Family fun at the Illinois State Fair – 71Bait

Here’s how to best enjoy your trip to the Illinois State Fair in 2022

Many families from Champaign-Urbana make the annual trek to Springfield for the Illinois State Fair, conveniently held just before the start of the school year

Does your family love rides, farm animals, fried food or high diving shows? Then the Illinois State Fair is for you! The 2022 Illinois State Fair will be held Thursday, August 11 through Sunday, August 21 at the Springfield Fairgrounds, approximately 90 minutes’ drive from Champaign-Urbana.

TIED TOGETHER: If you’re looking to extend your trip a bit, check out this guide to a family-friendly Springfield getaway. Attending the State Fair is one of our eight major summer festivals in Central Illinois beyond CU.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to our dear friend and Springfield native Tara Burghart, a proud graduate of the University of Illinois and former Champaign resident, for this great, in-depth article.

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Kids can milk a cow at the Illinois State Fair. Photo by Tara Burghart

The basics

Admission at the gate is $10 for adults 13 and older on Fridays and Saturdays and free for children 12 and younger. On all other days, adult admission is only $5. You can park at the fairgrounds for $5. Also, homeowners and businesses near the site are converting their yards into private grassy parking lots. Of course, the closer you are to a gate, the more you pay.

Weekdays are a lot less crowded than weekends (and you’ll save money on boarding, too). Be sure to check out the schedule of events for the day of your visit and also browse the state fair’s website, particularly the entertainment page. In previous years, there was a paper brochure at the entrance gate with a detailed schedule of events for the day of your visit. Here is a link to a printable exhibition center map to help you get your bearings before you arrive.

The butter cow is an Illinois State Fair tradition. Photo by alias Kath on flickr.

The attractions not to be missed

THE DAIRY BUILDING: The famous butter cow resides here in a refrigerated display case during the fair. It takes about 500 pounds of unsalted butter to shape the cow, which has been a tradition since the 1920s. You can also buy ice cream cones and delicious cream puffs in the Dairy Building.

PROTECTIVE WORLD: This area is quite a hike from the main gate, but offers a number of unique and free attractions, such as fishing clinics, youth archery, tie-dye and a climbing wall.

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Children get a history lesson on the Illinois Building lawn at the Illinois State Fair. Photo by Tara Burghart

FAIR FOOD: If you missed the Champaign County Fair (or just want more), don’t forget to visit Fries from Culler’s French Fry stalls. In the past they had two locations – on the east side of Grandstand Avenue and on the west side of Main Street, in front of Exposition Hall. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you can’t find it. The fries are simply delicious when served hot in a paper bag – best served with a healthy sprinkling of salt and some vinegar. If you’re looking for a slightly more “upscale” experience, some of the better food stands have their own seating areas. The Ethnic Village near the main gate also usually offers surprisingly tasty portions of Cuban, Filipino, Greek, Jamaican, Cajun and other cuisines. A new addition is the Golden Abe Food Vendor Contest, which rewards vendors for creative and delicious food and takes place on Friday, August 12th. Winners will put up signs at their concession stands. The fair’s website now has a searchable guide to food vendors and a ration card.

ANIMALS: Take a stroll through the barns so your kids can see the horses, cows, sheep and pigs up close. When I was young, I was of course fascinated by the animals – but even more by the farmer’s children who traveled to the fair to show their animals at the cattle shows. Some of them slept in the barns on cots just a few yards from their animals, and I think many still do.

THE CARNIVAL: The Midway is the carnival part of the faire, full of spinning rides and crane games and aimless teenagers. Honestly, I could take it or leave it – but of course kids love it. The Adventure Village has rides for young children and is located near the main gate next to the giant slide, a 40 foot high and 40 meter long yellow facility since 1968. By the way, the giant slide is something you should consider riding together as a family, when your kids are big enough. It has the potential to be a silly, sweet reminder for all of you.

Illinois State Fair yellow slide

Where to take a break

If you look at the schedule and see what catches your eye, try to schedule some times to get out of the sun or sit down.

IN THE AIR CONDITIONING: The Illinois Building/Senior Center can be a good place to plan a break because it’s air-conditioned and has a theater that hosts gymnastics teams, bands, choirs, and dance studios. Outside on the lawn you will find historical exhibits related to Abraham Lincoln.

AT THE RAIL: Another fun and relaxing activity you can do is watch trotting races in the shade of the grandstand. (Admission is free, although you can bet on the races.)

A PLACE FOR CHILDREN: Kids Korner is open daily from 10am to 7pm in the South Wing of the Emmerson Building. This building can get crowded and warm; Entertainment here includes face painting, a mural for your kids to paint on, a toddler play area, and a variety of kid-friendly entertainment (all free). There are several baby changing stations here and a few areas cordoned off with screens that are equipped with a glider for breastfeeding mothers. However, no toilets.

BEST BATHROOM: If you’re looking for a restroom, the historically finest at the fair are in the exhibit building, which is otherwise mostly filled with many of the cooking and cleaning supplies for sale as you’ll see advertised in nightly infomercials.

PUSHCHAIR RENTAL: If you don’t bring your stroller and later realize it was a mistake, you can rent one for the day on Grandstand Avenue near the Goat Barn and also at the Illinois Building.

ENTERTAINMENT: There are a dozen free entertainment stages throughout the fair, although some are in beer tents. The Grandstand also has entertainment most nights, but tickets in the $35-$45+ price range are required for the Grandstand concerts. This year’s grandstand acts include Sam Hunt, Demi Lovato, Brooks & Dunn, Shaggy, TLC and more.

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