Looking to get out of the city but don’t want to go too far? These day trips from Chicago offer an escape from the bustle and are just a short drive away.
As wonderful as Chicago is, especially during the summer, sometimes you just need to get away. Chicago’s location makes it an ideal place to get in the car and go, and we’ve picked some of the best places within a few hours’ drive. If you’re looking for a quick getaway from the city, here are the best destinations for day trips from Chicago.
A visit to Wisconsin’s capital will take you less than three hours, and while Madison is known as a college town, it’s got something for everyone. The downtown farmers market, which takes place every Saturday morning, is considered the best in the state. The Olbrich Botanic Gardens are located lakeside and have sixteen acres of flora. If you’re an art fan, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has over 5,000 works from the past two centuries. Foodies can dive into the culinary scene with Madison Eats, a company that offers a collection of food tours.
The charming town of Galena, Illinois, is located near the Mississippi River on the opposite side of the state. Surrounded by the rolling hills and bluffs of the Driftless Region, it’s an area dotted with wineries and golf courses. A stroll down Main Street feels like a step back in time. Be sure to stop into Galena Canning Company for a taste of salsas and jams, and Galena Brewing Company offers a lineup of tasty beers. Thrill seekers will love a visit to Long Hollow Canopy Tours, a zipline adventure through the woods.
Across Lake Michigan from Chicago, Harbor Country, Michigan, is a collection of small towns that are a perfect getaway from big city living.The area offers white sandy beaches, quaint shops and B&Bs, and historical resorts. You’ll find what you expect from small resort towns: antiques, farmers markets, art fairs, and festivals, as well as many wineries.
If you really want to unplug, visit Amish Country in Indiana. Explore this region with a bucolic scenic drive along the Heritage Trail, which takes you through seven towns. Begin your visit with a tour at Menno-Hof, and do some shopping from the locals at the Shipshewana Flea Market.
Located just 75 miles northwest of Chicago, Lake Geneva provides a year-round escape from hectic city life and is a short day trip or great weekend destination.
Just over the border in Wisconsin, this resort town has long been a summer getaway for Chicagoans. After the Great Chicago Fire, wealthier residents headed north while their homes were being reconstructed. Lake Geneva is still one of the most popular day trips from Chicago, and activities include zip-lining, boating on the lake, and shopping in the quaint town.
Long Grove is a village community that provides open space and historical character – and no real estate tax.
The village is large in size and small in population by design.
The south side of Lake Michigan is a summertime oasis at Indiana Dunes. The lakefront offers sandy beaches, trails, and jack pine forests. You can go camping or stay at one of the area hotels. Active travelers will enjoy kayaking, as well as hiking through the dunes and the marshlands. Shoppers will want to stop in Michigan City and its popular outlet mall.
Another Indiana destination is Indianapolis. The capital city of Indiana is cosmopolitan, but still has that Midwestern charm and friendliness. The Canal Walk, White River State Park are the Indianapolis Zoo are great outdoor activities that are located right downtown. The city has a thriving beer scene, so be sure to try out some of the local breweries. For a look into Indy’s artsy side, visit the Broadripple neighborhood and its unique restaurants and boutiques.
Milwaukee’s another urban getaway filled with culture and outdoor fun. The instantly recognizable Milwaukee Art Museum is definitely worth visiting, and after you’ve browsed its collections you can take a walk along the lakefront. The Harley-Davidson Museum is another must-stop and be sure to stop into Motor, the on-site restaurant. During the summer there are festivals just about every weekend, so check the calendar to find out what’s happening. And of course, make sure you have some cheese curds, brats, and beer.
Starved Rock State Park
Outdoor enthusiasts love heading to Starved Rock State Park for a day of fresh air and physical fun. Located just 94 miles southwest of Chicago, the landscape is an unexpected tableau of bluffs, steep trails, and waterfalls.
Since it’s on the Illinois River, there’s also fishing and boating. You can bring a lunch to enjoy at the waterfront picnic area, or grab a bite to eat at the historic lodge.