Fall is a favorite time of year for many families in the Midwest. The leaves begin to change to beautiful hues, there’s a chill in the air, and there are many reasons to go out and enjoy the weather. We’ve put together some of our favorite activities to get you out of the house and enjoying some hot cider and apple doughnuts in no time. Don’t miss these fun fall activities in Chicago and Illinois.
*This post contains affiliate links, but opinions are 100% my own.
1. Visit a the world’s largest corn maze in Illinois
About an hour and a half north of downtown and just south of the Wisconsin border is Richardson Adventure Farm, home of the world’s largest corn maze. The place is more than a maze, there is a petting zoo, giant slides, bounce pillows, ORB rides (picture yourself inside a giant ball rolling down a hill), a zip line, train, and fudge shop. This is an intricately designed masterpiece. A lot of work goes into the design, ensuring people have many exits along the way and no dead ends. Everyone has a map and there are checkpoints to locate throughout. Finding all of them can take a couple of hours, but if you find a minimum number of checkpoints you can earn a completion certificate. This is one fall family activity not to be missed!
Another option is Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in Rantoul (near Champaign) where visitors will find a ten acre corn maze to explore. There’s also a pumpkin launching cannon, hay rides, pedal cars, and reindeer tours too. Yes, there are reindeer here! It’s definitely a fun day out!
2. See fall in Illinois by heading out of the city
Chicago has an abundance of parks, hiking trails, and Lake Michigan beachfront perfect for exploring on a beautiful fall day. One of our favorite hikes is Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois, especially when the leaves start to change colors. The park has over 18 canyons carved by snow runoff and natural springs, creating a breathtaking landscape. There are over 13 miles of well marked trails for families to explore, and it makes for a perfect day trip from the city.
In southern Illinois, visit Shawnee National Forest to explore Garden of the Gods wilderness area and Cave-in-Rock State Park. Cave-in-Rock is a 55 foot wide cave overlooking the Ohio River and is the perfect spot for hiking, picnics, and fishing. Adventurous souls will want to head to Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, Illinois’ first tree-based, eco-friendly zip line. The course consists of eight zip lines and three aerial suspension bridges, providing spectacular close up views of fall foliage in Illinois.
Visit the city of Galena and see the changing leaves from above on a hot air balloon ride. Galena On The Fly offers hot air balloon rides from sunrise to sunset, year-round. While in the air, families have 360-degree views over three different states. After landing, explore the town of Galena with its charming shops, art galleries, and historic sites.
3. Visit a U pick apple orchard
Picking apples is an annual event in our house and one of our favorite places to go is Apple Holler in Wisconsin. The reason we travel so far is because they consistently have a large selection of apples available and after 13 years of visiting, it is officially a tradition. There are plenty of other apple orchards in the Chicago area, you can find your own by going to PickYourOwn.org. If you want to know about how to visit Apple Holler or other apple orchards in Illinois, you can read about them here. You’ll also find some great apple recipes too!
4. Check out one of the awesome fall festivals in Illinois
Fall means festival time in Illinois and there are plenty of things to do in Chicago and around the state throughout the season. Some of the favorites include:
Enjoy fall at the Morton Arboretum with a variety of events. There’s a scarecrow trail around Meadow Lake, the Fall Color 5K, and other activities every day in October. Special events include the Fall Cider and Ale Festival, Meet the Beekeeper, Boo Breakfast, Family Jack O’Lantern Hikes, and more!
The city of Highwood celebrates the 9th annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival with a pumpkin festival to rival all others. This year they support the Make-A-Wish of Illinois and will attempt to beat the Guinness World Record for the most lit jack-o-lanterns in one place! There are also costume contests, a pumpkin parade, carnival rides, entertainment, and food. Fun times for everyone with the big pumpkin lighting on Sunday night.
The village of Long Grove celebrates the apple harvest season with a weekend long festival. From apple popcorn to apple lattes, Apple Fest has hundreds of delicious apple-inspired treats. There’s always dozens of local merchants doling out baskets of freshly-picked apples as well as original Long Grove products. There’s music, contests, and festivities galore, so don’t miss this fall festival.
There are many other festivals not to be missed around the state, so check out the Enjoy Illinois page for additional ideas!
5. Spend a day driving to see the leaves change color
Before heading out for a drive to see changing leaves, check a fall foliage map so you know you will be guaranteed to see color. Some of our favorite routes to drive include the Illinois River Road, Chicago to Lake Geneva, along the shore of Lake Michigan, driving the Great River Road on the state’s western edge, or heading north to Door County, Wisconsin. If you visit these destinations at the right time, you will not be disappointed by the spectacular hues you will find! And if you’re looking to go further afield, don’t miss these 5 Not to Miss Drives in the Midwest!
6. Where to find a pumpkin patch near Chicago
There are many pumpkin patches across the state of Illinois. In fact, Illinois grows more pumpkins than any other state. Here are some of our favorite places to go picking:
Goebbert’s in Hampshire, IL – Located northwest of Chicago, this family farm has a fall festival, u pick pumpkin farm, petting farm, and a pumpkin eating dinosaur. Can you say awesome!
Stade’s Farm and Market in McHenry, IL – Just south of the Wisconsin border this pumpkin farm has u pick pumpkins and plenty of activities for a day out. There are farm-tractions including a carousel, tractor tire pyramid, and duck races for 8 weeks through the fall. Kids will never say they are bored!
Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm in Homer Glen, IL – In addition to gathering pumpkins, the farm has pumpkin fest from September 14th through the end of October. Kids can launch pumpkins, zip line, and even mine for gems. Talk about fun!
7. Attend a football game
Most Friday evenings are reserved for high school football games across the U.S. and Chicago is no different. Nothing beats donning your local school colors, heading to the stadium with family and friends, and cheering the team to a win alongside the rest of your community. On Saturdays families support the college football teams like U of I in Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern in Evanston. Tailgating is a fun way to spend a fall afternoon or evening. If your family likes the NFL, there’s always Sunday and the Chicago Bears. There are a few home games in the fall and this is the ideal time to enjoy the stadium before the weather changes.
Looking for other posts about Chicago? You might enjoy Best Chicago Attractions for Families and 15 Best Kid Friendly Restaurants in Chicago