Day Trips from Chicago

Even with the high price of gas, it could be cheaper to throw the kids in the car, drive two or three hours, and be home in bed that night. Here are some ideas for quick day trips that you can do with your family and friends.

Even with the high price of gas, it could be cheaper to throw the kids in the car, drive two or three hours, and be home in bed that night. Here are some ideas for quick day trips that you can do with your family and friends.

Kenosha, Wis.

This lakefront town just north of the Illinois border often isoverlooked, but it has lots to offer at a price families canafford. If you don’t want to drive, take Metra and then hop onboard one of Kenosha‘s five restored electric streetcars.
They travel a two-mile loop along the Lake Michigan shoreline,
HarborPark, two historic districts, downtown business district and
the Metra train station, all for $1 for adults and 50 cents for
kids 5-12.

Along the way, stop at the free Dinosaur Discovery Museum. Thismecca for tiny dino lovers claims to have the largest collection ofmeat-eating theropods, along with life-scale replicas ofTyrannosaurus rex, Gallimimus and Ceratosaurus. At the KenoshaPublic Museum, also free, you’ll find more than 80,000 items in itsnatural sciences collection and nearly 1,000 works of fine art.Don’t miss the woolly mammoth excavated in Kenosha County or thehands-on Field Station where kids can explore the arts andsciences.

If you work up an appetite, head to The SpotDrive-In and order a burger and homemade root beer served in a
frosty mug. The food and drink are good and made even better by the
carhop service right to your car window. Before you head home, stop
at the nearby Jelly Belly warehouse and hop onboard the
train for a tour of the facility. The tour is free, as are the
samples in the factory store.

Cleveland and Sandusky, Ohio

This city four hours east of Chicago is working hard to overcomeits history as a less-than-inviting place to visit. The Rock andRoll Hall of Fame, which opened in 1995, put thecity back on the tourism map. But it’s not the only reason to
visit.

Next door to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the besthands-on children’s science centers in the country, the Great LakesScience Center. When I visited with four busloads of middleschoolers on a band trip, we had to drag them out of the sciencecenter.

For younger children, Cleveland has a Children’s Museum, zooand, its newest attraction, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, whichopened in late 2011 and is home to eight-foot sharks, rays,piranha, crocodiles and octopus.

If yours is a coaster-loving family, plan to spend a day beforeor after your visit to Cleveland at Cedar Point
in Sandusky. This coasterific amusement park has an area dedicated
to little ones, but the rest of it is dedicated to daredevils. This
is the amusement park where my then 11-year-old son transformed
from a kid who didn’t like heights into a kid who wants to build
bigger, faster, scarier coasters for a living.

Springfield and New Salem, Ill.

This trip is all about history-our state’s history as a part ofPresident Abraham Lincoln’s life. We’re not called the Land ofLincoln for nothing, and Illinois’ capital is the center of ourLincoln history. Take the self-guided walking tour of Springfield‘s downtown to get a feel for how
Lincoln lived and worked, then head to the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum to let your kids play the way
Lincoln and his siblings would have played in their early
years.

It’s a 3.5-hour drive to Springfield from Chicago, so give thekids, and yourself, a break from the car with a stop at Lincoln’sNew Salem, about 30 minutes north of Springfield. This outdoor
museum is a reconstruction of the village where Abraham Lincoln
spent his early adulthood. It’s a great spot to let the kids run
off a little of the e

Gas Tank Getaways from Chicago

Gas tank getaways

Staying close to home is the hottest family travel trend in America. For those of us lucky enough to live in Chicago, that leaves plenty of great destinations with a few hours’ drive.

Kenosha, Wis.

This lakefront town just north of the Illinois border often is overlooked, but it has lots to offer at a price families can afford. If you don’t want to drive, take Metra and then hop on board one of Kenosha‘s five restored electric streetcars. They travel a two-mile loop along the Lake Michigan shoreline, HarborPark, two historic districts, downtown business district and the Metra train station, all for $1 for adults and 50 cents for kids 5-12.

Along the way, stop at the free Dinosaur Discovery Museum. This mecca for tiny dino lovers claims to have the largest collection of meat-eating theropods, along with life-scale replicas of Tyrannosaurus rex, Gallimimus and Ceratosaurus. At the Kenosha Public Museum, also free, you’ll find more than 80,000 items in its natural sciences collection and nearly 1,000 works of fine art. Don’t miss the woolly mammoth excavated in Kenosha County or the hands-on Field Station where kids can explore the arts and sciences.

If you work up an appetite, head to The Spot Drive-In and order a burger and homemade root beer served in a frosty mug. The food and drink are good and made even better by the carhop service right to your car window. Before you head home, stop at the nearby Jelly Belly warehouse and hop onboard the train for a tour of the facility. The tour is free, as are the samples in the factory store.

Cleveland and Sandusky, Ohio

This city four hours east of Chicago is working hard to overcome its history as a less-than-inviting place to visit. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which opened in 1995, put the city back on the tourism map. But it’s not the only reason to visit.

Next door to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the best hands-on children’s science centers in the country, the Great Lakes Science Center. When I visited with four busloads of middle schoolers on a band trip, we had to drag them out of the science center.

For younger children, Cleveland has a Children’s Museum, zoo and, its newest attraction, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, which opened in late 2011 and is home to eight-foot sharks, rays, piranhas, crocodiles and octopus.

If yours is a coaster-loving family, plan to spend a day before or after your visit to Cleveland at Cedar Point in Sandusky. This coasterific amusement park has an area dedicated to little ones, but the rest of it is dedicated to daredevils. This is the amusement park where my then 11-year-old son transformed from a kid who didn’t like heights into a kid who wants to build bigger, faster, scarier coasters for a living.

Springfield and New Salem, Ill.

This trip is all about history-our state’s history as a part of President Abraham Lincoln’s life. We’re not called the Land of Lincoln for nothing, and Illinois’ capital is the center of our Lincoln history. Take the self-guided walking tour of Springfield‘s downtown to get a feel for how Lincoln lived and worked, then head to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to let your kids play the way Lincoln and his siblings would have played in their early years.

It’s a 3.5-hour drive to Springfield from Chicago, so give the kids, and yourself, a break from the car with a stop at Lincoln’s New Salem, about 30 minutes north of Springfield. This outdoor museum is a reco


If a grand tour of Europe is not in your budget this year, youcan still get the feel of those great capital cities withoutleaving the Midwest.

Switzerland

New Glarus, Wis., calls itself “America’s Little Switzerland”for good reason. A trip to the Swiss Historical Village Museumallows families to explore more than 14 buildings, including aschool house, general store and the town’s first log church. For areal taste of Switzerland, sample the offerings at New GlarusBakery. They’ve been making Stollen, morning buns and apple cakefor more than 100 years. Complete the weekend with a stay at ChaletLandhaus Inn, where kids will appreciate the indoor pool andSwissland, an 18-hole miniature golf course.

The Swiss Historical Village Museum (May-October)  Swisshistoricalvillage.org

New Glarus Bakery
 
 newglarusbakery.com

Chalet Landhaus Inn
 
 chaletlandhaus.com

New Glarus Chamber of Commerce
 
 swisstown.com

Sweden

Housed in Minneapolis’ castle-like Turnblad Mansion, theAmerican Swedish Institute is a great place to learn about Nordicculture. If you head farther north, you can get an authentic tasteof Sweden at Lindstom Bakery or the Swedish Inn Restaurant inLindstrom, “America’s Little Sweden.” In June, take part in theannual Midsommar Celebrations, a traditional Swedish festivalcomplete with costumes, fiddling, folk dancing and familyactivities.

If you can’t make it to Minnesota, try Geneva. Illinois’ six-daySwedish Days Festival, June 19-24, may not be a trip to Sweden, butfamilies will find music, games, carnival rides and even rosemaling(Norwegian decorative painting.)

American Swedish Institute  asimn.org

Lindstrom, Minn.
 
 cityoflindstrom.us

Swedish Days Festival
 
 genevachamber.com/swedishdays

Germany

The Milwaukee area has great Germanic food, museums and evenentire villages. Germantown has a name that says it all. Justoutside of Milwaukee, the Dheinsville Settlement includes originalhalf-timbered buildings. Visit Bast Bell Museum in a restored barnto see Wisconsin’s largest publicly displayed bell collection andartifacts of the Germantown Volunteer Fire Company. Eat a heartyGerman meal at Mader’s, on Old World Third Street in Milwaukee. Thecity’s German Fest, held on the lakefront in July, is the largestGerman celebration in North America. Old World Wisconsin is thenation’s largest outdoor museum of rural life, with three Germanhomesteads from around Wisconsin. The site’s curators andinterpreters give visitors an authentic experience. Families cantry their hand at flax processing or experience old-fashionedbaking at a wood-burning oven in the bakehouse on the Schottlerfarmstead.

Old World Wisconsin  oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org

Germantown
 
 germantownchamber.org

Mader's Restaurant
 
 madersrestaurant.com

Holland

Located in the heart of the Midwest, Holland retains a greatdeal of Dutch architecture and ambiance. Watch Dutch artists hardat work on authentic blue and white delftware at the DeKlomp WoodenShoe & Delft Factory. Visit 10 acres of Dutch architecture,canals and gardens at Nelis’ Dutch Village. Kids can slide down agiant wooden shoe, or take a ride on the popular Zweefmolen (swingride). Spend a couple hours on Windmill Island, home to DeZwaan,the only authentic

Travel Europe without leaving the Midwest

Travel Europe without leaving the Midwest

If a grand tour of Europe is not in your budget this year, you can still get the feel of those great capital cities without leaving the Midwest.

Switzerland

New Glarus, Wis., calls itself “America’s Little Switzerland” for good reason. A trip to the Swiss Historical Village Museum allows families to explore more than 14 buildings, including a school house, general store and the town’s first log church. For a real taste of Switzerland, sample the offerings at New Glarus Bakery. They’ve been making Stollen, morning buns and apple cake for more than 100 years. Complete the weekend with a stay at Chalet Landhaus Inn, where kids will appreciate the indoor pool and Swissland, an 18-hole miniature golf course.

The Swiss Historical Village Museum (May-October) Swisshistoricalvillage.org

New Glarus Bakery
 newglarusbakery.com

Chalet Landhaus Inn
 chaletlandhaus.com

New Glarus Chamber of Commerce
 swisstown.com

Sweden

Housed in Minneapolis’ castle-like Turnblad Mansion, the American Swedish Institute is a great place to learn about Nordic culture. If you head farther north, you can get an authentic taste of Sweden at Lindstom Bakery or the Swedish Inn Restaurant in Lindstrom, “America’s Little Sweden.” In June, take part in the annual Midsommar Celebrations, a traditional Swedish festival complete with costumes, fiddling, folk dancing and family activities.

If you can’t make it to Minnesota, try Geneva. Illinois’ six-day Swedish Days Festival, June 23-28, may not be a trip to Sweden, but families will find music, games, carnival rides and even rosemaling (Norwegian decorative painting.)

American Swedish Institute asimn.org

Lindstrom, Minn.
 cityoflindstrom.us

Swedish Days Festival
 genevachamber.com/swedishdays

Germany

The Milwaukee area has great Germanic food, museums and even entire villages. Germantown has a name that says it all. Just outside of Milwaukee, the Dheinsville Settlement includes original half-timbered buildings. Visit Bast Bell Museum in a restored barn to see Wisconsin’s largest publicly displayed bell collection and artifacts of the Germantown Volunteer Fire Company. Eat a hearty German meal at Mader’s, on Old World Third Street in Milwaukee. The city’s German Fest, held on the lakefront in July, is the largest German celebration in North America. Old World Wisconsin is the nation’s largest outdoor museum of rural life, with three German homesteads from around Wisconsin. The site’s curators and interpreters give visitors an authentic experience. Families can try their hand at flax processing or experience old-fashioned baking at a wood-burning oven in the bakehouse on the Schottler farmstead.

Old World Wisconsin oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org

Germantown
 germantownchamber.org

Mader's Restaurant
 madersrestaurant.com

Holland

Located in the heart of the Midwest, Holland retains a great deal of Dutch architecture and ambiance. Watch Dutch artists hard at work on authentic blue and white delftware at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory. Visit 10 acres of Dutch architecture, canals and gardens at Nelis’ Dutch Village. Kids can slide down a giant wooden shoe, or take a ride on the popular Zweefmolen (swing ride). Spend a couple hours on Windmill Island, home to DeZwaan, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the United States. A painted Dutch carousel, costumed guides and an Amsterdam street organ com


Traditionally, when a Chicago family wanted to get to northernMichigan, it meant piling everyone into the car and heading off ona seven-hour trek around Lake Michigan. But, if you want to ensurethat “getting there” is at least part of your family vacation fun,try traveling to northern Michigan by plane or boat.

A new charter service called Lakeshore Express operatesThursday-Monday between Midway and Pellston Regional Airport innorthern Michigan. It offers the kind of personal service thewealthy are used to (no long security lines, someone else carriesyour bags, the flight attendants and even the pilots smile and arepleasant) at a price regular people can afford-$205 each way atfull price. Check the Web for deals before you book.

The personal service continues onboard, where the airplane isclean and comfortable, the drinks (even the alcoholic ones) arefree and the pretzels and peanuts come in full-size bags.

Once you arrive in Pellston, you can rent a car at the airportor, if you’re headed to Mackinac Island, take the shuttle servicefrom the airport to the island ferry dock.

If you prefer to have your own car when you get to northernMichigan, take one of the car ferries that cross the lake, shaving300 miles off your travel and adding a little adventure to thetrip.

There are two options: the sleek Lake Express that crosses LakeMichigan in 2 1/2 hours on a northeastern route from Milwaukee toMuskegon, Mich., and the lumbering S.S. Badger, which takes 4 1/2hours and crosses from Manitowoc, Wis., to Ludington, Mich.

If you’re going for speed, take the Lake Express. But, if youhave the time, opt for the Badger and its multitude of things todo-from a children’s play area to a movie theater, gift shop andquiet room. Before and after you sail, entertain your kids bystanding around the dock to watch the buzzing hive of activity asthe car deck loads and unloads everything from mini smart cars tohuge 18-wheel semi trucks.

Crossing the Great Lakes from Chicago

Crossing the Great Lakes

Traditionally, when a Chicago family wanted to get to northernMichigan, it meant piling everyone into the car and heading off ona seven-hour trek around Lake Michigan. But, if you want to ensurethat “getting there” is at least part of your family vacation fun,try traveling to northern Michigan by plane or boat.

A new charter service called Lakeshore Express operatesThursday-Monday between Midway and Pellston Regional Airport innorthern Michigan. It offers the kind of personal service thewealthy are used to (no long security lines, someone else carriesyour bags, the flight attendants and even the pilots smile and arepleasant) at a price regular people can afford-$205 each way atfull price. Check the Web for deals before you book.

The personal service continues onboard, where the airplane isclean and comfortable, the drinks (even the alcoholic ones) arefree and the pretzels and peanuts come in full-size bags.

Once you arrive in Pellston, you can rent a car at the airportor, if you’re headed to Mackinac Island, take the shuttle servicefrom the airport to the island ferry dock.

If you prefer to have your own car when you get to northernMichigan, take one of the car ferries that cross the lake, shaving300 miles off your travel and adding a little adventure to thetrip.

There are two options: the sleek Lake Express that crosses LakeMichigan in 2 1/2 hours on a northeastern route from Milwaukee toMuskegon, Mich., and the lumbering S.S. Badger, which takes 4 1/2hours and crosses from Manitowoc, Wis., to Ludington, Mich.

If you’re going for speed, take the Lake Express. But, if youhave the time, opt for the Badger and its multitude of things todo-from a children’s play area to a movie theater, gift shop andquiet room. Before and after you sail, entertain your kids bystanding around the dock to watch the buzzing hive of activity asthe car deck loads and unloads everything from mini smart cars tohuge 18-wheel semi trucks.


If your family is ready to ditch the four-star hotels and look
for a little more rustic vacation, you may want to check out a
ranch vacation. You don’t have to take your little dudes far to
give them a little horse sense. Here are two places on my family’s
bucket list.

Bluffdale Vacation Farm

Eldred, Ill.
(217) 983-2854
bluffdalevactionfarm.com
Drive Time: 5 hours
Canoe trips, bonfires and supper at 6 await at Bluffdale Vacation
Farm, once recognized as Parent Magazine’s “Top 10 Family Resorts
in North America.”
Bluffdale is in Eldred, right along the Illinois River. One of the
oldest farms in the state, you’ll find 320 acres of wide open
space, beautiful bluffs and scenic trails. Families stay in cabins,
cottages or in the big guest house.
Down on this farm, kids are put to work gathering eggs, picking
vegetables, and feeding and brushing horses. There are plenty of
puppies to pet, homemade meals and even a rope swing behind the old
barn. Mornings on the farm start out with a horseback ride, with
boating saved for the afternoons.
Owner Lindy Hobson says she’s a city girl turned farm girl after
the Oak Park native met her husband at the University of Illinois.
Hobson got the idea for the dude ranch when all her Chicago
relatives kept asking to visit.
Now the Hobsons have been welcoming guests for 50 years. She says
guests keep on coming back to the ranch because they fall in love
with all that wide open space and her delicious farm meals-homemade
pies and breads are her specialty.

Red Ridge Ranch

Mauston, Wis.
(888) 847-2272
redridgeranch.com
Drive Time: 4 1/2 hours
If roughing it is more your thing, Red Ridge Ranch offers
weekend-long horseback riding excursions in Wildcat Mountain State
Park. You supply the tent and food, Red Ridge Ranch supplies the
horses and the horse know-how.
Wildcat Mountain State Park in Ontario, Wis., is considered big
bluff country with 35,000 acres of premiere countryside untouched
by the glaciers.
On select weekends in May, ranch owners Lyle and Cindy Peterson
bring horses and guides to the park so families can spend the
weekend riding up beautiful big bluffs, over bubbling creeks,
through dramatic tree canopies and along the Kickapoo River.

Spend spring break on a dude ranch

Just a little horsin’ around

If your family is ready to ditch the four-star hotels and look
for a little more rustic vacation, you may want to check out a
ranch vacation. You don’t have to take your little dudes far to
give them a little horse sense. Here are two places on my family’s
bucket list.

Bluffdale Vacation Farm

Eldred, Ill.
(217) 983-2854
bluffdalevactionfarm.com
Drive Time: 5 hours
Canoe trips, bonfires and supper at 6 await at Bluffdale Vacation
Farm, once recognized as Parent Magazine’s “Top 10 Family Resorts
in North America.”
Bluffdale is in Eldred, right along the Illinois River. One of the
oldest farms in the state, you’ll find 320 acres of wide open
space, beautiful bluffs and scenic trails. Families stay in cabins,
cottages or in the big guest house.
Down on this farm, kids are put to work gathering eggs, picking
vegetables, and feeding and brushing horses. There are plenty of
puppies to pet, homemade meals and even a rope swing behind the old
barn. Mornings on the farm start out with a horseback ride, with
boating saved for the afternoons.
Owner Lindy Hobson says she’s a city girl turned farm girl after
the Oak Park native met her husband at the University of Illinois.
Hobson got the idea for the dude ranch when all her Chicago
relatives kept asking to visit.
Now the Hobsons have been welcoming guests for 50 years. She says
guests keep on coming back to the ranch because they fall in love
with all that wide open space and her delicious farm meals-homemade
pies and breads are her specialty.

Red Ridge Ranch

Mauston, Wis.
(888) 847-2272
redridgeranch.com
Drive Time: 4 1/2 hours
If roughing it is more your thing, Red Ridge Ranch offers
weekend-long horseback riding excursions in Wildcat Mountain State
Park. You supply the tent and food, Red Ridge Ranch supplies the
horses and the horse know-how.
Wildcat Mountain State Park in Ontario, Wis., is considered big
bluff country with 35,000 acres of premiere countryside untouched
by the glaciers.
On select weekends in May, ranch owners Lyle and Cindy Peterson
bring horses and guides to the park so families can spend the
weekend riding up beautiful big bluffs, over bubbling creeks,
through dramatic tree canopies and along the Kickapoo River.


As I stood on the edge of a cliff in Southern Illinois’ Gardenof the Gods, I felt like I could see for miles, taking inbreathtaking views of a gorgeous green landscape.

Aside from standing on the top floors of the man-made WillisTower, it’s not often that Illinois can provide views from theseheights. The Shawnee National Forest’s Garden of the Gods, roughlya six-hour drive from Chicago, erases the impression of Illinois asa flat Midwestern plain and offers a bit of adventure for familiesof all ages.

Likewise, on the same Southern Illinois trip, we found excellenthikes to do with our two toddlers in the wooded, rocky Giant CityState Park, about 60 miles west of the Garden of the Gods. (Mom andDad even got a special treat during stops along the nearby ShawneeHills Wine Trail.)

The Garden of the Gods observation trail takes less than anhour, but winds through woods and onto rocky perches overlooking asea of green. My 3-year-old was proud to have “hiked” on his ownand to be higher than the tree tops.

To the west, Giant City State Park takes its name from thepopular “Giant City Streets,” towering slabs of rock that formgiant walled passageways in the woods. As we navigated through thecool rocky hallways of the “Streets” on a hot day, it was like theair conditioning had been flipped on. The park offered greatstorytelling material as well-with names carved onto the wallsduring the Civil War and rock shelters that have ceilings blackenedfrom fires set long ago.

The finely crafted Giant City Lodge and restaurant made a greathome base for our Southern Illinois adventure. We stayed in a”bluff cabin,” with a deck, living area and separate bedroom, wherewe could put the kids to bed. (Cabins range from $75-$150 pernight.) As we sat on the deck with a bottle of wine purchased onthe nearby Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, we were already plottingfuture trips back when the kids are older and ready to ratchet upthe adventure a notch.

Spring break in the Shawnee National Forest

As I stood on the edge of a cliff in Southern Illinois’ Gardenof the Gods, I felt like I could see for miles, taking inbreathtaking views of a gorgeous green landscape.

Aside from standing on the top floors of the man-made WillisTower, it’s not often that Illinois can provide views from theseheights. The Shawnee National Forest’s Garden of the Gods, roughlya six-hour drive from Chicago, erases the impression of Illinois asa flat Midwestern plain and offers a bit of adventure for familiesof all ages.

Likewise, on the same Southern Illinois trip, we found excellenthikes to do with our two toddlers in the wooded, rocky Giant CityState Park, about 60 miles west of the Garden of the Gods. (Mom andDad even got a special treat during stops along the nearby ShawneeHills Wine Trail.)

The Garden of the Gods observation trail takes less than anhour, but winds through woods and onto rocky perches overlooking asea of green. My 3-year-old was proud to have “hiked” on his ownand to be higher than the tree tops.

To the west, Giant City State Park takes its name from thepopular “Giant City Streets,” towering slabs of rock that formgiant walled passageways in the woods. As we navigated through thecool rocky hallways of the “Streets” on a hot day, it was like theair conditioning had been flipped on. The park offered greatstorytelling material as well-with names carved onto the wallsduring the Civil War and rock shelters that have ceilings blackenedfrom fires set long ago.

The finely crafted Giant City Lodge and restaurant made a greathome base for our Southern Illinois adventure. We stayed in a”bluff cabin,” with a deck, living area and separate bedroom, wherewe could put the kids to bed. (Cabins range from $75-$150 pernight.) As we sat on the deck with a bottle of wine purchased onthe nearby Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, we were already plottingfuture trips back when the kids are older and ready to ratchet upthe adventure a notch.


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