A Publication of WTVP

Peoria’s ‘Hidden Gem’

by Katie Faley | Photos by Ron Johnson |

For 50 years, Wildlife Prairie Park has provided every excuse to vacation close to home

Tucked beside the bison and elk pastures sit six cabins, freshly built for the modern lodger. They’re the Legacy Cabins at Wildlife Prairie Park and they’re getting rave reviews.

Wildlife’s newest lodging additions were a labor of love from the community, for the community. They were named for the legacy of noted philanthropist, attorney and conservationist Bill Rutherford, who gave the park as a gift to his wife, Hazel, and to the community in the 1970s. Peoria as we know it would be a very different place without the significant contributions of Rutherford, specifically on the nature and environment fronts.

“We raised $2.4 million from the community to build the cabins,” said Calli Dicks, marketing director for the park. “We don’t receive ongoing public funds but rely upon the revenue we generate and the support of local individuals and organizations.”

The cabins are the intersection of simplicity and luxury, as satisfying for the avid camper as they are for the “I’m good inside by the fireplace” traveler.

For those who’d rather wake up on vacation to peace and quiet rather than the hustle and bustle of room service wheeling down hotel hallways, the Legacy Cabins provide the best of both worlds.

“It’s a great way to create memories with families and friends while being immersed in nature, but still have access to modern amenities,” Calli said.

“They’ve been built with all modern appliances and luxuries: fully equipped and stocked kitchens with ovens, full refrigerators, dishwashers, and so much more. Each unit also has an indoor electric fireplace and a private patio with a relaxing place to sit around the fire pit or make something tasty on the grill.”

Good timing

According to a March report from TripAdvisor, 31% of people are traveling less or taking shorter trips, while 27% will vacation closer to home.

Thanks to COVID-19, along with rising costs due to inflation and high gas prices, more private, local lodging — the Instagram-worthy staycation — seems to have hit its stride.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the grand opening of the six Legacy Cabins at Wildlife Prairie Park, which began taking reservations in summer 2020. Room rates vary on a daily and seasonal basis — high season runs from May through September — ranging from $129 to $329 for a three-bedroom and from $199 to $449 for families or groups in need of up to five bedrooms. Other accommodations to suit all tastes and price points also are available.

Guests get the entire cabin to themselves with plenty of outdoor space to stretch out and make the experience their own. And looking out the window to see a bison isn’t something you’re likely to get on your typical vacation.

Perfect for any occasion

Maybe it’s the influence of social media, or maybe it’s the emergence of Gen Z and Millennials as the most frequent travelers. According to a recent study, 63% of Gen Zers use their smartphones when they’re looking for travel inspiration. Those artsy vacation photos are really making a difference when people plan their trips. The Legacy Cabins offer those picture-perfect moments.

And unlike similar accommodations, the cabins are open year-round.

“We took a walk in the snow. It was magical. It felt like being in the pages of a magazine. I forgot I was in Peoria and just a quick drive from home,” said Jean, a recent guest who celebrated a milestone birthday of a lifelong friend at Wildlife in December.

Whether it’s a birthday, reunion, wedding party, girls night out, guys weekend or just the plain old “I don’t need an excuse to take a few days away,” there is no shortage of reasons to stay.

“It’s really the hidden gem of central Illinois,” Jean said.

Cabins and way, way more

At Wildlife, there are enough activities to fill an entire weekend and whet your appetite to come back for more:

Wild Woods laser tag opens in May.

Seven lakes are stocked for fishing and available for kayaking and kayak rentals starting in May.

The Very Important Angler (VIA) Membership allows members access to the park outside of regular hours for fishing. Wildlife also provides survival skills classes.

On the recreation front, there’s a five-mile hiking challenge, mountain biking, a bison hump pump track and a disc golf course.

What’s up next

The Wildlife family will soon be growing again when they welcome three female cougars. Construction will begin this spring to overhaul the cougar habitat to prepare for the sisters.

They’ll be joining the already-full house of bison, elk, black bears, fox, bobcats, eagles, otters, owls, snakes, turtles, domesticated farm animals and more!

To find out more about the cabins and other Wildlife Prairie Park activities, go to the park’s website at or call (309) 676-0998 to make a reservation.

Katie Faley

Katie Faley

is a Peoria native — Notre Dame High, Class of 2013 — who moved away following college, earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame, and returned with a fuller appreciation of her hometown. She works at OSF HealthCare