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.
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
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.
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
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.
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