8 places to elevate summer adventures

From natural wonders to man-made marvels, these high-in-the-sky summer activities will take your family fun to new heights, literally.

Navy Pier Centennial Wheel

Height: 200 feet

Think of Navy Pier as Chicago’s playground. Not only is the summer filled with free activities on the pier perfect for all ages through Labor Day, the view from the Centennial Wheel inspires a whole new appreciation for our city. 

Something new is planned each week, including Water Flicks every Monday through Aug. 12, free Rush Hour workouts and Sunset Yoga on Tuesdays through Aug. 13, fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night and free Wiggleworms music every Friday through Aug. 23.

Check out the summer calendar filled with fests and events at navypier.org.

The always popular Chicago Children’s Museum also has added a new exhibit for summer, Sound Playground, with musical sound makers and one-of-a-kind interactive sonic sculptures including the String Thing, Airophone and Merry Marimba.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Lake Michigan Overlook

Height: 450 feet

The towering dunes along the western coast of Lake Michigan are particularly dramatic at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Arguably one of the best views can be found atop the Lake Michigan Overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

The amazing sunsets are a feast for the eyes. 

Door County lighthouses

Height: 89 feet

Lighthouses capture the imagination of people of all ages, and that’s certainly true of the 11 lighthouses that dot the Door County, Wis., shoreline. The lighthouse at Cana Island is one of the tallest, and it’s also the most iconic. That you have to cross a causeway in a wagon or on foot to reach the lighthouse adds to the sense of adventure.

The Gateway Arch

Height: 630 feet

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is the tallest man-made monument in the United States—yes, it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument and the Space Needle. Travel to the top of the Gateway to the West in a special tram and stay as long as you like taking in the views. 

Also at Gateway Arch National Park is an interactive museum focusing on America’s pioneering spirit and westward expansion as well as the Old Courthouse, where Dred Scott filed suit for his freedom. You can also appreciate the height of the Arch looking up at it from a riverboat cruising the Mississippi River. 

Thrills at Six Flags Great America

Height: 202 feet

If you or your kids are looking for high highs and big thrills, head to Six Flags Great America in Gurnee to check out Maxx Force, a launch coaster that features the tallest double inversion of any roller coaster in the world at 175 feet. Have daredevils who want to go higher still? The Raging Bull coaster is 202 feet tall. Riders must be 48 inches tall to ride Maxx Force and 54 inches tall to ride Raging Bull. 

Float up, up and away in a hot air balloon

Height: As little as 50 or as high as 3,000 feet

The Lisle Eyes to the Skies Festival July 4-6 typically draws more than two dozen hot air balloons. While there, take a tethered balloon ride. Once you hop in the basket, the balloon rises to around 50 feet above the ground. 

For those ready to launch higher, Galena on the Fly offers one-hour balloon rides that reach an altitude of up to 3,000 feet. Kids must be at least 6 years old and at least 4 feet tall.

If you want to keep your feet planted on the ground but love watching hot air balloons take flight, head to the Color Aloft Balloon Festival Aug. 24 in Grayslake. Families can see a dozen balloons launch, weather permitting.


This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.

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