9 Best Day Trips From Chicago, Illinois

best day trips from chicago
| 5 min read

Everyone knows that Chicago is a fun city to explore, but its Chicago’s location that makes this city such a great value for your time and money. Being in the northeast corner of Illinois, Chicago has easy access to northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and northwestern Indiana. Chicago is just an hour and a half drive from Milwaukee, and a three-hour drive to Indianapolis. In addition, Chicago provides a great deal of access to the great recreation that Lake Michigan provides during the warmer months of the year. Day trips from Chicago offer a variety of activities, including nature, theme parks, festivals, and more.

1. Lake Geneva - Fontana-on-Geneva Lake, Wisconsin

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Yinan Chen used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Lake Geneva is located about a two hour’s drive north of downtown Chicago, just over the Wisconsin border. This beautiful resort city takes advantage of the lake to provide a variety of outdoor activities on the water, including boating, paddle boarding, and cruises. Around the lake, guests can enjoy petting zoos, waterparks, golf, hiking, zip lines, spas, and more. The lake makes for a great setting for a wedding or family event. Not only does it provide a beautiful, natural setting, but there are also many venues available to play host to your event, both on and off the water.

Lake Geneva

Address: Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce 175 Valley View Dr, Fontana-On-Geneva Lake, WI 53125

Website: Lake Geneva

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2. Six Flags Great America - Gurnee, Illinois

Six Flags Great America 2006 old sign
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jonrev used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

This addition to the Six Flags family is located about an hour and a half north of downtown Chicago. The theme park contains plenty of roller coasters, suitable for children and adults. The park also has a water park, with group rides, a kids’ zone, a lazy-man river, wave pools, and more. Admission tickets are 71.99 USD for adults, 51.99 USD for children under 48 inches tall (121 centimeters), and children under the age of 2 have free admission. Guests can save up to 20 USD when they buy their tickets online, the day before they visit.

Six Flags operates from April to November. On normal operating days, the park opens at 10:30 am and closes at 8 pm. The waterpark is normally open from 11 am to 6 pm. However the park’s hours do vary through the year, so check the calendar when planning your visit.

Six Flags Great America

Address: 1 Great America Pkwy, Gurnee, IL 60031

Website: Six Flags Great America

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3. Apple River Canyon State Park - Apple River, Illinois

Apple River IL Apple River Canyon St Park1
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user IvoShandor used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Apple River Canyon State Park is located near the intersection of the Illinois-Wisconsin-Iowa state borders. It is about a two and a half hour drive west of downtown Chicago and about an hour drive west of Rockford. The park features a canyon that was formed by the Apple River. Guests can enjoy the natural scenery created by the river, streams, ravines, and natural springs. The park has multiple sites for camping, two of which are handicap accessible. Camping sites are on a first come first served basis. The Walnut Grove Youth area is open for winter camping from the beginning of November to mid-April.

Apple River Canyon State Park

Address: 8763 E Canyon Rd, Apple River, IL 61001

Website: Apple River Canyon State Park

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4. Starved Rock State Park - Oglesby, Illinois

Starved Rock State Park 2
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Daniel Schwen used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Starved Rock State Park is about an hour and a half drive southwest of downtown Chicago, and about an hour’s drive north of Bloomington. The park is conveniently located near the intersection of Interstate 80 and Interstate 39. The park is home to multiple waterfalls, 13 miles (21 kilometers) of trails, the Illinois River, and the Starved Rock Lodge. The Illinois River is a common place for guests to go canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and fishing. Bird watching, hunting, and horseback riding are also common activities for those wishing to stay on land. There are educational programs available at the visitors’ center, that teaches about local history and geology.

Starved Rock State Park

Address: 2668 East 873 Road, Oglesby, IL 61348

Website: Starved Rock State Park

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5. Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens - Rockford, Illinois

Nicholas Conservatory interior
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Bryan Lee used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens is located in Rockford, about an hour and a half drive west of Chicago. The indoor nature facility is 11,000 square feet (1021 square meters) of tropical flora, with custom lagoons, fountains, and patios. The conservatory provides a great view from along Rock River, and its outdoor area with the Eclipse Lagoon, features two fountains, a waterfall, a bridge, and patio.

If you’re looking for more time to enjoy the beauty of nature in a more controlled setting, the Nicholas Conservatory has a walkway connecting it to the Sinnissippi Rose Garden. And the Anderson Japanese Gardens, featured here, is just a two-minute drive away.

Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens

Address: 1354 N 2nd St, Rockford, IL 61107

Website: Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens

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6. Blue Chip Casino - Michigan City, Indiana

Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Resort
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mx. Granger used under CC0

For some night entertainment, look no further than the Blue Chip Casino. Located in Michigan City, Indiana, Blue Chip is a 65,000 square foot (6,038 square meters) facility, with 42 table games, and more than 1,700 slot machines. The casino is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is home to an upscale steakhouse, three casual restaurants, and two quick-bite restaurants. And when guests are tired from the fun of the casino, they can retire to the Spa Blu Tower, or Blue Chip Tower for a good rest. Free Wi-Fi is available in each guest room.

Blue Chip Casino

Address: 777 Blue Chip Dr, Michigan City, IN 46360

Website: Blue Chip Casino

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7. Illinois Beach State Park - Zion, Illinois

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Yinan Chen used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

To get a taste of the ocean in the Midwest, Illinois Beach State Park is your best bet. Located about an hours’ drive north of central Chicago, the park features free hiking and biking trails, camping, fishing, and of course a lovely beach on Lake Michigan. Previous guests have mentioned that the park has plenty of parking, which made their visit easy and enjoyable. It is important to note that the beaches do not have lifeguards, so guests swim at their own risk.

Illinois Beach State Park

Address: 1 Lake Front Dr, Zion, IL 60099

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8. Ravinia Festival - Highland Park, Illinois

20080706 Ravinia Festival
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user TonyTheTiger used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Ravinia Festival is North America’s oldest known music festival. The festival presents over 140 different performances through the summer months, with a wide variety of musicians and orchestras. It takes place in a 36-acre (14.6-hectare) park, where guests can bring their own picnic supplies to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. There are also restaurants on site. Children up to the age of 15, high school students, and college students have free admission. Guests can buy tickets at the box office or by phone.

Ravinia Festival

Address: 200 Ravinia Park Rd, Highland Park, IL 60035

Website: Ravinia Festival

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9. Milwaukee Boat Line - Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Muskegon to Milwaukee ferry (8740509693)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user NOAA Great Lakes ... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

End a perfect day with a relaxing cruise of Milwaukee’s rivers, and Lake Michigan. There are six different types of cruises, ranging from child-friendly to adults only. There are cruises that explore the history of Milwaukee, and others are for guests to enjoy some drinks and music. Ticket cost varies, depending on what type of cruise you are planning and the patron’s age, so check their website for details specific to your circumstances. The ships, the Iroquois, Voyageur, and Vista King, are just waiting to be your link to the waterways of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Boat Line

Address: 101 W Michigan St, Milwaukee, WI 53203

Website: Milwaukee Boat Line

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The convenience of Chi town

Chicago River ferry
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user John Picken used under CC BY 2.0

Chicago’s location near the great Lake Michigan, as well as its easy access to Wisconsin and Indiana, make it a great location for those looking for day trips. As long as travelers can secure a rental car, the options are practically endless in this famous Midwest town.

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Sydney is a dedicated student currently working toward a master's degree in international human rights law. Her boundless curiosity about the world has been a defining trait from early childhood....Read more

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