City guides

Cheap day trips from Chicago

Dive into the myriad of affordable escapes just a short drive from the heart 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 undoubtedly a city that captures the heart. Yet, every now and then, the soul yearns for a change of pace, a brief respite from the city's relentless energy. If you're in the mood for a refreshing detour without the strain on your wallet, you've landed in the right place. Here, we've curated a list of some of the most enchanting attractions around Chicago, each promising a day brimming with adventure, relaxation, and cherished memories. Ready to embark on a journey? Let's dive in.

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

A mere 90 miles southwest of Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is a sanctuary for those who cherish the great outdoors. The park boasts over 13 miles of trails winding through lush forests, leading adventurers to awe-inspiring waterfalls and panoramic river views. Each season paints the park in a different hue, from the vibrant autumnal colors to the serene snow-covered landscapes in winter. Whether you're an avid hiker or someone seeking a tranquil spot to picnic and reflect, Starved Rock promises a rejuvenating experience. 

Indiana Dunes, Indiana

A short drive to the east will bring you to the majestic Indiana Dunes. Spanning over 15,000 acres, this national park offers a delightful blend of sandy beaches, rugged dunes, and dense forests. The Lake Michigan shoreline beckons with its crystal-clear waters, making it an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, or simply losing oneself in the rhythmic dance of the waves. For the more active souls, the park's diverse trails offer opportunities to spot local wildlife and immerse oneself in the beauty of nature. 

Galena, Illinois

Galena, with its cobblestone streets and well-preserved 19th-century buildings, feels like a step back into a bygone era. This historic town, once a bustling hub during the lead mining days, now invites visitors to explore its rich past through museums, antique shops, and guided tours. The Galena River meandering through the town offers opportunities for kayaking and fishing. And if you visit during the colder months, the nearby Chestnut Mountain Resort transforms into a winter wonderland, perfect for skiing and snowboarding. 

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva, situated just across the Wisconsin border, is a favorite retreat for many Chicagoans. The pristine lake, surrounded by opulent mansions and lush gardens, offers a picturesque setting for boat cruises, fishing, and paddleboarding. The town itself is dotted with boutique shops, gourmet restaurants, and cozy cafes. For those looking to delve into the local history, the Geneva Lake Museum provides fascinating insights into the area's past. 

Brookfield Zoo, Illinois

Spanning over 200 acres, Brookfield Zoo is more than just an animal park; it's a journey across continents, bringing you face-to-face with over 2,000 animals from around the world. The zoo's immersive exhibits, from the African savannah to the dense rainforests of South America, offer a unique educational experience. Interactive sessions, animal shows, and conservation programs ensure that visitors of all ages leave with a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the animal kingdom.

lIlinois Railway Museum, Illinois

For those with a penchant for history and a fascination with locomotives, the Illinois Railway Museum is a must-visit. Situated in Union, this expansive museum is the largest of its kind in the United States. It offers a captivating journey through the golden age of rail travel. With an impressive collection of vintage trains, trolleys, and buses, visitors can not only marvel at these restored beauties but also relive the experience by hopping aboard some of them. Special events, like the Day Out with Thomas and the Polar Express, make it a delightful destination for families, ensuring that both young and old are transported to a bygone era. 

Chain O'Lakes State Park, Illinois

Comprising a system of nine interconnected lakes, Chain O'Lakes State Park is a water enthusiast's dream come true. Located near Spring Grove, this park is a hub for boating, fishing, and water skiing. The serene surroundings also make it a haven for birdwatchers and nature photographers. If you prefer staying on land, the park offers numerous hiking and horseback riding trails that meander through its diverse landscapes. And for those wishing to extend their stay, camping facilities are available, allowing visitors to sleep under the stars and wake up to the gentle sounds of nature. 

Kenosha, Wisconsin

Nestled on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan, Kenosha is a blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. The town's vibrant harbor area is perfect for leisurely strolls, with numerous cafes and eateries lining the way. History buffs can delve into Kenosha's past at its various museums, including the Civil War Museum and the Kenosha Public Museum. For art aficionados, the downtown area boasts numerous galleries and art studios, showcasing the talents of local artists. And if you're visiting with kids, the Dinosaur Discovery Museum is sure to be a hit. 

Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Starved Rock, Matthiessen State Park is a gem in its own right. Located near Oglesby, this park is a geological wonderland, featuring unique rock formations, deep canyons, and glistening streams. The trails, ranging from easy to challenging, lead visitors to some of the park's most stunning spots, including the cascading Lake Falls. Whether you're keen on hiking, birdwatching, or simply picnicking in a scenic spot, Matthiessen State Park promises a day of pure bliss. 

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wisconsin

Stretching over 30,000 acres, Kettle Moraine State Forest is a testament to the power of glacial movements. The forest's unique landscape, shaped by glaciers thousands of years ago, is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. With over 100 miles of multi-use trails, it's a hotspot for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In the winter, the snow-covered terrains are perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The forest's numerous lakes and ponds also offer opportunities for fishing and kayaking, making it a year-round destination.

Exploring the areas surrounding Chicago reveals a tapestry of diverse landscapes, rich histories, and endless adventures. Each destination, with its unique charm, offers a refreshing break from city life. So, when the urge to wander strikes, remember these spots, and embark on a journey of discovery. Here's to new horizons and the memories waiting to be made. Safe travels and happy exploring!


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

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