14 Short Road Trips Around Chicago That Are Worth The Drive

There are lots of day trips that you can take from Chi-town whenever you want to recharge. Here are the best destinations for short day trips from Chicago.

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What are some short road trips around Chicago?

The best road trips from Chicago whenever you want to reset and recharge include Dunes National Park, Milwaukee in Wisconsin, Starved Rock State Park, Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, Galena in Illinois, Madison in Wisconsin, Michigan City in Indiana and Zion in Illinois.

If you live in Chicago, you may sometimes want a change of scenery, away from the crowded and noisy city. Fortunately, Chicago’s location makes it the perfect jumping-off point for a road trip.

It’s located within reach of four different states. From Chicago, you can head to Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana. The areas around the city also have numerous attractions, things to see and dozens of places to explore.

Simply put, Chicago’s prime location offers endless opportunities for road trips. And, all these amazing destinations are within a short drive from the city. In this article, we will share a couple of short road trips from Chicago.

Dunes National Park

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Located about 49 miles away, a visit to the Dunes National Park in Indiana offers one of the shortest road trips from Chicago. 

This park sits on 15,000 acres of protected, diverse landscapes, featuring dunes, forests, wetlands and sunny beaches, just to name a few.

Unlike some of the other parks in the state, this one is open year-round.

So, you will get an opportunity to have water fun during the summer, catch the blooming wildflowers in the spring, enjoy cross-country skiing during winter and observe leaves as they change colors in the fall.

This park also allows camping. And, you can opt to camp out on its grounds or simply rent a room in one of the rentals nearby.

Once you’ve had a fill of the park, you should also visit the European Market in Chesterton, which is open every Saturday between 8 am and 2 pm.

This market attracts vendors from Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. Here, you can buy fresh, locally grown produce, pastries or artisan beads, among others.  

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

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Lake Geneva is about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago. It’s located northwest of the city, a few miles inside the Wisconsin border. 

It offers peace and serenity, away from the hectic life of the city.

For many years, Lake Geneva has been a popular destination for Chicago residents. Most of the wealthy city residents built mansions on its shores, around the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

And, most of these mansions are still in decent condition.

Going on a boat tour on the lake offers one of the best ways of seeing these mansions. 

Alternatively, if you don’t mind getting tired, then you can walk the paths around the lake and you will have a closer look at these mansions.

And if you want a different experience, then you can go on a Safari Lake Geneva, which is an animal drive-through. During this trip, you will get a chance to feed the various animals in the park such as ostriches, alpacas, giraffes and elands. 

This drive-through has been consistently voted as one of the best things to do around Lake Geneva.  

While summer is the best time to visit Lake Geneva, the winter months also offer a great weekend getaway.

During this time, you can engage in various activities such as skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing and snowboarding.

Milwaukee Wisconsin

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Milwaukee is located 93 miles north of Chicago. 

While the area is mainly known for its local eats and craft breweries, there are lots of other things to see and do in this Wisconsin city.

If you are a history buff, then you should head over to the various museums in the city, such as the Harley Davidson Museum. 

Here, you will have a close-up of one of the classic motorcycles that Elvis Presley used. And if you are an art lover, then you should visit the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Craft beer lovers will have an amazing time exploring some of the area’s breweries. 

Some of the brewery tours that you should do in the area include Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Third Space Brewing, Sprecher Brewery, Third Space Brewing, City Lights Brewing Company, Lakefront Brewery, and Miller Brewery.

During these tours, you will learn how beer is made and even taste some of their products.

And if you love sports, then you should visit the American Family Field and watch the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Also, festivals happen in Wisconsin almost every weekend during the summer. So, a road trip to Wisconsin can never be boring.

Starved Rock State Park

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If spending time surrounded by nature is what you are looking for, then a visit to the Starved Rock State Park is just what you need. 

This park is known for its gorgeous sandstone canyons, miles and miles of hiking trails, 14 waterfalls, lush forests, and several rivers.

During the summer, you can do hiking, white-water rafting, kayaking and camping. And after a tiresome day of hiking, you can relax at the Starved Rock Lodge over a cold beer. Winter is also a good time to visit. 

During this time, the falls will freeze over into stunning shows of ice.  

While at the park, head over to the Lovers’ Leap Outlook. This lookout point offers clear, spectacular views of St. Louis, French and Wildcat canyons as well as the Starved Rock Dam. 

However, if you still have some time left, then you can explore the local towns perched along the river valley. 

In the tiny Utica Town, you can visit the August Hill Winery and explore some of the antique stores. On the other hand, the historical and charming towns of Ottawa and Oglesby are filled with small galleries and museums, as well as great, mouth-watering food.

Galena, Illinois

Located northwest of Chicago close to the Mississippi River, Galena remains one of the best small towns in the country.

So, if you want to experience small-town living, then Galena has got you covered. A stroll down its cobblestone streets feels like a walk back in time.

Galena became a town around the 1800s. During this time, it received numerous government grants, designed to help the residents mine the precious minerals found in the town. 

And once the mining boom ended, Galena managed to preserve and maintain the buildings, meaning you will find them almost the way they were 300 years ago.

The Galena Historic District is probably the most visited place in the area. It features over 1000, well-preserved buildings from the mining boom time.

The home of Ulysses S. Grant is also found in this district.

And, you can find the home in its original Italianate architectural style. Also, make sure you visit the Dowling House, set on beautiful grounds. It’s the oldest home in the city.

While Galena is known for its historic buildings and streets, it also has something for nature lovers. 

For instance, you can explore some of the trails running along the Mississippi river or go on a zipline adventure. 

If you intend to visit during the fall, then you can hike the Stagecoach Trail or explore the Apple River Canyon State Park.

Madison, Wisconsin

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Madison is a lovely town surrounded by four charming lakes. It’s also Wisconsin’s capital and home to the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

What makes it such a unique and attractive destination is that it comes with all the amenities that you will find in the city such as high-quality eateries and historic venues. 

At the same time, it’s surrounded by nature.

In the city, you can spend your time checking out the different cafes, shopping in the boutique shops or simply strolling on the streets and admiring its architecture. 

Also, there are several festivals and cultural events happening throughout the year.

If you want to spend some time away from the city, then you can hike or bike along trails such as the Picnic Point Marsh Loop Trail, Capital City State Trail, Lake Monona Bike Loop, Ice Age Trail Verona Section, Cherokee Marsh Loop, Morningside Loop Trail, Howard Temin Lakeshore Path and Elver Park Outer Loop.

While in Madison, you should also pay a visit to the Saturday farmers market if time allows. In this market, you can purchase locally sourced fresh, farm produce, sweet treats and flowers.

Michigan City, Indiana

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Michigan City is a laid-back town located along the southern shores of Lake Michigan. It also borders the rolling landscapes of Indiana dunes. 

Considering it’s just an hour’s drive from Chicago, it offers a nice getaway for someone who wants to catch a brief breather from the hustle and bustle of the city.

There are two parks within the area. These are Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park.

When combined, they offer hundreds of hiking trails, meandering through dense woodland forests.

The Great Marsh is also nearby, which is a wetland ecosystem and home to hundreds of mallards, coots, wood ducks and green herons.

If you are into arts, then you will love what’s offered at the Lubeznik Center for Arts such as exhibitions, art galleries as well as art education. 

The center also hosts an art festival every year.

There’s also plenty to do in the town itself, including shopping, visiting some of the town’s craft breweries, or sampling local cuisines, at one of its many local eateries and restaurants.

You can then wrap up your visit to the city by Washington Park lighthouse and pier, where you can catch some amazing sunsets.

Zion, Illinois

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While Zion may not be as popular as Galena, it also offers one of the best short road trips from Chicago.

The Illinois Beach State Park is the town’s main attraction. Here, you can recharge and catch a breath by strolling along its expansive shoreline.

It also offers biking and hiking opportunities.

Once you’ve finished traversing this park, you can proceed to explore nearby river trails and forest parks like Pine Dunes Forest Reserve, Des Plaines River Trail and the Van Patten Wood. 

You can then return to the park and set up camp there or rent an Airbnb in town, depending on your preferences.

Holland, Michigan

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Holland provides an ideal place to visit if you wish to visit a culture-rich European place over the holidays or weekends. Typically, it will take 2 to 3 hours of travel, depending on the mode of transport. 

Historically, the Dutch colonists were the founders of Holland in 1847, and its residents have been preserving its culture and history by having celebrations and passing on the history to other generations of people.

The Dutch were very good in spreading their culture and their footprints remain years down the line. 

Holland is a small town with a peaceful atmosphere free from urban noise. Additionally, it has areas such as the windmill island gardens, where you can visit and get an opportunity to admire the ecosystem.

 If you love adventure, you can travel to “the Netherlands”. It is referred so because it offers an environment just like in the Netherlands. 

Here, you can walk along the tulip field and canals, and view the Dutch windmill, which works from April to October. 

Therefore, Holland provides an excellent vacation spot for your family and children to experience a unique version of the Netherlands.

Gurnee, Illinois

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Gurnee provides an excellent place to go for a day trip because you can engage in a lot of fun activities in the town. Traveling from Chicago to Gurnee will take 60 to 90 minutes if you are traveling with a vehicle. 

Therefore, the town is close to Chicago. Every year, about 22 million visitors travel to Gurnee since it offers diverse attractions and activities. 

Gurnee features numerous hotels that offer delicious cuisines, shopping malls and amusement parks where you can stroll and learn about their history.

If you visit Gurnee, you can begin your day by visiting the chocolate sanctuary brunch buffet with about 160 stores throughout Gurnee Mills. 

If you are a fan of chocolate, you can visit a few stores and taste the different flavors each store offers. Additionally, you can travel to Six Flags America and enjoy the exhilarating coasters and other fun activities.

Geneva, Michigan

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Geneva provides a kid-friendly community that will take 90 minutes to reach when you are in the northwest part of Chicago. 

Geneva offers its guests an ideal mix of leisure time and outdoor pursuits outside the great community beside Geneva Lake. 

After long fishing and sun basking, you can go downtown and experience some small-town charms while enjoying food from local restaurants and stores.

Lake Geneva is a well-liked attraction in the town where there are mansions you can visit along the lake’s shore paths.

Even though residents living in Chicago will prefer to visit Lake Michigan, Lake Geneva has a deep connection with Chicagoans since they are the people who constructed the palaces around the shores of the lake. 

Since people can get close to the shoreline, you can take a bike ride, walk or take the Lake Geneva Cruise.  

With Geneva, Michigan, you will have unique and memorable experiences, and you will find yourself coming back time to time. 

South Bend, Indiana

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Most individuals, especially nonresidents, visit South Bend because it is commonly known as Notre Dame. 

Typically, it will take 2 hours to reach South Bend from Chicago. If you get to South Bend early, you can begin your day trip by going shopping and going for breakfast at the South Bend Farmers’ Café. 

If you love learning historical information, you can go to museums such as the Snite Arts Museum.

It wouldn’t be good to complete your journey without visiting the stunning campus of Notre Dame. 

Apart from the restaurants and museums, the city also holds several festivities every year, where the south bend international Festival features regional and international musicians performing songs of different genres. 

Therefore, there are a lot of activities for your day trip in Geneva, and you can take your family and friends with you as well.

Oglesby Waterfall, Illinois

Waterfalls usually don’t come to mind when guests think about Illinois. This is because only a few people are familiar with Oglesby waterfall, located along the Illinois River.

If you are in Chicago, you will have a 3 hour drive to reach the Illinois River. 

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you can start your day trip by visiting the rock state park to check the waterfalls resulting from a lot of rain and melted snow.

Additionally, the State Park has about 18 canyons, 13 miles of trails and a forest to explore. Since the forest has wild animals, there are rangers employed to take you and guide you throughout the day trip. 

Therefore, take your best hiking shoes and prepare for the best hiking experience as you enjoy the tranquil pathways, view fascinating geological features and watch the beautiful waterfall pour in the Illinois River.

Fennville, Michigan

Typically, most visitors and residents like to visit Fennville during the fall. This is because it is during this season when fruits such as cherries and peaches are ready to be harvested and eaten. 

If you dwell in Chicago, the journey will only take 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Fennville.

The ideal way to start your day trip in Fennville is to visit the small hamlet of Fennville, where you can buy different kinds of fruits. Then, you can visit the local’s favorite cranes pie pantry, vineyard and bakery located in a 150-year-old barn. 

You can also visit the Brewmaster of Goose Island, a five-minute drive from Fennville. Therefore, Fennville is suitable for visiting if you love pizza and fruit.

Key Takeaways

  • Chicago’s prime location makes it a great jumping-off point for short road trips
  • You can visit the areas around the city or destinations in neighboring states
  • Each of these trips offers a unique experience
  • You can plan your road trip any time of the year