Little McHenry County: An Unforgettable Day in Union

Little Lake County parents are active, mobile and always seeking adventure! Sometimes we even traverse outside of our fair county to find family entertainment beyond our borders. Due to popular reader demand, we introduce “Little McHenry County,” a monthly column dedicated to finding fun with our neighbors to the west, written by McHenry County Moms in the know. Explore and enjoy!

Little McHenry County is supported by the Raue Center for the Arts.

little mchenry county

A Day in Union IL

Day Out with Thomas and Donley’s Wild West Town!

With a population of less than 600, it’s hard to believe that the small Illinois town of Union has so much to offer families to ensure an incredible day of awe-striking entertainment and lots of fun. But believe me, take a trip to western McHenry County, and you will see for yourself what a great place it is to spend some time.

Day Out with Thomas, Illinois Railway Museum, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

Start your day with the ever-popular “Day Out with Thomas” at the Illinois Railway Museum. The Ready Set Go Tour 2016 comes to Union on Saturday and Sunday, August 13-14 and again on August 20-21st, 2016.  Ticket prices are $21.00 per person, children under two are free, and tickets must be reserved in advance. (These tickets go quickly so it’s best to plan ahead!) Tickets include one train ride with Thomas the Tank Engine™ at your specified time, unlimited rides on streetcars, entertainment–including live music, magic shows, and clowns, and access to all museum exhibits. I will never forget the look on my 2-year-old’s face when we saw a life-sized version of Thomas the Tank Engine™ rambling towards us for the first time. Star-struck would be an understatement; it was utterly priceless!

Other activities for your little train aficionado on the “Day Out” include an opportunity to meet Sir Topham Hatt™, see the impressive garden model railroad display, partake in Thomas & Friends storytelling, video viewing, and coloring. In addition, there is a temporary tattoo station and a play table to add to the entertainment. You can also take the opportunity to ride on a train behind Percy for an additional $10.00 ticket. This is a day that truly will be one of the highlights of your little Thomas fan’s year. Parking is free and gates open at 9:00 a.m. Purchase your “Day Out with Thomas” tickets online now.

Day Out with Thomas, Illinois Railway Museum, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

The Illinois Railway Museum is open year-round and hosts many special events and activities. It makes for a fun day trip to just explore the grounds and check out the fleet and learn a bit more about the history of our nation’s railroad industry. To learn a bit more, see Genevieve’s full review here.

Food is available for purchase at the Illinois Railway Museum, or else on your way further west, make a stop at Checkers II for a delicious lunch with a European flare. This cozy restaurant on the historical Main Street in Union offers a range of dishes to please anyone, complete with an outdoor gazebo and beer garden featuring live music in the summer. The restaurant’s catch phrase is “If we weren’t a little out of the way, we couldn’t be so totally out of the ordinary.” Luckily for you, Checkers II is right on your way today!

Donley's Wild West Town, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

Once your tummy is full, saddle up your little lads and lassies and head on over to Donley’s Wild West Town for a rootin’, tootin’ good time! After spending a few hours here with my crew, my only disappointment was that it took us over seven years of living in McHenry County before we had a chance to explore this fun and nostalgic joint.

A variety of activities are offered that are ideal for kids ages 3-11, however, our 2-year-old was in heaven, and both of the big kids in our family (i.e., my husband and myself) had a pretty good time too!

As you enter the facility, you walk through a wild west museum displaying a variety of cowboy memorabilia and inventions from the late 1800’s. We all loved exploring this area both on our ways in and out of the park.

Donley's Wild West Town, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

Once outside, you will immediately feel like you took a step back to the Wild West, as the theme prevails throughout the park. I would recommend trying out the C.P. Huntington Train Ride to begin your visit, as it is a fun way to get a quick tour of the park and map out your time there. After your train adventure, check out the vintage carousel, the kid-powered hand cars (even little ones can be pushed in these, so they don’t feel left out), cowboy roping lessons, and a tomahawk throw. A few of the activities do enforce height requirements to ensure safety. Cute, themed buildings surround this area, including a fudge and candy shop, an ice cream parlor, a face-painting station and an Old West photographer where you can dress up in authentic costume to memorialize the day. (At an additional cost.) There is even a jail with the Sheriff there playing the part–what a good sport!

Donley's Wild West Town, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

The back area of the park offers activities such as gold panning at the Sweet Phyllis Mine (my kids were beyond ecstatic to find gold–pyrite!), a Runaway Mine Car Roller Coaster, pony rides at the O.K. Corral, a Venture Canoe ride, and skill-building activities such as a bow and arrow range, a sling shot range, and a pop gun shooting gallery. There is also a Kids Korral Playground if your little ones need to just expend some energy and run around a bit. Photo opportunities with cutout faces, a teepee, a horse-drawn covered wagon (my kids loved being in the driver’s seat for a change) and a cowboy statue add to the fun.

Donley's Wild West Town, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

A Wild West Show is included in your ticket price and runs at 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. daily. This is a cute 20-minute performance with some gun-slinging, silly bantering and of course a couple of good-ole western brawls. The show opened with a short talk about gun safety geared toward the younger attendees. My 2-year-old was slightly bothered by the loud gunshots, as real guns with blanks are used in the performance, so if you have a child who is sensitive to noise, this is something to consider. Although my little guy yelled “Meanypants” a couple of times after the shots rang out, he still absolutely enjoyed the show.

Restroom facilities with baby changing stations are located throughout the park, the amusement park is handicap accessible, and an ATM is located at the Main Entrance as well. Tip, if you go to the website before your visit, ( you can score “Buy one, get one half off” admission tickets. Admission is $17.00 per person, and children under three are admitted for FREE.

Donley's Wild West Town, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

Employees are dressed in character and are very friendly and helpful. Parking is also easy, and it was a very manageable day with young kids on a Friday afternoon. I typically wouldn’t attempt a theme park with four kids on my own, so we made it a family day, however, I would absolutely go back without my husband–we didn’t even use the stroller.

I was truly enchanted by this ace-high spot, and would highly recommend that, by hook or crook, you grab your stetson and britches and head on over for a bang-up time. You certainly don’t want to cheat your little dudes by letting another summer pass without a visit to Donley’s Wild West Town!

So giddy-up, and take a trip out west for the day–I promise, you will be glad that you did!

Donley's Wild West Town, Union
© S. Younge | Little Lake | 2016

Donley’s Wild West Town
8512 S Union Road | Union, IL 60180 | (815) 923-9000

Checkers II Lounge & Restaurant
6524 Main Street | Union, IL 60180 | (815) 923-2000

Illinois Railway Museum
7000 Olson Road | Union, IL 60180 | 815-923-4000

Little McHenry County is supported by the Raue Center for Arts. The Raue Center for the Arts is McHenry County’s premiere theater destination, hosting unique events and performances which include theater, comedy, music and family productions in a charming and historic venue in downtown Crystal Lake. The Raue Center For The Arts is a 501 (c) non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of all through the arts.

Raue Center for the ArtsSupport the Raue Center for the Arts by attending one of their upcoming events:

See the full calendar of events on the Raue Website.

Disclosure: Raue Center for the Arts is a paid sponsor of Little McHenry County. All thoughts and opinions belong to the writer. 


About Shelby Younge 18 Articles
Shelby has lived in counties across the U.S. from New York to California. She has worked in catering, public relations, and as a sales executive for a marketing and travel company before giving up her mundane life of exotic food, party planning and international binge travel for the glamour of poopy diapers and being known by name at Costco. She calls Lakewood home with her three sons and a daughter ranging in age from nine to one, and is married to her college sweetheart. Shelby enjoys cooking, exercising, coaching, church-going, wining and dining with friends and spying on her kids under the guise of “volunteering” at school. You can find Shelby dancing through the aisles of the dollar store, sporting heels and nursing her baby in the Ergo, while looking for inspiration for the next family theme day. Or, she might be chauffeuring her kiddos to one of their 1,204 activities while belting out Kids Bop (but using the original lyrics) in her gluten-free cracker-filled family truckster.

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