Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, but it’s not the only place to visit in the Midwest. If you want to get out of the city and explore, there are many day trips from Chicago that will entertain all ages.
After exploring the Art Institute, Navy Pier, and Millennium Park, (some of the top attractions in Chicago), be sure to head out of the city. There are four different states to explore within driving distance: Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and each one offers a different experience. These Chicago day trips do not disappoint.
Chicago Day Trips You Are Sure to Love
St. Joseph, Michigan
An hour and a half from Chicago, St. Joseph is a charming town meant for a beach weekend getaway. Stroll along the beautiful streets of this quaint little city, admire the lighthouses, eat ice cream, or hunt for souvenirs.
For a day at the beach, head to Silver Beach County Park where families can build sand castles or play in the splash park. Take a ride on the Silver Beach Carousel with some of the most beautiful, hand carved wooden horses, dating to 1910.
If you visit St. Joseph in late April, be sure to check out the annual Blossomtime Festival. This is Michigan’s oldest and largest multi-community event celebrating southwestern Michigan’s agricultural industry. Summer visitors shouldn’t miss the Krasl Art Fair in July, or a chance to celebrate the winter season at the Magical Ice Fest in February.
New Glarus, Wisconsin
New Glarus is a small town in Wisconsin, just 2.5 hours north of Chicago. This town’s architecture is Swiss-chalet inspired and guaranteed to transport you to another place and time. One of the main attractions is the city’s Swiss Historical Village showcasing the history of the area’s settlers. It’s a great starting point for a visit.
If you have an appetite for craft beer, visit the New Glarus Brewing Co. and try their best-selling beer, Spotted Cow. They brew close to 20 beers every year, which are only available in Wisconsin. Don’t miss a chance for a sample or tour of this famous brewery.
And no visit to Wisconsin would be complete without a stop at the local cheese shop. Make sure to stop at Edelweiss Cheese Shop or Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus. We guarantee you will love Wisconsin cheese!
Those looking for outdoor adventures shouldn’t miss New Glarus Woods State Park with over 435 acres for camping, hiking, and picnics. From here there is access to Sugar River State Trail, an abandoned railroad line which locals love for hiking, cycling, and snowshoeing in winter.
Kettle Moraine State Park in Eagle, Wisconsin
Nature lovers will want to make this 2 hour road trip from Chicago to one of the most beautiful state parks in the region. Formed from years of glacial evolution, this park is home to 22,000 acres of forest, rolling hills, and flower-dotted prairies.
Kettle Moraine South is the closest to Chicago, and there are a lot of fun activities that you can do here, including hiking, swimming, and boating. Kettle Moraine North offers three beaches, biking and hiking trails, and over 30,000 acres to explore. There are several campgrounds throughout the park, so it’s perfect for a long weekend.
If you enjoy fishing, don’t forget to bring your gear along. Kettle Moraine North has eight lakes ranging from 7 to 417 acres. There are four lakes in the Southern portion, covering 860 acres. That’s a lot of fish!
Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford, Illinois
If you enjoy botanical gardens, then a visit to Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois, shouldn’t be missed. Just an hour and a half from Chicago, visitors can spend hours strolling through the gardens enjoying waterfalls, koi ponds, trees, and flowers with a Japanese touch.
After exploring the gardens, head to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Laurent House. It is the only house he designed for a person with a disability and the tour is fascinating.
Other highlights in Rockford include: the Discovery Center Museum for kids, the Midway Village Museum (a look at the area’s history), and Tinker Swiss Cottage (a historic house and museum).
Wildlife Prairie Park, Peoria, Illinois
This wildlife park is home to an extraordinary number of animals, including bison, elk, otters, and wolves. And is just 1.5 hours from Chicago.
In this eighteen hundred acre park, there are 60 species and over 150 native animals. Explore the park aboard the Prairie Zephyr train powered by a small faux steam engine or on the open air safari bus. In addition to animal encounters, there are hiking and biking trails, a disc golf course, and lakes for fishing and kayaking.
If you want to stay the weekend at Wildlife Prairie Park, you can rent a rustic cabin on-site or sleep in one of their authentic train cabooses. It’s a thrill to listen to the wildlife at night!
History lovers shouldn’t miss the town of Galesburg. Home to a number of poets, presidents, and professors, this town offers a unique experience to its visitors just 3.25 hours away from Chicago.
Take a stroll through the town, starting at the famous Knox College campus. The campus’ Old Main hosted one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858. Famous alums include Edgar Lee Masters (author of Spoon River Anthology), Ellen Browning Scripps (founder of the Scripps Research Institute in California), game show host Gene Rayburn, and numerous authors and politicians.
Don’t miss a visit to the childhood home of Carl Sandburg, now a historical site. Make time to walk through the three room cottage and take a stroll in the park behind the home. This is where you will find Quotation Walk, celebrating the poet’s works and words.
Indiana Dunes National Park
Just fifty minutes away from Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park offers 15,000 acres to explore. You can sunbathe on the gorgeous beaches along the shore of Lake Michigan, hike through the infamous sand dunes, and even try birdwatching.
If you prefer indoor experiences head to Michigan City where you can visit the Century of Progress Homes, five houses that were relocated to the area from Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair. The Old Lighthouse Museum and Barker Mansion (built by one of the founders of the rail industry, John H. Barker) are other great options for those who want to learn more about the area.
Consider a stay at Beachwalk Vacation Rentals. This rental home community offers easy access to the beach, a swimming pool, and a club house.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Lake Geneva is one of the most beautiful places in the USA and is only 1.5 hours north of Chicago. The town is known for its lakefront mansions, some of which were relocated here from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. You can take a stroll on the Geneva Lake Shore Path, rent a paddleboat, or take a boat tour for a bird’s eye view of the properties on the lake.
Other fun things to do in Lake Geneva include horseback riding, zip lining, touring Black Point Estate (a 19th century mansion) or eating at a traditional Wisconsin Supper Club.
Woodstock is an hour and a half from Chicago, and is known to movie buffs as the filming location of Groundhog Day. True to its fame, it is indeed a very cinematic experience to explore this city.
As you walk around, keep an eye out for plaques on the ground that tell you about the scenes in Groundhog Day that were filmed in town. Visit just before Groundhog’s Day (February 2) for the city’s Groundhog Days where locals and visitors alike share their love for this classic film.
Just an hour and a half from Chicago, Delavan is known for its extraordinary ties to the circus. In the mid 19th century, the US Olympic Circus (then the largest traveling show in America), decided to make Delavan its winter home. A quarter century later, PT Barnum moved his circus to Delavan as well.
Visitors to Delavan can take a selfie with life-sized statues of giraffes and elephants (at Tower Park), learn about the town’s circus history at the Delavan Historical Society, and even visit the graves of over 250 circus performers who are buried in town.
The circus isn’t the only thing drawing visitors to Delavan. Be sure to spend time fishing or boating on Delavan Lake, tour some of the local historical homes (we recommend the AH Allyn House), or visit the Dancing Horses theater. We promise a weekend to Delavan is full of fun!
About the author: Nikki Ortan is a travel and camping enthusiast currently based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She loves exploring beautiful attractions across America which led her to found Attractions of America, a travel site featuring top places to visit in every US state. Be sure to follow along with Nikki’s journeys on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter!