City guides

Best day trips from Chicago

Dive into the myriad of experiences awaiting just beyond the borders of the Windy City.

September 19, 2023
 min read
Last updated:
Jan 15
A view of the Chicago skyline, with the Chicago river in the foreground.

Chicago, with its rich history, iconic landmarks, and vibrant culture, is undeniably captivating. But every now and then, the soul yearns for a change of pace, a new landscape to explore. If you're in that frame of mind, you're about to embark on a delightful journey. We've curated a list of destinations that promise unique adventures, all within a day's reach. Ready to explore? Let's set the wheels in motion.

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Imagine a place where nature's artistry is on full display. Starved Rock State Park, nestled along the serene Illinois River, is that place. The park is a mosaic of waterfalls, canyons, and lush forests. Each season brings its own charm: icy waterfalls in winter, vibrant wildflowers in spring, a canopy of green in summer, and a riot of colors in fall. Whether you're an avid hiker or someone seeking tranquility, this park offers a refreshing retreat from city life.

Galena, Illinois

Galena feels like a page out of a history book. As you stroll down its historic Main Street, you're transported to the 19th century, with beautifully preserved buildings, quaint shops, and horse-drawn carriages. But Galena isn't just about the past. Contemporary art galleries, chic boutiques, and gourmet restaurants add a modern touch. The rolling hills surrounding the town offer opportunities for outdoor activities like golfing, hiking, and even hot air ballooning. It's a harmonious blend of old and new. 

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva is more than just a lake town; it's an experience. The shimmering waters of the lake, framed by a picturesque shoreline, are a sight to behold. Here, you can indulge in a plethora of water activities - from serene boat rides to adrenaline-pumping jet skiing. The town itself is dotted with historic mansions, boutique shops, and cozy cafes. And if you're visiting in winter, the snow-covered landscape offers skiing and snowboarding adventures. 

New Buffalo, Michigan

New Buffalo is where the heart finds solace. This coastal town, with its sandy beaches and azure waters, is a haven for relaxation. The gentle sound of waves, the softness of the sand beneath your feet, and the vastness of Lake Michigan create a therapeutic ambiance. Beyond the beach, the town boasts wineries, artisanal shops, and eateries serving delectable seafood. It's a place where time slows down, and life's simple pleasures take center stage. 

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

Adventure seekers, this one's for you. Indiana Dunes National Park is a vast expanse of towering sand dunes, meandering rivers, and dense forests. The dunes, some reaching heights of nearly 200 feet, challenge you to climb and offer panoramic views as a reward. Birdwatchers will be thrilled with the park's diverse avian population. And if you're looking to relax, the park's beaches are perfect for sunbathing and picnicking.

Brookfield Zoo, Illinois

Brookfield Zoo is not just another zoo; it's a journey into the wild. Spanning over 200 acres, this zoological park is home to an impressive array of animals from all corners of the globe. From the majestic lions of Africa to the playful penguins of Antarctica, the zoo offers a window into the diverse world of wildlife. Interactive exhibits, educational programs, and conservation initiatives ensure that visitors not only enjoy but also learn and contribute. For families, it's an educational playground where kids can come face-to-face with their favorite animals and learn about their habitats and conservation. 

Rockford, Illinois

Often dubbed as the "City of Gardens," Rockford is a delightful blend of urban charm and natural beauty. The city's arts scene is buzzing with theaters, galleries, and music venues. The crown jewel, however, is the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, a tropical paradise in the heart of the city. With its exotic plants, shimmering lagoons, and themed gardens, it's a botanical wonder. Beyond the arts and gardens, Rockford offers recreational activities like kayaking on the Rock River and exploring the scenic Rock Cut State Park. 

Kenosha, Wisconsin

Kenosha is where culture meets the coast. The city's beautiful harbor is a hub of activity, with sailboats dotting the horizon and the historic streetcars adding a touch of nostalgia. Museums like the Civil War Museum and the Kenosha Public Museum offer deep dives into history and culture. But it's not all about the past. Contemporary art galleries, craft breweries, and vibrant festivals infuse modern energy into this harbor town. Whether you're a history buff, an art enthusiast, or someone seeking coastal tranquility, Kenosha has something special in store. 

Champaign, Ilinois

Champaign buzzes with youthful energy, thanks to the presence of the University of Illinois. The city seamlessly blends academic excellence with a lively arts and entertainment scene. Catch a game at the State Farm Center, explore the sprawling university campus, or immerse yourself in the vibrant nightlife. The Krannert Art Museum showcases diverse art collections, while the Virginia Theatre hosts performances that cater to all tastes. It's a dynamic city where education, culture, and fun coexist. 

Peoria, Illinois

Perched along the Illinois River, Peoria is a testament to the Midwest's rich history and evolving culture. The city's riverfront is a hub of activity, with eateries, shops, and events livening up the scene. The Peoria Riverfront Museum offers insights into art, science, and history, while the Spirit of Peoria riverboat takes visitors on nostalgic cruises. The city's arts scene is equally compelling, with theaters and galleries showcasing local talent. It's a place where every visit promises new discoveries and cherished memories.

While Chicago's allure is undeniable, these destinations around it prove that the Midwest is brimming with treasures waiting to be explored. Each place, with its unique character and offerings, ensures that every escapade is distinct and memorable. So, whenever the city's rhythm feels a tad too familiar, remember that a world of experiences lies just a drive away. Here's to many more adventures on the horizon. Safe travels and happy exploring!


*Prices fluctuate based on season and day of the week.

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