Officially created just after WWII, this village in Will County sits next to Joliet on the banks of Hickory Creek.
As a fast-growing suburb, New Lenox has a new feel to it, having almost doubled in population since the year 2000.
The village’s administrative heart is the New Lenox Commons, an endearing green space close to Route 30, staging big events throughout the year, from Santa’s village to outdoor concerts in summer.
The local park district has some excellent facilities, brimming with activities in the summer, and on New Lenox’s outskirts are creekside forest preserves crossed by long bikeways for an escape to nature.
1. New Lenox Commons
New Lenox’s centerpiece is this pleasant landscaped space, on a ring bordered by the Village Hall, police department and main library.
There’s a pond, pergola, pavilion, benches, lots of formal plantings, picnic tables and a small pier, all contributing to a pretty spot to take a picnic or read a book.
New Lenox Commons is also a venue for tons of community events. During the summer there are outdoor concerts, car cruises, movie screenings, food truck nights and a sidewalk chalk art event.
Then in the build-up to Christmas the Commons become a winter wonderland, with visits to Santa, a skating rink, holiday market, horse-drawn carriage rides and hot cocoa.
2. Hibernia Park
Come summer there’s plenty to do at the New Lenox Park District’s most popular park. At Eagle Circle & Blarney Road, and close to the Old Plank Road Trail, Hibernia Park has a host of amenities.
There’s a nine-acre stocked lake, where you can go fishing and also rent kayaks, pedal boats, paddleboards and rowboats.
Children will have a great time at the splash pad, open throughout the season and there’s also a concession stand and spacious shelter for rental.
For a jog or easy walk, a long, paved walking trail winds around most of the park’s perimeter.
3. Old Plank Road Trail
In the mid-19th century wooden plank roads cropped up across the United States, and one passed through what is now New Lenox to the south.
After a few years this was upgraded to a railroad line in 1855, which was eventually operated by the Michigan Central Railroad.
Traffic along the spur declined in the early 20th century, and the roadbed was eventually abandoned, to be turned into a trail.
Just over 20 miles long and acquired in the 1990s and 2000s, the Old Plank Trail travels east to west from Chicago Heights to Joliet, and crosses New Lenox at the Commons, as well as Lions Den Parkaround, half a mile south of the Metra station.
4. Hadley Valley Preserve
Something to note about the natural landscape around New Lenox is the pair of watercourses, Hickory Creek and Spring Creek, flowing west to meet the Des Plaines River at Joliet.
On New Lenox’s northern margins, Spring Creek flows through a protected corridor, along a series of Will County forest preserves.
The largest is the Hadley Valley Preserve, which has been the site of an unprecedented restoration effort, in partnership with several authorities and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The preserve’s forest, savanna and wetland can be traversed on the Spring Creek Greenway Trail, which has two segments adding up to almost nine miles.
Coming from New Lenox, you can start with the section, Hadley Valley – Route 6 Access, where there’s five miles of trail paved with crushed limestone.
5. Walker Country Estates Park
Also one of New Lenox’s premier parks, this space is a recreation hub, with basketball courts, soccer and football fields, as well as a large pond with a pier for fishing.
But what puts Walker Country Estates Park on families’ radars is the massive playground area, installed with age specific equipment.
This is the location for New Lenox’s splash pad, open in summer and offering endless fun for energetic youngsters. At this time of year there’s also a concession stand for cold drinks and frozen treats.
6. Hickory Creek Preserve
The largest individual preserve in the Forest Preserve District of Will County, traces the banks of the namesake creek just east and downriver of New Lenox.
You’ll be closest to the western section at the ai parking lot, by the intersection of Lincoln Way Road and the Lincoln Highway.
Here you can get onto the west branch of the Hickory Creek Bikeway, which weaves through riparian habitats, wetlands, savanna and forest before cutting south and eventually joining the Old Plank Road Trail.
The preserve is more than 1,500 acres in size and supports more than 50 bird species, notably the hermit thrush, yellow-rumped warbler and pileated woodpecker.
Out in the prairie are beautiful flowering plants like prairie gentian and lead plant, and in mid-spring keep an eye out for the neon blooms of the yellow trout lily in the woodland areas.
7. Sanctuary Golf Course
A local park district facility, Sanctuary Golf Course has 18 holes in a landscape of wetlands, tallgrass prairie and tree groves.
The course was laid out in 1996 by golf architect Steve Halberg, on an area of creekside prairie, using bentgrass tees, fairways and greens.
Water is almost ever-present and poses a challenge on 14 holes, along with some 68 strategically positioned bunkers.
Sanctuary Golf Course also maintains a first-class practice facility, with a 50-stall driving range, putting green and bunker.
8. Hickory Creek Brewing
The story of this microbrewery goes back to 2014 when a local beer enthusiast converted a 150-year-old milk house on his property into a nanobrewery.
In 2017 Hickory Creek Brewing moved into a property on Laraway Road and after an extensive build-out opened to the public with a taproom a few months later.
The owner Gary Meyer brews several of his beers with Cascade, Centennial and Willamette hops grown on his land.
Over the past few years Hickory Creek Brewing has produced more than 30 beers, from IPAs to Porters and Lagers, a rotating selection of which is served at the friendly taproom.
9. Laraway Lanes
This well-kept bowling and affordable alley by Hickory Creek Brewing on Laraway Road has 24 lanes and state-of-the art scoring systems.
Like all modern alleys there’s cosmic bowling on Friday and Saturday nights, with blacklight, music and a party atmosphere.
Check the website for details of specials, with discounts for families Tuesday through Thursday, and cosmic all-you-can-bowl on weekends. There’s also a snack bar with an extensive menu, but popular most of all for its 12-inch pizza.
10. Pilcher Park Nature Center
Source: Jason Patrick Ross / shutterstock
Couched in a 64-acre preserve, this nature center by Hickory Creek is just off US 30 on the way to Joliet.
The Pilcher Park Nature Center is perfect for curious young minds, with well-presented indoor exhibits where children can observe wildlife from the region.
The center’s staff put on plenty of demonstrations, allowing you to touch several animals like turtles and snakes.
The greenhouse here is also a treat, with neat displays of exotic flora. Outside you can discover the preserve along interpretive trails, and the scene is gorgeous in spring when the woodland wildflowers are in bloom.
11. AMC New Lenox 14
Just the place to watch the latest movies, this theater on the west side of New Lenox opened in 2004 and was taken over by AMC in 2010.
AMC New Lenox 14 has a premium IMAX screen, as well as heated Signature Recliners and a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine in the concessions area, where you can come up with your own concoction.
Some of the “Feature Fare” bites available at this location include 1.5-pound Bavarian pretzel, gourmet cheddar or salted caramel popcorn, stone-fired Italian-style pizza and jumbo hot dogs. Discounts apply for military, seniors and students.
Known for decades for manufacturing and heavy industry, the county seat next door to New Lenox has found a new direction in the 21st century.
As a commuter suburb and a center for higher education, Joliet’s population has more than doubled since 1990.
The downtown area, with a lot of architecture from the city’s industrial heyday in the first half of the 20th century, has attracted plenty of independent businesses, an appetizing choice of restaurants among them.
The star of the city center has to be the sumptuous Rialto Square Theatre, opened in 1926 as a movie palace and now a major performing arts stage for the area.
Joliet has two casinos and a professional baseball team, the Joliet Slammers, and on the northern outskirts is the Old Joliet Prison.
Now empty, this brooding old complex dates back to the 1850s and has featured in dozens of movies and TVs, most memorably when Jake is released at the beginning of the Blues Brothers (1980).
In the 1830s and 40s, Lockport was chosen as the headquarters for the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
This waterway, championed by Abraham Lincoln among others, would eventually complete a vast inland transport network that made it possible to ship goods from New Orleans to New York. Modern Lockport has taken great care to preserve this heritage.
The Gaylord Building, a former warehouse during construction, now has an exhibit about the project, as does the neighboring Lincoln Landing, a kind of outdoor museum with informative bronze medallions embedded in the ground.
Another historic canalside structure houses a branch of the Illinois State Museum, and from Lockport you can walk or ride for miles along the old towpath on the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail.
14. KidsWork Children’s Museum
Helping to nurture learning and discovery through fun, interactive play, this children’s museum for ages 0-8 opened close by in Frankfort in 2007.
The museum has two floors filled with experiential exhibits, along with an art studio, theater and space with musical instruments.
Many of the exhibits allow children to play out everyday situations and professions, so there’s a market, vet and fire station, along with fun interactive stations like a pinscreen, dino dig and a large operation table explaining basic biology in a lighthearted way.
15. Proud American Days Festival
New Lenox’s motto is “Home of Proud Americans”, and in the 1980s the name was applied to this annual celebration at the end of July.
Proud American Days has humble origins, going back to a two-man band with a beer keg in a tent, but is now a huge event attracting thousands from New Lenox and neighboring communities.
Across four days there’s a craft fair, classic car show, carnival rides and games, and plenty of other fun activities for children.
Food trucks show up from far and wide and the main stage entertainment is booked to appeal to a broad spectrum of ages and musical tastes.