If you’re looking to get out of the city for a minute, whether for nature, small-town living, or just a different city, here’s where to go.
As our thriving metropolis moves into the glorious spring and summer temperatures, riverside bars, lakefront beaches, and our plethora of parks all begin to blossom with jubilance. But at the same time, our urban jungle can at times become too much. While Lake Michigan offers respite from the summer heat there’s peace found in escaping the city clamor during its more restless months.
As unique as Chicago is, getting out of the city once in a while to explore pastures new, even just for a day or two, is good for the mind, body, and soul. To give readers some ideas of accessible getaways around Chicago we’ve picked out 10 places a short drive away that would make for superb day trips and weekend destinations as they all begin to flourish in the coming months.
1. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois (98 miles outside Chicago)
If being cooped up for winter you want to escape out into nature for a fresh breath of air, look no further than Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, Starved Rock is an incredible spectacle offering over 13 miles of hiking trails, 14 waterfalls, and 18 glorious sandstone canyons, all less than two hours outside Chicago.
At this moment both the Starved Rock State Park and Starved Rock Lodge are open, in addition to the Veranda, The Starved Rock Cafe and Trailheads Concessions for food and drinks. Steeped in both history and beauty Starved Rock State Park offers a wonderful break for both outdoor enthusiasts and those looking for a nonchalant trip outside the city.
2. Gary, Indiana (30 miles outside Chicago)
A world away from the waterfalls of Starved Rock, but under two hours by car, we’d be remiss not to mention the casinos in Indiana. If you ready to roll the dice, drive on down to Gary, Indiana to visit the Majestic Star Casino. There you’ll find six floors packed with all the classic casino games — poker, blackjack, baccarat, and roulette and a wide — in a whirling atmosphere of bright blinking lights, buzzing slots, and high-rolling energy.
The casino has been revamped since a return to normalcy following the pandemic and offers a cutting-edge experience with added safety and sanitary measures.
3. Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana (50 miles outside Chicago)
Our favorite spot across the eastern border, however, has to be Indiana Dunes State Park. Here you’ll find one of the best views of Chicago’s sensational skyline imaginable. With 2,000 acres of sand and shore, there is so much to explore and plenty of space to enjoy. You can bound up mountainous dunes (and then roll back down them), go spelunking in one of Indiana Dunes State Park’s many caves, take a moment to relax on the beaches of Lake Michigan, and much more.
All of the park’s inns, restaurants, all nature preserves, forest, fish, and wildlife areas are open for you to explore this spring and summer!
For real-time updates on what’s available at the Indiana Dunes State Park, follow Indiana State Parks on Twitter.
4. Galena, Illinois (150 miles outside)
A little journey to the top western corner of Illinois, but still just a one-tank trip, and you’ll find Galena. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the city is renowned for its rich history, charming 19th-century architecture, rolling hills, and numerous resorts. It’s a quaint but enjoyable historic getaway named after the mineral galena which was the reason for the first major mineral rush in the United States.
From Horseshoe Mound, just outside of Galena, visitors can enjoy views of three states while the Great Galena Balloon Race from Friday, June 17th – Sunday, June 19th offers the chance to enjoy the magic of more than 20 hot air balloons, three races, a night glow extravaganza, bounce houses, live music and much more at a spectacular three-day event.
5. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (80 miles outside Chicago)
Lake Geneva has long been a vacation haven for Chicagoans. The resort city features 21 miles of beautiful shoreline complete with amazing beaches and a sea of water activities to boot. Whether you’re looking to kick back and relax at a resort, gear up for the many outdoor activities the city has on hand, or relish in its variety of restaurants, retailers, and nightlife attractions, Lake Geneva has what you’re looking for.
6. Rockford, Illinois (89 miles outside Chicago)
With the exception of Gary, Indiana — every one of these destinations will give you a chance to step back and relax. If relaxation is your intention, Rockford is one of your best bets. The city is flush with blooming gardens and a network of streaming rivers. Like Chicago, it boasts some terrific eateries and some fantastic amenities and attractions such as the sublime Anderson Japanese Gardens — an award-winning landscape that was named one of the highest quality Japanese Gardens in North America by Sukiya Living Magazine.
7. Milwaukee, Wisconsin (92 miles outside Chicago)
While it is the second-largest city on Lake Michigan’s shore behind Chicago, taking a drive up to Milwaukee provides a nice change of scenery but a similarly vibrant urban experience in another ethnically and culturally diverse city. Take your pick from the plethora of top-notch breweries around the city for the full taproom experience.
See what else is on tap in the city by checking out all their amazing food, scenic drives, outdoor art, beaches, parks, and, of course, their famous Riverwalk. From the Harley-Davidson Museum to the Milwaukee Art Museum, there are also an array of great museums if you’ve spent too much time in Chicago’s many museums.
8. Holland, Michigan (150 miles outside Chicago)
While you might’ve just missed the town’s dazzling display of 4.5 million blooming tulips, there’s still much to see and do in Holland, Michigan. The town is rich in Dutch culture. Throughout the year the town regularly holds a variety of parades in honor of its Dutch heritage. Visitors can explore wonderful Dutch cuisine, architecture, windmills, and art collection all around the city. If you visit Holland, be sure to stomp by the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory for the ultimate experience.
9. Door County, Wisconsin (244 miles outside Chicago)
Take your partner on a romantic getaway to Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is home to 300 miles of shoreline, acres of orchards, five state parks, and 11 historic lighthouses. Choose your lodgings in a bed & breakfast, log cabin, a cozy cottage, or do it big at a resort. Wherever you hang your hat at night, know that there’s much to do during the day.
Explore the county’s beautiful parks, caves, and forestry, or voyage out to one of its islands by sea — whether by boat, kayak, or paddleboard — though the latter might take a minute. Go cherry picking and finish off the day with fine wine, local brew, or cider while dining down on some home-cooked cuisine.
10. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois (309 miles outside Chicago)
While it is certainly a bit of a trek to this spot on the opposite side of Illinois, the natural landscapes on offer make it worth the trip. Spanning approximately 280,000 acres in Southern Illinois between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, Shawnee National Forest is our state’s only national forest.
It is home to some awe-inspiring natural landscapes, unique ancient rock formations, sprawling panoramic views, and breathtaking hikes. The 300-million-year-old sandstone rock formations known as The Garden of the Gods offers some of the most stunning scenery in all of Illinois and is one of the most photographed places in the state. The famous Observation Trail takes you through the abundance of natural beauty.
The forest is also home to some extraordinary caves such as Ox-Lot Cave and the enormous 55ft wide cave overlooking the Ohio River by the name of Cave-In-Rock that was once a refuge stronghold for frontier outlaws. There are plenty more natural spectacles like the monolithic 30 feet high and eight feet Pomona Natural Bridge extending 90 feet over a verdant ravine and numerous beautiful waterfalls like Jackson Falls to explore on a hot day. An abundance of camping spots means it’s an easy task for keen campers but Shawnee Forest Cabins with Wi-Fi, hot tubs, and fireplaces, as well as rentable treehouses, offer memorable experiences.
[Featured image from Shutterstock]