As our thriving metropolis moves into the glorious spring and summer temperatures, riverside bars, lakefront beaches, and our plethora of parks all blossom with jubilance. But at the same time, our urban jungle can sometimes become too much, and weekend getaways from Chicago are much-needed. 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 new pastures, even just for a day or two, is good for the mind, body, and soul. To give readers some ideas of accessible weekend getaways from Chicago, we’ve picked out our favorite 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
If you are cooped up and want to escape into nature for fresh 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.
Currently, 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 history and beauty, Starved Rock State Park offers a wonderful break for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking for a nonchalant trip outside the city.
📍98 miles outside Chicago
2. Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana
However, our favorite spot across the eastern border 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 their social media.
📍50 miles outside Chicago
3. Galena, Illinois
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.
It’s one of our favorite small towns near Chicago, where visitors can enjoy views of three states from Horseshoe Mound, just outside of Galena. At the same time, the Great Galena Balloon Race happens yearly and 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.
📍150 miles outside Chicago
4. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Lake Geneva has long been a vacation haven for Chicagoans. The resort city features 21 miles of beautiful shoreline with amazing beaches and a sea of water activities. 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.
📍80 miles outside Chicago
5. Rockford, Illinois
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 terrific eateries and fantastic amenities and attractions, such as the sublime Anderson Japanese Gardens. This award-winning landscape was named one of the highest-quality Japanese Gardens in North America by Sukiya Living Magazine.
📍89 miles outside Chicago
6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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 their amazing food, scenic drives, outdoor art, beaches, parks, and their famous Riverwalk, making it this part of weekend getaways from Chicago you need to check out. 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.
📍92 miles outside Chicago
7. Holland, Michigan
With this town’s dazzling display of 4.5 million blooming tulips, it’s no wonder that Holland, Michigan made it on our weekend getaways from Chicago list. 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 collections around the city. If you visit Holland, be sure to stomp by the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory for the ultimate experience.
📍150 miles outside Chicago
8. Door County, Wisconsin
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 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 the day with fine wine, local brew, or cider while dining down on home-cooked cuisine.
📍244 miles outside Chicago
9. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
While it is certainly a bit of a trek to this spot on the opposite side of Illinois, the natural landscapes make it worth the trip of weekend getaways from Chicago. Shawnee National Forest is our state’s only national forest, spanning approximately 280,000 acres in Southern Illinois between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
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 offer some of the most stunning scenery in Illinois and are 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, which 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.
📍309 miles outside Chicago
10. Gary, Indiana
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 are ready to roll the dice, drive 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, 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.
📍30 miles outside Chicago
[Featured image from Shutterstock]