You can get 1600's on eBay for like $10 each shipped which are more than enough to tinker around with (Cisco IOS is Cisco IOS, not much changes but more stuff gets added). I've still got a couple of them myself which were the first 2 Cisco routers that I bought years ago. I would grab a couple of them since many tasks require another router at the other end of the link, and your Linksys or Netgear home router isn't going to have a fraction of the features.
I have collected a number of free resources around the net over the years. The list is targeted towards CCNA studying, but it'll definitely help you learn the ways of Cisco. You can find it here