails, around 25 miles of mountain biking trails and 25 miles of equestrian trails.
Out in the park you may catch sight of some of the many animal species here, including foxes, deer, raccoons, beavers, fox squirrels, gray squirrels and a wealth of waterfowl on the two lakes.
If you want to stay overnight there are 60 non-electric sites, more than 200 electric sites, a youth group campground and a rustic cabin.
2. Pierce Lake
Many of Rock Cut State Park’s amenities are on the shores of this wonderful 160-acre lake in the southeast of the park.
All with beautiful views you’ll find picnic areas, a fishing pier, boat launches, a campground and a concessionaire, all easily reached via the park’s access road and trails.
Any size engine is permitted on Pierce Lake, and it’s a productive fishing spot stocked with walleye, largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish and more. You can also rent paddleboards, canoes, kayaks, row boats and pedal boats here.
The same applies to the smaller Olson Lake, east of Pierce Lake, which is also open for swimming in the summer.
3. Pig Minds Brewing Co.
Machesney Park lays claim to the first and only vegan brewery in the United States.
This applies to the food menu, with its choice of Beyond or Impossible patties in the burgers, and an appetizing small bites, bowls, salads, sandwiches, wraps and tacos. As for beer, there are ten on tap at any one time.
The three ever-present flagships are South Bitch Slap, an American red ale with notes of caramel and toffee; Happi Daze, a blueberry California ale, and Sweep the Leg, a citrusy IPA.
Other picks at the time of writing included an alcoholic passion fruit smoothie, a New England IPA and a Session Hazy Pale Ale.
4. Gill’s Diner
At 7834 N 2nd St, Gill’s Diner has been part of the food scene in Machesney Park since 1962.
This is an old-style corner restaurant/diner, open 24 hours, and especially popular for its breakfast menu, which features a wide choice of skillets, served with toast and jelly, and the homemade biscuits and gravy, which have been popular for decades.
The coffee is also highly rated, and you get free refills on soft drinks with a meal. Later in the day, you can opt for soup and salad combos, burgers, wraps, Italian specialties, sandwiches and a wide selection of traditional favorites, from fried chicken to baked meatloaf to chicken fried steak.
5. Rock River Recreation Path
Built in 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial, there’s a ten-mile paved trail traveling through the Rockford metro area, mostly along the banks of the Rock River.
The path begins in downtown Rockford at Davis Park, crossing the river a couple of times before eventually linking with the Bauer Memorial Path in Machesney Park.
You could begin your journey from Machesney Town Center, hopping over to the west bank to explore the peaceful headquarters of the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County, before heading south through a succession of beautiful riverside parks, as well as the impressive Mercyhealth Sportscore One sports complex.
6. Atwood Homestead Golf Course
In a scenic spot on the west bank of the Rock River, this public course is operated by the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County. Laid out by architect Charles Maddox in 1971, Atwood Homestead is an 18-hole par 72, in a rolling landscape with fairways and greens skirted by deep woodland.
The greens are large and undulating, and you can choose from four different tee positions, depending on your ability, with a total length of 7,431 yards from the tips.
The signature hole is the extremely pretty 16th, a par 5 with two ponds presenting risk-reward opportunities.
7. McEachran Homestead Winery
Well worth the short trip into Boone County, this bucolic winery is on a two-acre vineyard, producing an array of grapes, as well as various fruit for its handcrafted wines.
A few of the varieties that do well in the northern Illinois climate include Duke of Argyle, Pepin, Niagara, Reliance, La Crescent, Frontenac, Edelweiss, Steuben and Valiant.
The winery also uses homegrown and local fruit like cherry, cranberry, peach, black and red raspberry and strawberry-rhubarb for its lineup of seasonal fruit wines.
On Saturdays through September this is a wonderful place to spend some time, with live music and food trucks from local eateries.
8. Kieselburg County Forest Preserve
In the care of Forest Preserves of Winnebago County, there’s a tranquil natural space to the northeast of Machesney Park.
Being relatively close to Rock Cut State Park, Kieselburg County Forest Preserve is much overlooked, which makes it an even better place to go for a walk or bike ride, or just get some fresh air.
The trails, running through prairie and woodland, are furnished with information boards about the preserve’s ecology, and around the parking lot at the north end are picnic tables and grills.
If you have a drone or radio-controlled aircraft you can fly it here, and there’s even a paved airstrip you can use.
9. Rockford Speedway
At the eastern end of the Gateway District shopping center is one of just two racetracks in the state of Illinois running under NASCAR sanctions.
Opened in 1948, Rockford Speedway has a quarter-mile oval on a 22° bank. During the summer season, April through October, there are race nights under the lights on Saturdays and Wednesdays.
These feature local, regional and national events, and the most prestigious of which is the NASCAR-sanctioned Whelen All-American Series, with late model cars.
Other regular series include Sportsmen, Bandits, RoadRunners, Short Trackers and Original Sixers. Look out for special events throughout the season, including an Independence Day spectacular on or around the Fourth of July.
10. AMC Machesney Park 14
Just past the northwestern corner of Rock Cut State Park, on N Perryville Rd is a gigantic multiplex cinema with 14 screens.
Ideal for date nights, meet-ups with friends or family outings, AMC Machesney Park opened in 2005 and has been part of the AMC chain since 2010.
In the last couple of years this location has offered AMC’s “Feature Fare”, offering fancier bites than you might expect from a typical movie theater.
Among them are stone-fired crispy pizzas, giant Bavarian-style pretzels, sweet or savory pretzel bites, gourmet popcorn and jumbo all-beef hot dogs.
11. Mercyhealth Sportscore One
The Rockford metro area is a sporting center of excellence, home to two vast complexes filled with facilities for a spectrum of sports.
Mercyhealth Sportscore One is tucked into a bend on the west bank of the Rock River, just south of Machesney Park.
On one site you’ve got 8 lighted baseball/softball diamonds, 18 soccer fields, an indoor soccer center building, a boat on the Rock River, concessions and two playgrounds for kids. Added to all that, the complex is on the Rock River Recreation Path.
12. Lindberg Pumpkin Patch
Mid-September through October, this family-run farm in nearby Caledonia opens up to the public for pumpkin picking and all sorts of fall and Halloween-themed activities.
Families can navigate the corn maze, take a tractor ride, hand feed cute farmyard animals at the petting zoo and swoop down the giant slide.
For parents there’s a country store, full of homemade goodies as well as Halloween decorations.
Naturally, seasonal treats like apple cider donuts, corn on the cob and pumpkin pie are at the heart of the experience.
13. Gateway District
Where IL-251 and IL-173 meet is Machesney Park’s main commercial area.
The Gateway District here is a massive shopping center, dotted with big box stores for the likes of Target, T.J. Maxx, Kohl’s, Lowe’s Home Improvement, The Home Depot, ALDI, PetSmart, Menards and Hobby Lobby.
All along West Lane Rd (IL-173) here you’ve also got a big choice of chain restaurants, with Chili’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle, KFC, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Panda Express, McDonald’s, Jimmy John’s and Panera Bread all featured.
14. Schoonmaker Park
Just in from the east bank of the Rock River on the west side of the city is an endearing community park, with a long paved trail leading through lawns, wooded areas and past a host of sports amenities.
On hand at Schoonmaker Park are tennis courts, baseball/softball diamonds, volleyball courts, two shelters, an excellent playground for kids and multi-use fields for a range of sports.
If you live in the area and have a dog you may already know about Rover Run Dog Park, which is fenced and covers 2.5 acres. With water bowls and a sheltered picnic area, this park has separate enclosures for smaller and larger breeds.
15. Williams Park Shore
An unfrequented place to gaze at the water, Williams Park is on the banks of the little Willow Creek where it flows into the Rock River.
What you’ll find is an unmaintained open area on the floodplain, with a mix of woodland and grassy spaces. Facing west, this is a lovely place to be at sunset.
Williams Park is also known for the unfortunately named Pee Island, which is only accessible from the water and is a popular spot in summer for boaters to go ashore and relax or have parties.