Three short road trip ideas for Chicago families

 
 

Whether your family wants to commune with nature, take a thrill ride or discover a new city, there are plenty of family vacation options within a half-day's drive of Chicago.

 
 

1 Finding nature

Carroll County, nestled along the Mississippi River between Galena and the Quad Cities, is home to far more wildlife than humans. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge reaches four states-Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. It's a place for hiking, bird-watching, and teaching kids about nature, wildlife and the river.

Head to the Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center in Thompson to give kids a lesson in river conservation. Take a bike ride on the Grand Illinois Trail. Or drive north on Illinois 84 to Savanna and the Scenic Bluff Ranch for a horseback trail ride.

If your kids need a little more animal interaction, stop by the Dreamswept Alpaca Farm in Byron on your way home. Call first to make sure one of the owners, Michele Goetzka (815-954-6210) or Paul Goetzka (815-474-5049), will be available to tell you about these animals and show the kids how they make their fiber into yarn.

 
 

2 Getting wet

Wisconsin Dells has an indoor water park to fit every family's needs. For younger children, choose a smaller water park where the water is shallow, the slides are gentle and the thrills are minor. Before you know it, they'll be big enough for Wisconsin's largest indoor water park: the Kalahari Resort.

The biggest challenge comes for parents who have kids of varying ages. The little ones get lost in the big water parks and the big ones get bored in the little water parks. If that's your family, head to a larger park (all of which have areas for little ones), but bring along another adult or two so you can divide and watch-one to splash with the tots in the gentle part of the park while another follows the older kids to the top of the steepest slides. And always check the Wisconsin Dells website for deals and details before heading to the Dells. For a water park adventure closer to home, try KeyLime Cove in Gurnee or Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort in Utica, which has both an indoor water park and an indoor amusement park.

 
 

3 Discovering a new city

By Chicago standards, Fort Wayne, Ind., is a pretty small town. By Indiana standards, it's a metropolis. The state's second largest city (behind Indianapolis), Fort Wayne is a three-time All America City Award winner in honor of its "high quality of life, low cost of living and warm Hoosier Hospitality," according to the city's tourism office.

The Fort Wayne Children's Zoo was named one of the 10 best in the country and there's a nature oasis in the center of the city, the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, that includes an interactive Discovery Center for the under-7 set, complete with Woody the Talking Tree and a worm tunnel for kids to crawl through.

Teach your kids a little history with a visit to the home of Chief Richardville, a Miami Indian and the richest man in Indiana when he died in 1841 or a stop at the Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum.

 
 
 







 
 
 
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