Spring is finally here(ish), and if you spent the winter ensconced in a blanket pile using your dog as a heated blanket, you may need a few long walks. With the sunny, moderate weather comes the chance to get out and explore the C-U area and all the great spots to walk with your favorite four-legged friend. I'm going to break down the pros and cons of several local walking trails and parks so you can jump straight in. 

First, I’ll introduce you to the official testing dog: my two-year old mini-Beagle named Lemon. She is equal parts lazy and crazy, so we usually take one big walk per day. Often we just go around our neighborhood, but we like to mix it up too and explore other parks and trails. Lemon is social and loves people, but she tends to be skittish around bigger dogs. Since she is a Beagle most of our walks are spent waiting for her to finish investigating a smell. She is also a smaller dog so we don’t tend to walk for miles and miles on end. We spent the last week doing lots of tail-wagging research to bring you information on a variety of places to see and smell this spring!

Hessel Park

Hessel Park is a great, central location for walkies (and it doesn’t hurt that it’s close to Jarlings). There’s tons of parking and various starting points depending on where you are coming from. The path circumnavigates the park and is only about .6 of a mile, though you can do several laps to make for a longer walk. That may not be ideal for big dogs or ones that need more exercise. The park will be great for walks throughout the spring, summer, and fall, since there are lots of mature trees to provide shade throughout the hotter days. It’s also got an excellent playground and various activity spaces so your walk can be part of a larger outing. We had some chillier weather when we walked, but it also meant we had the park almost entirely to ourselves; we were about halfway through before we encountered other people or dogs. Lemon loves kids, dogs, people, and squirrels so she would have preferred more company. As the weather warms up more the park should definitely join your regular rotation.

Overall, we’d give this one 2.5 out of 4 paws.

Meadowbrook

I have to admit I am biased because we take a lot of walks at Meadowbrook, and it is a long-standing favorite. Meadowbrook provides a really nice length of walk; our route is about 1.5 miles and we often do two laps. It’s a popular spot so there are always people around and friends to say hi to. There’s a great playground, picnic shelters, and the herb garden to explore and enjoy if you’re in the mood for a new adventure. Meadowbrook has three miles of paved trail and two miles of unpaved path to explore so you can avoid people if you (and your dog) prefer. There are some shaded and covered parts of the walk, but most of the path is exposed so it’s hard to enjoy on the hottest summer days. If we walk there in the summer we tend to go fairly early before the pavement is dangerous for Lemon. I’d recommend either sticking to the covered areas or going early if it’s a particularly hot day. We also love the sculptures along the path — it makes us feel cultured as Lemon sniffs out squirrels.

We give Meadowbrook 3.5 out of 4 paws.

Kickapoo Rail Trail

Any big or energetic dog will love the Kickapoo Rail Trail. In its current form, the trail is 6.7 miles long and goes from the Wal-Mart in Urbana to St. Joseph, though there are plans to connect it to Kickapoo State Park in Vermillion County. We’ve only walked KRT a time or two, but I decided to include it since it’s a great location for Urbana-ites, and can accomodate pretty much any length of walk you and your pup might need. This is a great place to bring a dog that needs a longer outing since you can walk or go any length you want. The trail is a straight line, though, so keep in mind that you’ll have to backtrack however far you go. I’d recommend lots of water and planning for use of this trail since it is totally exposed and can get really warm walking in the sun.  It’s also runs directly next to 150 for quite a ways, so if your dog is a little nervous around traffic sounds it won’t be a great fit for you. You can walk, bike, or run the trail, and it’s wide enough that you can pass other users without fear of collision. The scenery is a little lacking, and with the trail as straight shot as it is, you’ll definitely need a podcast or playlist to keep the walk as fun for you as it will be for your pup.

All things considered, we think the KRT is a 2 out of 4 paw walk.

Lake of the Woods

It’s a little outside of town, but the Lake of the Woods Nature Preserve is well worth discussing as far as great dog walks go. Lemon loves the trails, squirrels, variety, and views. You can walk just about anywhere and go any length you’re feeling up for. From the Museum of the Prairie and Botanical Garden to the golf course and fishing lakes, there’s tons to see and explore at Lake of the Woods. We usually take the main biking trail along the golf course and out to Prairieview Rd, then head back. Lake of the Woods has lots of parking available (pretty much anywhere can be a parking spot) but is very popular in the spring and summer for events and activities, so be prepared to share the trail. One huge advantage that’s hard to find around here is that the trail and roads are usually shaded for at least part of the day, so you almost never risk encountering scorching hot pavement and hurting anyone’s paws. The river nearby the trail also helps moderate the temperature on really hot days. There’s also a chance to see larger four-legged animals, so keep your eyes peeled! Lemon is a very bad hound so she has no reaction to deer, but I think of that as an advantage so they’re not scared away and I can admire them. With gorgeous scenery, shaded paths, and tons of variety, Lake of the Woods is hard to beat.

We give this place 4 out of 4 paws.

Hopefully this inspires you and your pup to get out and get some walks in now that the weather is nicer, and if you have a favorite spot that wasn't mentioned, please share!

Photos by Mary Wakefield; Kickapoo Rail Trail map from Champaign County Forest Preserve