Located just west of Rantoul, Illinois, is Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch. There is a multitude of reasons to visit Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch. The ranch is a magical place where Christmas comes alive bringing that holiday spirit home! While most everyone has heard the movies or stories, Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer and The Night Before Christmas, many have not seen a reindeer, or caribou, as they are also called.
Hardy’s ranch offers the opportunity to feed the reindeer, take a wagon ride, walk through a corn maze, play a round of paintball, sip hot cider, or, like we did, arrange a special dinner for a large group!
Believe it or not, reindeer’s hooves really do click, and you can hear it if you listen close enough.
For Special Events — Schedule Year-Round
Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch is open year-round for large groups and special events. As part of the Graham Bradley and Sears-Sold Tractor Club, a group that collects tractors sold through the Sears Catalog, our group was searching for a place to hold our banquet while attending the Half Century of Progress. This event, held every 2 years, is the premier vintage farm show in the U.S. Visit Champaign hooked us up with Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch as a place for a great meal, as well as an agriculture tourism experience.
My husband Keith and I met with Mark Hardy before booking the event. Mark showed us the reindeer and five young ones that were new to the herd. He gave us a tour of the banquet hall and the family-friendly grounds.
Pro Tip: The local Holiday Inn (which is near a sports center) offered wonderful service when we stayed in Rantoul.
1. Feeding The Reindeer
At the end of August, when our event took place, we first fed the reindeer — kids and adults alike enjoyed this wonderful activity. The antlers on these beautiful Alaskan reindeer are amazing! Being up close next to the reindeer, you see how lovely (and big) they really are. The friendly reindeer push forward to get their treats without hesitation!
Interest in the reindeer traversed all ages. I thought the women and kids would be interested and was pleasantly surprised when many men willingly left the tractors behind at the Half Century of Progress to come and learn about these cool animals, and the farm they are raised on.
2. Wagon Ride
The wagon ride was full as Mark shared the story of his family farm. The ranch was created in 1995 when he and his wife Julie purchased their first two reindeer to help sell Christmas trees on their farm. They have been in business for 10 years and now they have 21 reindeer. The reindeer were flown to Illinois from Alaska, so, as they say, “Reindeer really do fly!”
3. The Banquet Hall
Set on 5 acres flush with Christmas trees, there is a barn gift shop and a western-style banquet hall. The banquet hall is set up like an Old West canteen. Our meal consisted of brisket, beans, coleslaw, au gratin potatoes, and apple pie. Yum! Along with tea and lemonade, we had water to drink. There are various other choices you can select as well. Entertainment packages are also available. We had 50 in our group in the hall. There was plenty of room for our group to get together, meet, and talk.
Julie Hardy said they have bus groups year-round, but we were the first group to come and have a special meeting like this. This type of event is only for large groups. This is a unique venue that offers something special, and I loved that everything was included in one price.
4. Fall And Winter Seasonal Opening
Hardy’s is open fall and winter from September 1–December 28. With the ranch as a perfect backdrop, visitors like me enjoy the sheer beauty of the place. With 100-year-old barns and Christmas trees, this makes a lovely setting!
5. The Gift Shop
The gift shop has fun items that make shopping fun. This offers a chance to find unique gifts in a fun environment!
In the fall and Christmas seasons, there are several special holiday things to see and do. We experienced several of them at our event, however, there are more that should be mentioned as well.
Concessions like hot cider and cookies add fun treats to winter fun. After feeding the reindeer, this is something I would like to experience with the grandkids. If these treats are as good as the meal, then it will be a big hit for sure.
Pro Tip: Concession weekends in October, and Thanksgiving through Christmas, offer popular items like pulled pork parfait and Chicago dogs.
6. Corn Maze
The corn maze theme for this year is Day of the Dead. When we took our tour, Mark Hardy was telling us about the maze and was excited about it at that time. The corn mazes cover a full 10 acres and are designed like a large treasure hunt. Mark said during the wagon tour that the maze is very popular with high school kids and young adults. The older crowd may enjoy the “Moonlight Madness,” where they try the maze at night with only a flashlight and the light of the moon. He added that there had even been a couple of wedding proposals in the corn maze! I think this is something for those braver than me.
Another item the farm offers for those a bit braver than me and my husband is the paintball gallery!
7. Younger Fry Playground Fun
For the smaller kids, there is a nice playground for kids to play on as well. The younger ones in our group loved the reindeer and the playground.
8. Hollywood On The Ranch
Julie Hardy told me that one of their reindeer was used in an upcoming Hallmark movie. So, Hollywood came to the ranch, and one of the reindeer is an actual Hollywood star!
The holidays are magical, and nothing brings them to life like October and the corn maze, or December and a wagon ride through the trees, or feeding reindeer and witnessing their amazing antlers firsthand!
Pro Tip: One of our favorite dining stops was ET’s in downtown Rantoul.
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